The Pharisee in Me and The Christ in Trump

The Pharisee in Me and The Christ in Trump July 30, 2019
Image: Elim Feliciano

Over the weekend, I spent some quality time with a few amazing people in Woodstock, GA at the “Unleashing the Word of God” event, hosted by The Jesus Purpose Community.

Over dinner we shared more than a few conversations about faith, doubt and deconstruction. Eventually we meandered over to the topic of politics and that led to some observations about the person currently occupying the White House at the moment.

Given the progressive nature of our event, the comments about the President were pretty harsh. To be honest, I share a lot of those same concerns about where this nation is headed in terms of human rights, immigration and racial tensions.

However, I had to admit something that was more than a little challenging for me: I’m called to love Donald Trump, in spite of anything he may say or do.

There’s a meme I created a while back that says: “Jesus loves all the people you hate and he wants you to love them too.”

Now, if I’m honest – and if I sincerely believe this is true – then I have to admit that I have a really hard time loving Donald Trump. In fact, it’s not only hard to see him as a fellow human being, made in the image of God, who is loved and treasured by His Abba Father, I also find it hard to love anyone who supports Donald Trump.

Of course, loving Donald Trump doesn’t necessarily mean that I need to also love or support his actions, or his Tweets, or his policies. Far from it. I can – and should – always oppose anything that is misogynistic, racist, violent, insulting, or otherwise un-Christlike.

But, I can learn to love Donald Trump – the person – even if I consistently oppose and resist nearly everything he does, says or stands for.

Saying it, as we all know, is one thing. But doing it? That’s another matter.

I mean, I know I’m supposed to love everyone. And I do know that Donald Trump really is a fellow human being who is dearly loved by God and who – one day – will eventually be redeemed, restored and renewed from within by the irresistible love and transformational grace of God.

I know it, but it’s really hard to remember that on a daily basis.

So, what helps me to love people who are sometimes hard to love is this: I try to picture them as a five year old child. I imagine what they were like before anyone had the chance to warp their soul or twist their heart into a pretzel. I do my best to see them as an innocent, happy, childlike being who has the capacity to love and be loved without limitation.

That helps.

Another thing that helps is to recognize that I’m no Mother Teresa either. I’ve got flaws. I’ve got hang-ups. I have blind spots and bad habits. I’m not always so easy to love.

In fact, over this weekend, sitting around that table, I also had to confess that I never really saw an actual Pharisee until I looked in the mirror. Because I honestly believe that until I see the Pharisee in myself, I’ve really never actually seen one.

That’s hard to admit, but it’s the truth.

So, if Jesus loves everyone I hate, and if he wants me to love them, too. Then I have some work to do. I have to take the time to look beyond the outer appearances, deeper than the surface-level persona I see in front of me, and I need to see the irreducible spark of the Christ in everyone – even someone like Donald J. Trump – because hating another person is off the table. I have been loved with an everlasting love. This is the love that has changed my heart and transformed me into someone who has the capacity to love everyone – even someone who seems at first glance to be unlovable.

If I cannot learn to do this, then my faith is empty. My testimony is worthless. My connection to Christ is in question.

If I cannot see the Pharisee in myself, and the Christ in others, then what am I doing here? What good is the Gospel to me? What effect has the resurrection life of Christ been to me if it cannot deal with this fundamental flaw?

This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where it gets real.

Can we learn to love the unlovable? Can we ask God for the grace to love everyone – even those we disagree with the most – as Jesus loved us?

I certainly hope so. Because this is our only chance to get it right.

**

Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today, He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho, awaiting their next adventure.

Keith’s newest book, “Jesus Unveiled: Forsaking Church As We Know It For Ekklesia As God Intended” released on June 9, 2019 on Amazon, and features a Foreword by author Richard Jacobson.
Keith’s Podcast: Heretic Happy Hour Podcast is on iTunes and Podbean. 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • cr johnson

    Yep

  • Chuck Johnson

    The command to love everyone is not very useful.
    This is because the word “love” can mean just about anything.
    Especially when it is spoken by bigots, haters and hypocrites.

