Christ Jesus and President Trump

When I opened my email this morning, I saw that I had been tagged on Facebook. The tagger was a Facebook friend, someone I knew in college and have not seen since. Although we are Facebook friends, we do not comment on each other’s posts very often—far less than once a year. In this case, though, I was flattered that she chose me as one of several of her Christian friends. She wanted our reaction to a video regarding Christianity and American politics.

The video, which runs for several minutes, shows a man discussing the politics of Donald Trump and his supporters, comparing them to the teachings of Jesus Christ in an attempt to show dissonance rather than agreement. Although the speaker’s presentation is calm, he accompanies his message with stock media footage of the President—including two images of conservative Christian preachers praying with the President—interspersed with images of White Supremacist demonstrators, violent confrontations between individuals, and even the photograph of a high school student apparently smirking at a Native American speaker in Washington DC, even though that last event was quickly revealed to have contained no hostility between the student and the speaker.

The tone of the message left no doubt: the speaker believes that, because President Donald Trump is supported by racists, white supremacists, homophobes, and other deplorable people, real Christians cannot support the President, cannot vote for the President, and cannot even sit out the election if Trump is on the ballot. Jesus Christ is portrayed as loving, accepting all people, defending the rights of the poor (including immigrants), and opposed to any expression of hatred or disapproval. The other Christians who had commented were strongly supportive of this position.

I carefully considered how to respond. I wanted to be gentle. I wanted to be brief. I wanted to oppose the thought that no real Christian can support President Donald Trump. Here is what I said (as best as I remember):

“Interesting. Jesus Christ is far bigger than American politics. Sincere Christians can be right-wing, left-wing, or in the middle. There is plenty of room in Christianity for political conservatives and political liberals, for Democrats and Republicans. Jesus expressed compassion for victims of abuse, for the poor, for widows and orphans and foreigners. When he forgave sinners, he also said, “Go, and sin no more.” People on the right and people on the left have both sifted through the words of Jesus seeking support for their political positions. In both cases, this is wrong. Jesus came to be our Savior and our Redeemer, not to support our political choices.”

The speaker wanted to speak for all Christians in his disdain for President Trump. He wanted his audience to believe that Jesus would stand up today and reject President Trump. He severely undermined his case when he quoted Jesus as asking, “What is truth?” For it was a corrupt government official named Pontius Pilate who asked that question of Jesus and then did not stay around for an answer. And it was Jesus who allowed himself to be mistreated without fighting back, without calling for a change in government, without protesting what the Romans were doing in Jerusalem.

Christians have an obligation to participate in the government of nations where that privilege is granted. We should vote, and we should share our opinions with our elected leaders. Christians also have an obligation to help the needy, to defend the oppressed, and to be kind to all our neighbors. That kindness does not include approving of their sinful choices. When the occasion was right, Jesus preached against sin. He did not focus only on the sins of the elite and powerful; he condemned sin in all cases.

We Christians should oppose hatred and violence. We should not be known for what we hate; we should be known for what we love. Because we love Jesus, we will not use his name or his words to advance a political agenda or any other worldly plan. Instead, by sharing his word and by living according to his example, we will make this sin-polluted world a better place while we await the Day when Jesus will complete his work of casting out all evil and making this world his kingdom. J.

Theology of glory/Theology of the cross

One of the many contrasts in Christian thought is the difference between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. Generally these are presented as either-or, as two poles between which one must choose. In the last few days, I have started to regard them as a spectrum along which many different positions can be found.

The most extreme version of the theology of glory I can imagine is promising a Christian full glory in this lifetime—great worldly wealth, perfect physical and mental health, unending joy and peace, and victory over all enemies, whether earthly or spiritual. Some preachers and writers approach this extreme as they describe Christianity and its benefits. The most extreme version of the theology of the cross I can imagine is a dour, frowning Christianity, one which forbids all worldly pleasures. Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic holy orders have included some groups which encourage that sort of asceticism, but Protestant Puritan movements also have a reputation of moving toward that extreme.

The proper place on this spectrum is not at the middle. Christian living focuses more on the cross of Christ than on the glory. The theology of the cross does not deny the reality of glory—God’s glory and the glory of the new creation—but it discourages focusing upon that glory today. When a Christian is so obsessed with glory that he or she has forgotten the cross, that Christian is vulnerable to the attacks of evil.

