What I wrote about Christians who believed in Donald Trump

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Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting…but as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (Gospel of John 18:36).

On January 7, 2021, I posted about Donald Trump and the Christians who were willing to believe and follow him.

To say what I said (the way I said it) was not my norm.

My norm is to use words that I hope will make everyone feel at home. If I do come at you, I want to come swinging pillows and not fists.

But what I said on January 7 was not “pillowy.”

It was brass knuckles.

Someone noticed. “Coach” is a Christian man who is about my father’s age. He is a hero and role model of mine. When I’m facing a hard problem or tough choice, I sometimes try to imagine how Coach would handle it.

Coach did not like what I wrote. He sent me a private rebuke.

When a man like Coach rebukes me, I give thanks for the honor and give thought to his words. I tried to honor Coach with a private reply, but Facebook would not let me send him a message that way.

So, to honor Coach’s rebuke, I am writing my reply here in public.

It could be that after my January 7 post, you need to hear from me, too.

I hope what follows is helpful.

The thesis of this post is that some Christians in America are making politics their religion. They are making politicians out to be prophets.

In the days, months, and years leading up to January 6, 2021, some of them even came to believe that one politician, Donald Trump, is God’s “anointed one” (christ) sent to save Christianity. Those Christians were willing to go to extremes for him.

Before I get to my argument, I’ll frame it with a few points:

1. Context. I am writing about Christianity as a Christian writing to Christians. The church of Christ, not American politics, is the context.

2. Background. I will re-share what I wrote on January 7 and some of what Coach wrote to me in his rebuke.

3. Common ground. I will lay out where Coach and I agree.

4. Assumptions. Coach made two assumptions that missed the mark. I will fix those.

5. Argument. I will argue that, to some Christians in America, Donald Trump is more than a politician; he is the “anointed one” of God. When enough Christians believe this to be true, we are no longer talking about American politics; we are talking about Christianity itself. When Christians make American politics the business of the church, pastoring those Christians becomes church business. That is why I wrote what I wrote.

6. Invitation. What does it look like to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another so that we may be healed (James 5:16)?

7. Closing.

Let’s get to it.

I am writing about Christianity as a Christian writing to Christians. The church of Christ, not American politics, is the context.

So, in that context, here is what I wrote on January 7:

The number of times I started to share or type something on Facebook in the last 24 hours…
I am trying so hard to find language that both articulates charges of wrongdoing and yet offers reconciliation and recovery.
The misery of this moment is that I am so angry and disappointed at people I love so much. I want to say a lot of things to them. But nothing I can think of to say will do any good. It won’t change their minds. It may only drive them away more. Why say anything if it will make things worse for me, for them, for us?
I have a fire in my bones. Christians will know what that means. People who have been consumed by a fire in their own bones know the heartbreak and misery of it. A person who truly speaks from the depths of the Spirit of God does so with fear and trembling. Nothing is more agonizing than telling the truth when the truth is sure to burn.
A sizable segment of my fellow conservative Christians are guilty of idolatry that corrupted and deluded them. The first idol is Donald Trump and Republican media and politics. The second idol is what I call an “immunity idol.” That is, as long as conservative Christians support pro-life politicians, they are excused from decency, integrity, justice, and morality in the political realm.
This double idolatry made many conservative Christians ready and willing to believe the delusions of Donald Trump. Those delusions have made many conservative Christians a danger, not only to the Republic, but to the Gospel and witness of Jesus Christ the world over. The sad paradox is that, in trusting themselves to a delusional strongman, they have endangered and weakened themselves and the church they tried to protect.
Donald Trump is on his way to being a pariah. He will end his days as a byword, impoverished, a man without a country. These will be the consequences of a lifetime of deceit and grift. Those who hang on to him will become violent threats to the rest of us, but they will eventually fade with the Trump family.
The question is: How do we recover the Gospel of Jesus Christ from those who tied it to Trump? How do we rehabilitate Christians who put their hope and trust in him?