  • Clayton Cook

    Are we to love the Lucifer as well.

  • K Curtis

    You raise an important issue. I have found myself as much frustrated by what people like Trump stir in me in terms of thinking less than charitable thoughts as I am with much of what he does and stands for. Maintaining a stance of grace, and realizing that even Donald Trump is one of God’s children is important to keep in perspective. Having said that, Jesus was also pretty clear in calling out the hypocrisy of people in power, particularly when it was at the expense of the “least of these.” I don’t doubt for a moment that Jesus loved the chief priests or Herod, and would have been willing to extend forgiveness, grace and welcome had they been responsive. However, at the same time, the gospel calls us to stand for justice, mercy and truth, even when it costs us – and that includes taking strong stands against personal and corporate evil as well to the extent that we are able. Loving someone does not mean looking the other way as they intentionally harm or demean others, but it does mean realizing that there is indeed the soul of a child of God buried somewhere inside of the most reprehensible people and their behaviors. That excuses nothing, nor does it provide a rationale for looking the other way or allowing injustice to continue unchallenged, but it does change the way we look at the individual – never giving up hope on the person even if we have to stand in opposition to their behavior or what they promote, and do everything we can to restrain the evil they do.

  • KontraDiction

    That’s where the “as yourself” part comes in.

  • Chuck Johnson

    “As Yourself” only helps a little.
    There are many more things to know before love becomes effective.

    Your life must benefit my life.
    My life must benefit your life.
    Knowledge, insight, and wisdom must be applied to make this actually happen.

  • James Elliott

    Simply put, we love those whom God loves, don’t we? For theory’s sake, by modern understanding Satan (assuming that’s who you mean) is totally consumed and and defined by evil which would mean there is nothing left to love. I find it painful, but if there is a spark of goodness in the President (and i’m not his judge), and if God loves him, then we must seek and love that goodness. I think that’s the challenge Giles is getting at.

  • Nimblewill

    Would you say that you revile Donald Trump? I think the bible has something to say about revilers?

    revile:
    criticize in an abusive or angrily insulting manner [1].

    I hated everything that Barack Obama did and stood for. I love the man. What does that mean? If he were to knock on my door I would give him my last bite of food. I would stop and change his tire on the side of the road. I would be kind to his children. I would have no problem being his neighbor in Heaven.

    1 Corinthians 13:4-8 New International Version (NIV)
    4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

    Thank you Keith for taking us to a place where angels fear to tread.

  • James Elliott

    I’ve got to admit that as much as i am dragging my feet, this blog is spot-on. We don’t go into this with blinders which ignore all that is wrong, if not evil, but as Christians we have not choice but to learn to love as Christ loves. Otherwise we are no better than that which (or whom) we say we detest. My ideals are left-leaning, but i can’t embrace a lot of the rhetoric which is no better than what i hear to the right.

    I agree with K Curtis observations about our call to stand up for justice, mercy and truth. But i don’t think Jesus is recorded as ever calling out the hypocrisy of political leaders…on those who were supposed to be religious leaders. He referred once to Pilate’s mass crucifixion of people, but not as a judgement on Pilate or on the Roman Empire whom Pilate represented.

    Our call is simple and yet extremely difficult: love those whom God loves, in the same way that Christ loves. What that looks like is the challenge.

  • CroneEver

    I detest everything that Trump is doing in and to this country. I opposed his election long before he was even the nominee because of his long history of financial corruption and cruelty (which was pretty well covered by the media back in the day). So I consistently work in whatever way I can to promote the values I believe in (life, liberty, equality, pursuit of happiness, not caging children, etc.). And I pray for his salvation every day.

