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Ammon, before Trump

Ammon, before Trump March 5, 2016

On social media I passed along a quip that, while Donald Trump is applying to be president with no political experience, listing for even menial entry-level positions include years of experience as prerequisites.

Several minutes later, someone I know–a young, high school-educated, lower-class, white male–privately messaged me the following:

Give it a rest, loser. Trump’s going to be President and you can’t stop him. ^^ He will send my RACIST co-workers [context note: they are non-white] back to where they came from. Sorry to disrupt your little socialist mormon fantasy world (not sorry)

Having discussed politics with this guy before and received nothing in response but talk radio ad hominems, I responded honestly that I didn’t have the time or energy to talk politics with him. Besides, I was so discomposed that I needed some time to respond with something substantive without haste or anger.

What disturbed me more, however, was the fact that I had no idea what I should, or could, say.

Years ago, I got the advice to be tolerant of and patient with those who may be less educated or worse off financially than me. Here I was faced with a friend who was both–but I had no idea how to even communicate with him. [1] I can speak with thoughtful people with whom I vehemently disagree, but when someone lacks the basics of a liberal education the gulf feels insurmountable. We practically speak different languages.

I considered appeals to his Evangelical faith, but that faith has been elsewhere successfully perverted to support a man whose only resemblances to Jesus are species, “no form nor comeliness,” and the terror he stokes among the established ruling classes. [2] I’ve already explicated the differences between racial animus and racist structures to deaf ears.

Besides, there are more pervasive and subliminal (and hence more intractable) problems that contribute to Trump’s fandom. What do we do in a world (right and left) that regards the ugliest uncensored utterances, unsullied by the sickly cast of thought, to be the most authentic? What do we do in a world (right and left) that declares that sufferers–and they alone–have insight into how best to alleviate that suffering? How do we preach to all-wise glands?

Later that night, my mind turned to the Book of Mormon and Ammon, the Nephite prince whose vocation was to preach the word of God to the Lamanites, a nation of his mortal enemies whose enmity was rooted in events hundreds of years past. We learn little about their motives for leaving; perhaps their own miraculous conversion to Christianity from godlessness played a role. But we do read the revelation they received midway through their journey in the wilderness:

Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.

Yet when Ammon is captured and arraigned before the Lamanite king, Lamoni, he does not start preaching. Instead, he announces, “I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.”

This is not a calculated tactic. Service is not his tool to wield. Ammon is not thinking that a little unpaid labor will soften up the Lamanites to his message. Instead, he has been inducted into a lower order of the Kierkegaardian knighthood, volunteering to live his life in manual vassalage with only the divine promise of eventual success to sustain him. He is willing to die in such service–to lose his entire life–to pay the ultimate opportunity cost. He has no guarantee that he will see the fruits of his unswervingly faithful service. This is no promise of a “get-saved-quick” scheme.

Instead, Ammon himself becomes God’s tool, His instrument. He is willing to descend from princedom to servitude, to presage a future Condescension. He is willing to bear the crosses of the world–crosses that leave scars, that shape his body.

Notably, the service Ammon renders was not be the most abhorrent and, seemingly, representative of that group: waging war and plundering. The Lamanites’ confraternity with the Nephites is revealed in the job Ammon is set to do: shepherding. The Lamanites, human animals that they are, also require agriculture, food, clothing.  We need not deport Latinos to prove godly loyalty and love to Trump’s supporters; they, too, are human, and on average have human needs that the college-educated and well-employed do not experience. Such service could be something menial, something to relieve the stresses and strife of life. It cannot be merely a financial contribution. It cannot merely be a policy. It must not be fungible. It must not be impersonal. It must be a service that builds community, family, trust.

Ammon Teaches King Lamoni (C) Intellectual Reserve; Donald Drumpf photo (C) Michael Vadon
Ammon Teaches King Lamoni (C) Intellectual Reserve; Donald Trump photo (C) Michael Vadon

Both the magnitude (defending the king’s flocks with unmatched valor) and the consistency (moving on to the next task after such heroism without boasting) of Ammon’s service prove literally incredible, shocking Lamoni into speechlessness. Likewise, our performance of the service must be so total, so sincere, so faithful that it inspires the other person, your nominal enemy, to question their worldview. Like Jesus in Gethsemane or on the cross, you must show where the world is broken and embody the “hope for a better world.”

And notice how Ammon begins speaking with King Lamoni. [3] He does not begin by refuting the Lamanite view of the foundational sibling rivalry between Nephi and Laman. Instead, he begins with the origin of the universe and the creation of the world.

Ammon’s unanticipated actions have already drawn aside the firmament of Lamoni’s world to reveal a world previous to and apart from Nephite-Lamanite enmity. That that it is unveiled, Ammon can then let that new, unfamiliar world to pour in. The world he lets loose so compels that Lamoni, his household, and his nation that they convert. Later, when faced with their own genocide, these former antagonists decide that they would rather die than return to their old sins of murder and rapine.

But all this is no formula. There is no guarantee that the preacher who pledges his life to service without a sermon will ever see his work come to fruition.

So. Am I willing to go live among people without college degrees? People whose opinions of my politics might be unadulterated invective? People who have been left behind in the headlong rush for the cheap, the globalized, the efficient? Am I willing to give up the intellectually stimulating company I enjoy among friends here in DC? Am I willing to give up a good job that’s helping me pay back my student loans? Am I willing to do this for the rest of my life?

Such are the questions Ammon asks of me.

 


[1] I’m realizing in retrospect that patience and tolerance do not presume rational discourse or discussion. It’s easy to tolerate someone you’ve converted or to be patient with someone eager to listen.

[2] See Robert Jeffress, the pastor who questioned Mitt Romney’s Christianity but has endorsed Donald Trump. Looking back, I’m relieved that he found Romney insufficiently Christian. To earn Jeffress’s religious approval seems a demerit.

[3] The King “believed in a Great Spirit, [but] supposed that whatsoever [he] did was right.” Sound familiar?

 

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