I want to say that it is time to move on, but not really. People need to be held accountable and responsible for what they did or what they enabled. We have sins that we need to confess and own before we can move on toward repentance. We must not act as if none of this happened or that none of it matters.

And here are some excerpts from the personal note Coach sent me:

Brad, I’m being honest, I think for you to suggest that your brothers & sisters who did not support the man you did are idolaters is very judgmental & arrogant. Please note, that I was in conversation with a brilliant man today & his views are 180 degrees opposite of yours. He is as passionate with his views as you are yours. He also as much of a biblical scholar as some who liked your post. I told him that he is dividing the church the way he approaches things. You mentioned that what you were compelled to write wouldn’t change people and you are right. What it will do is continually divide the Body. Brad it came across to me like you were thanking God that you weren’t like that poor sinner who was beating his chest. Or the Pharisees who complained about who Christ was hanging with.

Coach and I care about the same thing: The health, integrity, and vigor of the church of Christ. We care–to the point of pain–for the church of Christ as the vessel that carries the Good News of Jesus Christ in the world.

I think that Coach and I agree that a steady diet of American politics is sickening and weakening the church. The politics infecting the church are darkening its light and sucking out its “saltiness” (Gospel of Matthew 5:13-16).

But in his rebuke, I think Coach made two assumptions.

Coach’s first assumption is that I embraced and endorsed Donald Trump’s opponent in the presidential election. Coach wrote: “I think for you to suggest that your brothers & sisters who did not support the man you did are idolaters…” (italics mine).

When I say something against one party or politician, I am not saying something for another. I can reject one side without supporting the other. Jesus did this all the time.

In no way am I endorsing or holding up any other party or politician.

When I call idolatry “idolatry,” I am not inviting my audience to worship a different idol. The choice before Christians in America is not “Democrat or Republican”; it is the Way of the Christ or the ways of the world.

American politics does not present the full range of choices and options available to Christians. We are not limited to what politicians put on offer.

Coach’s second assumption is that I want to bring American politics into the church of Christ.

I do not want to bring American politics into the church of Christ. Full stop.

What moved me to write is that some of my fellow Christians not only brought American politics into the church of Christ, they enshrined it and made it out to be essential to Christianity itself.

That brings us to the main point of this post.

To some Christians in America, Donald Trump is more than a politician; he is the “anointed one” (christ) of God. When enough Christians believe this to be true, we are no longer talking about American politics; we are talking about Christianity itself. We are talking about Christians giving a politician the authority and power to tell them what to believe and do as Christians.

As a leader and teacher in the church of Christ, what do I do when fellow Christians believe that a politician comes “in the name of the Lord?” What do I do when fellow Christians believe that following a politician is the same as following the Christ?

Or the flip side: What do I do when fellow Christians believe that not following a politician is the same as not following the Christ?

What do I do when so many Christians are willing to do un-Christian things for a politician? Some “merely” mock and slander their fellow Christians and neighbors. Some “merely” spread lies. But we saw that others were willing to injure, kill, and steal for the one they believe is “the anointed one of God.”

Those Christians carry the name of our Christ with them when they follow a politician into doing un-Christian things.

Should we be surprised, then, when Christianity is “maligned”? (2 Peter 2:2).

I hope you can see that we are no longer talking about American politics; we are talking about Christianity itself. We are talking about where the church of Christ puts its faith and hope. We are talking about what the church of Christ shows and tells the world.

Politics is an old temptation because power is the oldest temptation. Let’s not act like running after a politician is anything new among God’s people.

Even Jesus’s first followers, the ones who lived with him for three years, assumed that political power would be their salvation.

They followed him around the country, waiting for him to restore the seat of Moses (religion) and the throne of David (politics) in Israel.

When Jesus rode like a king into the capital city, his followers thought the time was at hand. They asked him: What is the signal that it is time to take action to help you take back the nation for God? (see Gospel of Matthew 24:3). They were looking for a code word or gesture to signal that it was time to fight. They were ready to storm the capital for him and take the country back by force.