This particular train of thought began with a post by InsanityBytes (which you can read here) and a lengthy conversation in the comments to that post, a conversation in which I participated. IB asked whether a Christian should hate wickedness. She concluded that hate should not be part of a Christian’s life. The Bible says that God hates wickedness, but IB suggested that a perfectly holy God can properly hate evil. She suggests that permitting ourselves to imitate God’s hatred for evil is akin to permitting a four-year-old child to operate a car.

IB and I have exchanged thoughts for a while, and I know that she is no heretic, no threat to genuine Christianity. She is not oblivious to pain and suffering—on her blog she has spoken of difficult and painful experiences in her past life, and she describes her present dwelling place as the seventh circle of hell. Perhaps that is why IB appears to tilt in the direction of the theology of glory. Perhaps for her it is comfort in the face of evil or contrast to the evil she has seen. Make no mistake—IB has a clear and vivid understanding of the power of Christ’s cross. She recognizes it as the only source of redemption for sinners and reconciliation with God, the only hope for fellowship with God in this lifetime and in the new creation. On the other hand, IB speaks far more than I do of the glory in Christian life today. In our conversation, she said, “we are called to be over comers, to be seated with Him in victory. Even now death has no sting.”

While I agree that we are called to be overcomers—we are even described as “more than conquerors”—I suggest that the Christian in this world must regard life as being lived on a battlefield. Our enemies are beaten, but at the same time they are alive and well, always on the prowl, prepared to attack. Jesus did not promise unending glory in this lifetime—he spoke of persecution, blessings for those who mourn, having enemies whom we should love instead of hating them. He spoke of denying ourselves, taking up a cross, and following him.

Before his crucifixion, Jesus had to deal with a group of disciples who preferred the theology of glory. When three of them saw Jesus glow with light one night while he visited with Moses and Elijah, Peter wanted to capture the experience by setting up booths for the three heroes. Later, not to be outdone, James and John asked Jesus to promise that they would sit at his right and at his left when he came into his kingdom. Jesus told that that those positions were not his to assign, and that they would be given to other people.

But all this theology becomes tangled as soon as we realize that, for Jesus, the cross is the glory. He tried to explain this to his disciples, but they didn’t understand what he said. After Pentecost they understood, and they rejoiced to be considered worthy to suffer for the sake of the kingdom. When Jesus said, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23), he was speaking of his death on the cross, not of glowing with light or of sitting on a throne to rule the nations.

When Jesus came into his glory, when he claimed his kingdom, who was seated at his right and at his left? Two thieves—one who mocked Jesus, and another who recognized Jesus and confessed faith in him. “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he asked, and Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth—today you will be with me in Paradise.” Pontius Pilate determined who would be to the right and the left of Jesus when he claimed his kingdom, but Jesus did not want James and John to be in those places. He went to the cross to spare them from receiving what sinners deserve.

This observation does not answer the question about whether or not Christians should hate wickedness. It still seems to me that acknowledging wickedness without hating it—without regarding it as a danger and an enemy—risks apathy and a failure to love our neighbors. For when Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, he was not including the devil, the world, and our sinful natures within that command. When Jesus entered the battle to fight for us, he did not take on the Romans or other human enemies. He fought the devil, the sinful world, our sinful natures, and death itself. He won that victory, and he shares it with his people. We are “more than conquerors” because we have a victory we did not fight to win and do not deserve to own.

Why does God hate wickedness? Does he hate it only because wickedness is rebellion against him? No, God hates wickedness because it damages the good creation he made. He especially hates wickedness because it damages the people he loves. Not only does it bring physical suffering to people, but wickedness also becomes a barrier between God and the people he loves. He hates wickedness because it separates sinners from the God who loves them, threatening them with eternal death and suffering.

In the end, though, the question of hating wickedness pales in comparison to the question of where a Christian stands on the spectrum between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. Should all singing be praise songs, or should Christians also sing hymns that describe our sinful condition, our inability to save ourselves, and the enormous price Christ paid to defeat our enemies? Should all preaching be promises of glory, or should preachers also threaten judgment upon sinners who do not repent, remind their hearers that all people are sinful and need a Savior, and then describe the cross as the instrument of salvation? To me, the answer is obvious. The cross remains front and center, not only as a symbol of victory, but also as a reminder of the high cost of sin and wickedness.

In the end, I hate wickedness, not because of what it has done to me, or even because of what it has done to the world, but because of what it did to Jesus. He had no sin, but he became sin for us and was treated accordingly. My Lord died at the hands of sinful men—not merely the Jews who rejected him, and not merely the Romans who mocked him and tortured him, but all the sinners from Adam down to me. I hate what we have done to Jesus, and I rejoice that his love has overcome that wickedness and reconciled us again to God. J.