So…it’s Donald! We’ve all been trumped by this one. A bitter and cantankerous man who appears to colour his hair with the urine of a farmyard animal just got elected to the most powerful office in the western world. This time last year Donald Trump was the joke story at the end of the news. Now he’s the joke story at the start.
I wasn’t as depressed by this news as I thought I would be. After Brexit there was part of me that expected it to happen, which probably helped soften the blow. On Wednesday morning my beautiful two-year old boy, oblivious to it all, repeated one of his favourite phrases a number of times: “It’s okay Daddy…it’s okay Daddy…it’s okay Daddy.” Then on Wednesday evening a group of children whom I’d spent several weeks preparing and rehearsing performed a Shakespeare play at our local theatre that was dazzlingly and movingly brilliant. All these things made me smile on a day that should have been truly miserable. More than this, I think I’d given myself a good talking to. After Brexit I was downcast and withdrawn. I’m determined not to react in the same way this time. Of course this outcome is very, very worrying and we’ve all got good reason to fear for the future, but if this is to be the challenge that my generation faces then bring it on. The cards have been thrown up in the air but the way that they land isn’t going to be random: let’s make sure it’s the hearts and diamonds that face up.
However, one aspect of this that really does trouble, infuriate and concern me is the role that the church in the USA played in this election. Analysis seems to show that about three quarters of evangelical, church-going Christians voted for Trump, and they were almost certainly influenced by a number of high-profile Christian leaders who openly supported him. For the life of me I cannot understand this, and whilst the vote to leave the European Union made me feel, for a time, ashamed to call myself British, Donald Trump’s victory makes me almost feel ashamed to call myself a Christian.
Almost. But not quite.
Because the reality is that I’m deeply proud of being a Christian. It’s the most important identify that I have. It’s just that it appears I don’t have a great deal in common with some who would give themselves the same label.
This is the way that I see it.
Being a Christian means being a follower of Jesus. And Jesus disturbed the comfortable and comforted the disturbed. Whenever he saw hypocrisy, oppression, arrogance or injustice he challenged it. When these qualities were combined with wealth, status and influence (as they so often are) he was particularly scathing. Any time that he met the marginalised and oppressed, however, he was kind, compassionate and loving. He ate in the homes of those who the religious authorities had declared were ‘sinners’. Arguably the most shocking aspect of his life was not that he healed the sick but that he associated with them. Spoke to them. Touched them. Gave them back their dignity and humanity. Before he left the world, he promised his followers that they would be filled with his own Spirit so that they could live life in the way that he did. The Bible is fairly clear about what the signs of a spirit-filled life are: love; joy; peace; patience; kindness; goodness; faithfulness; gentleness; self-control.
Now it’s not for me or any other human being to make a definitive judgement about the character of Donald Trump, but I don’t see evidence of any of these characteristics in him. It doesn’t matter what label he gives himself or what ‘tribe’ he chooses to identify with. A true Christian is someone who tries to follow the example set by Jesus. Trump, as far as I’m able to tell, does not. And any church-goer or church leader who makes out that Trump is the Christian choice has got it pretty badly wrong in my opinion.
In fact, the Church as a whole sometimes worries me – or at least certain factions (on both sides of the Atlantic) do. It worries me that the Church, like Donald Trump, has a tendency to pick on easy targets. It worries me that the Church, like Donald Trump, sees issues in very black and white terms and therefore feels qualified to judge, when the reality is that there are millions upon millions of shades of grey. That’s why God and God alone can judge. How good is the Church at speaking challenging and uncomfortable truths to those with influence and power who oppress and demonise the poor and needy? This is what Jesus did. I don’t see much of that going on today. At times it seems to me that, throughout much of recent history, the Church has understood that it should be taking a stand against something, but it is too frightened and too institutionalised to take on the real villains, so instead it goes after the weak and vulnerable: women; single parents; homosexuals; those who have suffered the pain and trauma of abortion. These are the very groups that Jesus himself would have broken bread with. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend caring and loving Churches throughout my life, and have witnessed, experienced and benefited from a huge amount of real Christianity in those congregations, but even so it depresses me that the only time I’ve ever heard a church leader pray for a specific outcome from a specific political vote was when God was asked to ensure that the bill to legalise homosexual marriage should be defeated.
Love; joy; peace; patience; kindness; goodness; faithfulness; gentleness; self-control. Which people do we know who genuinely try to live up to these ideals? Which church leaders, and which church congregations, demonstrate a commitment to them? And which political candidate demonstrates them? Because he, or she, is the one who truly deserves the Christian vote.