  • Speck

    As much as I agree about the challenge of this – how indeed does one love one’s enemies? That is a radical and revolutionary challenge! – I also would point out that this caricature of the Pharisees does not help. Although it’s used as a trope in Christianity for hypocrisy, it is not an accurate portrait of historical Pharisaism (see, for example, how Paul uses his being a Pharisee as proof of his commitment to God). I’d encourage you to read some contemporary commentary on this (see the speakers at https://www.jesusandthepharisees.org/Speakers for examples). I would suggest Christianity’s historical and current antisemitism means we need to listen thoughtfully to Jewish responses to this portrayal of Pharisees.

  • SW

    Trump’s bumbling humanity is so evident that loving him as a human being is the easy part. That love and forgiveness should not be confused with the acceptance of policies and motivations that are profoundly evil and anti-Christian. I think most Christians have given him a free pass to commit atrocities and that we are having the wrong debate.

  • K Curtis

    I think I would agree with James Elliott’s observation that Jesus does not seem to address political leaders directly as political leaders. I am not sure He made the same distinction between political life and non political life that we tend to today, but rather addressed the behavior of people in general in terms of Justice, mercy, truth, etc. He does have an interesting conversation with Pilate in which He makes it clear that the kind of Kingdom He was seeking to establish is different in kind than the one that Pilate had in mind, so if indeed Christians are to be primarily concerned with being a part of God’s Kingdom, and living like that is where their primary citizenship is, then that indeed is where their primary identity should be found. Those who genuinely love as Jesus did would indeed have a profound impact on those around them. But not only does that mean that we love even our enemies, it also means that because we love others as well, we cannot stand by and support others who are purposefully hurting those we are also called to love as they are being mistreated, demeaned, or being treated as generally “less than.” That might include refusing a directive to perform or support an action that hurts someone, refusing to vote in support of actions or policies that do the same and perhaps even speaking or working in opposition to that person’s candidency, and perhaps even civil disobedience at times. When a person seems to personally identify with the desire to hurt someone else, it is difficult to tease their behavior apart from their identity, but making that distinction is still an important one, even if opposing their behavior may be difficult in some ways to distinguish from rejecting them. Jesus could say, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing” as an expression of love, and yet, not for a moment suggest that everyone should have supported what they were doing. But in any case, what loving even our enemies cannot include is providing cover or support for anyone in a position of power that is misusing that power in an abusive way, or being willing to look the other way in regards to genuine human suffering in order to gain a political or economic advantage of some kind. That is one thing that loving even your enemies cannot mean. The challenge continues to be living in a way that genuinely loves everyone in the way that Jesus invites us to, abusers and the vulnerable alike without becoming complicit actively or passively with evil. James Elliott is right when he says, “Our call is simple [well, maybe it is not so simple in some ways] and yet extremely difficult: love those whom God loves, in the same way that Christ loves. What that looks like is the challenge.”

  • I have wrestled ( usually fairly unsuccessfully) with what love means. I hope this may of some help to others, if not, toss it aside. I wish and pray for “the best” for Donald Trump both as a man and as the president. Wishing and praying for the “best”, as a Christian, means he truly understands the glory and love of his heavenly father and the the call all of us who are Christians to live “in the kingdom”. That is where the rubber meets the road. God has given each of us a purpose here and no matter who you are or where you are, God desires you work for God’s purposes-the flourishing of each individual human being he created. The more money and power you have, the power God has entrusted you to do good for more and more !
    Within the kingdom of God, the very people Trump abhors and verbally assaults, are raised up and welcomed into the kingdom ( In jesus’s time those were the women, the non-Jews (both religiously and nationally), the sick, the infirm, the needy, the poor, the refugee, the alien, and …… So for me to “love” him, means I pray everyday he will humble himself before his Saviour and “do good”. I also have to be faithful to the call on myself as a believer to protect the poor, the outcast, not to align with any nationalism but ONLY with the kingdom of my heavenly father so I work tirelessly to see this man voted out of office. For now, he is the puppet in the hands of evil to do harm, not good, to increase the evil in the land. Love for every other human being in the US dictates that I MUST stand against this evil he promotes. Love for DT does not preclude the demands of love for everyone else.

