This story about Donald Trump speaking at Liberty University is so full of gross things, I don’t know which gross thing to discuss first.
Wait. Yes I do. Let’s start with “two Corinthians.”
If you’re reading this without context, you might be thinking… Two Corinthians what? Two Corinthians walked into a bar? Or, “Two Corinthians: The long-awaited sequel to the epic saga, Corinth One–coming soon to a theater near you!”
But no. In his speech to the broadly Christian student body, Trump *tried* to quote scripture. But being a little too in-the-notes, he read not “2nd Corinthians…” but straight-up TWO CORINTHIANS. Word on the Christian collegiate street is that there was much snickering in the audience… Well I guess so. I’m an ordained, seminary-trained pastor and you wouldn’t catch me trying to quote scripture to that crowd. I mean, those kids have been to BIBLE CAMP. Bible camp kids are hard-core.
But apparently not hard-core enough. Because if the wildly out-of-context scripture slinging didn’t win them over, then the embracing of a totally manufactured Christian persecution complex did. There were cheers and applause as Trump vowed to “protect Christianity.” Presumably, from feminists, terrorists, and people who, you know, think Jesus wasn’t a white guy. But whichever.
Listen, you would never in life catch me shaming somebody for not knowing scripture. My world view is not so narrow as to assume all people everywhere have been exposed to the biblical narrative, and that those who missed the memo are just plain stupid. HOWEVER–I will happily shame somebody for not knowing scripture, and then trying to use scripture for their own twisted ends. Yes, I will shame that hard.
At the same time– it’s not entirely his fault. It is a ridiculous litmus test, truly, to demand any candidate for the presidency declare a particular brand of faith, articulated in a certain secular language, and with the correct parameters of ideology as framework. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–if this is a requirement of political office in this country, then we are just begging to be lied to. If the only way to power is by way of a narrow, culturally prescribed system of belief, then a whole lot of people are suddenly going to “believe.” If our pool of candidates is suddenly full of phonies, hypocrites, and “two Corinthians,” then we have only ourselves to blame. Or rather, we can blame a national rhetoric that glorifies buzz words, sound bites and entertainment value bullying at the expense of authenticity.
I could care less if our next president is Christian. But if that’s what you’re after, then for the love, ask some harder questions than “how are you going to protect my personal rights and freedoms” and “do you proclaim Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.” First of all, those two realities are mutually exclusive–and if you don’t know why, I can’t tell you. Furthermore, making spoken belief the key requirement for candidacy sets the stage for people like Trump to come in and pretend to be everything you’re looking for. It’s not a tough bill to fill when it’s so narrowly prescribed.
What I could go for is a leader who is Christlike in action and speech–even if said leader does not claim to be a distinctly Christian in practice or belief. Wouldn’t that be something to see? To have to wonder what a candidate believed, because they’re not talking about it; but being able to infer, by his or her policies, that they were a person of faith?
The good news–I mean the really great news–is that Sarah Palin publicly endorsed Trump today. And since that plan worked so well for John McCain, then I’d say Trump has about as much chance of being President as he does being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. I’m not holding my breath.
The deeper, more troubling element here is how many Christians are buying this political sideshow. In spite of his hateful rhetoric about Mexicans, Muslims and women. In spite of his disregard for the poor. In spite of the fact that other nations with which we align ourselves are literally talking about banning him from their country. And yet–here he is, climbing the polls because he is willing to pander to the absolute lowest common denominator of faith-based, single issue voters. These are strange times, folks.
It may seem ironic that I, as a pastor, do not consider myself a faith-based voter. Well–I do and I don’t. I do not consider myself a faith-based voter in the sense that I need my political leaders to parrot back to me my own system of belief–chapter and verse–affirming my faith in the most surface and secular way possible.
I AM a faith-based voter–as are many people I know–in that I let my faith guide my stance on issues. I resist the urge to place my faith in a single person, or a single party. And I challenge the notion that any one candidate –or party–can effectively lead an entire country while catering to the insecurities of a single demographic.
It bears noting that the diatribe Trump unleashed on Liberty University yesterday fell on Martin Luther King day–a day meant to honor a man who sought to model Christ in his teaching and leading, and who left a lasting legacy of liberty, justice and freedom. That Trump “dedicated” his “record high turn-out” to King’s memory is even more confounding than his ill-quoted Bible verse. I can think of nothing more contradictory to King’s message–or to the gospel itself–than Trump’s perpetual riff on white privilege and entitlement. Here’s hoping the stark irony of it all only serves to draw out the facade.
I appreciate the many evangelicals and other conservative Christians who are speaking out against his campaign. I appreciate people of faith who can see past a facade of poorly-quoted scripture and look for more substance. I’m thankful that this thing is far from over, and that Trump will have plenty more chances to step in an eschatological hole. Pray with me that he won’t so quickly climb out of the next one… But once he falls off the scene (Lord, in your mercy) there will be another to take his place. And another, and another.
Because as long as “Christian” is the first box on the proverbial ballot, there will be plenty of people lining up to check it. And if we’re going to make that the most important question, we’d better be ready for the next misquoted answer.