  • Derek Wesley Selby

    Well said. I completely agree. Both directions. So, in love, the truth remains that he is in a job he is neither suited nor qualified for, and the sooner he is replaced, the better the state of our union will be.

  • Ron Swaren

    Gee, I’m sorry that you can’t accept that someone has finally come along who understands that we actually have legal codes in this country. The fact that they had been neglected by preceding holders of the office didn’t actually remove those from our set of principles.And since Trump has been in office there are now millions more people who found productive lives, instead of worrying where they were going to live or how to put food on the table. And now, many people have some profitable, alternative investments in case the Social Security system hits the fan. My nephew, in fact, has a valuable stock portfolio (inherited from grandpa) worth 3 or 3 times as much as just a few years ago.

  • robertrobinson

    trump is the filthy antichrist and i hate him with all my heart.

  • katie99

    I really appreciate this point: “My ideals are left-leaning, but i can’t embrace a lot of the rhetoric which is no better than what i hear to the right.” I find there is far too much dismissiveness, judgment, intolerance, and hatred on the left for those on the right. I understand why people feel that way—it’s easy to fall into the trap of hating those who’ve hated us. But all we’re doing is perpetuating the cycle. We must be intolerant of hateful ideas, words, and actions, but we must try our hardest not to hate those who engage in them. It’s a difficult line to walk. I do think there are some on the left for whom it’s a tribal need to create an Other, and their behavior ends up feeding the hate some feel because of how they and the vulnerable in our society have been treated.

    Turning the other cheek may be one of the hardest things the bible and so many other moral systems ask of us, and yet it’s one of the most important.

  • James Elliott

    Thanks for your feedback. You are right about turning the other cheek being the most important. (And i am by no means good at this!) I think Martin Luther King, Jr, is the best contemporary example of meeting hatred with love. For me, a good step is that on these blog responses i work to curb my references to those whom i (sometimes heavily) disagree with.

  • katie99

    Thank you for this, Keith. I’m not a Christian (Unitarian Universalist with a kind of deist, god is in the love that connects us all perspective), but my faith lies in the idea that acknowledging the interconnectedness of all humanity and living with compassion and love is how we create heaven on earth. I am motivated by the first and seventh principles of UU, affirming “the inherent worth and dignity of every individual” and “respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are all a part.” For me that means loving everyone wholly, as every human being deserves. It’s a monumental task when I am called to love someone who is completely in conflict with that love, who tries to destroy it and appears to have little if any of it in himself.

    The Christian perspective on this kind of love really helps me think through how I can maintain my values and keep loving those who appear only to hate. Trump, Rep. Steve King, the shooters who killed so many over the weekend, and the conservative Christians who blame various marginalized groups for the shootings all have inherent worth and dignity. I do my best every day to acknowledge that and, if at all possible, give them the benefit of the doubt about their motives and how they treat others in their everyday lives. And my life is interdependent with theirs, so I must love them if we are to move forward as a community of humankind.

  • madalyn baumstark

    Thank you, Keith Giles! I have been miserable of late, wrestling with that very conundrum. It gives me heart to know that I am not alone; that are other followers of Jesus out there, in the same spiritual bind.

    Though it does my ego good to rail on, fume, and indeed despise, I know that if I faced the Lord tomorrow, I could give it all up as He’d expect me to.

    To paraphrase St. Augustine: Lord, make me forgiving, loving, accepting of all your children.

    Just not yet!

  • Fearless Feline

    While I despise Trump’s ego-driven words and actions which harm so many, I find it easier to have mercy for him than the intelligent Christians I know/thought I knew who continue support him because his neediness and emotional immaturity are readily apparent. The Christians who support policies and people which are contrary to the teachings and actions of Christ about loving others, baffle me. I agree with the other commenters who point out the prophetic call to speak against hypocrisy within Christianity in love.