This is what Jesus said to them:

Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying “I am the Messiah!” and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come (Gospel of Matthew 24:4-14).

Did Jesus’s followers know what to make of this?

They asked for power and they got something that sounded pathetic. Indeed, soon after Jesus said these words, the clergy and politicians conspired to kill him. Jesus’s followers looked for the signal, but Jesus never gave it. He went to his own death like a “sheep to the slaughter” (Book of Isaiah 53:7).

This is our Christ: Refusing to play politics. Rejecting political power.

Even when all he had to do was reach out and take it.

Even when power was his to use if he just chose to use it.

Even though power was his right.

What does this say about our Christ?

What should it say about his church?

If we are truly followers of our Christ, then his ways must be our ways.

Notice that at the end of what Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew 24:4-14, he told us about a fate that is worse than wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution, or even death: Love grown cold.

Jesus made it plain: The world is going to keep on doing what the world has always been doing. People in power are going to do what people in power always do. The corruption and failure of politics and religion are as old as human society itself.

So don’t believe your salvation will come from those same old failed and failing political and religious powers.

Don’t believe anyone who comes along and tells you that they will save you from all of this, says Jesus. Especially if they ask you to help them take power as a means of bringing about your salvation. That is not my kind of power. That is not how I save you.

When we look to politicians for salvation, we are easy marks for false messiahs and false prophets who will lead us with the rest of the world to love grown cold.

When our love grows cold, we are lost. Our light goes dark. We lose our saltiness. We are no longer able to carry the good news of the kingdom of our Christ to the world.

And why should the world listen to us anyway when we are stone cold?

Is the one who “endures to the end” the one who picks the right politician or politics to follow? No.

The one who “endures to the end” is the one who keeps loving. The one who “endures to the end” is the one who is too busy loving neighbors (Gospel of Matthew 22:39), strangers (Gospel of Luke 10:25-37), and enemies (Gospel of Matthew 5:43-48) to have time for politics. The one who “endures to the end” is the one who knows she is free to live and love because her Christ saved her once and for all.

What salvation can a politician give her compared to that?

I named Donald Trump because so many Christians believed that he would be their savior. I watched their love grow cold and their witness go dark.

But I could name other names in both political parties.

The names don’t matter so much. These “messiahs” and “prophets” only get as much power as we give them. They are not causes, but symptoms of the sickness in the church of Christ.

That brings me to the “altar call.”

Over the course of my life, I watched as more Christians came to believe that political power is the way to the kingdom of God and to salvation.

The life and teachings of Jesus Christ show us that this is folly and pure sin.

Let us confess this sin to one another (James 5:16) and together turn in a new direction. Let us admit to our Christ that we put our faith in lesser christs. Let us own up to lying, mocking, slandering, and taking up arms in the name of those lesser christs. Let us say we are sorry for alienating and attacking the people that our Christ so loved–and commanded us to love, too. Let us take responsibility for letting American politics corrupt the church of Christ and poison the Gospel for so many.

Let us turn to the practice of a new politics. The politics of our Christ.

What are the politics of our Christ?

Love.

We have so much practice at being angry, bitter, and holier-than-thou that we may not feel much love at first. But if we practice living our lives as Jesus lived his life, we will get in the habit of being political like never before.

But our new politics will not be something we do to get more power. Instead, we will follow the example of Jesus and give away our power. As Jesus once said: “I felt power go out of me” (Gospel of Luke 8:46). As people who practice the politics of our Christ, power will go out of us, too.

We will be OK with that. In fact, we will find that we feel joy and peace about giving away our power.

Why?

Because we will start to know and trust that power does not come from politics; it comes as a gift from God.

And there is always more than enough for those who trust him.

We will take up the mission statement of our Christ:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Gospel of Luke 4:18 - 19).

The proof that we practice the politics of our Christ will be the proof Jesus himself gave that he is the Christ:

Go tell John [the Baptist] what you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me (Gospel of Luke 7:22 - 23).

It is not time for the church of Christ in America to give up politics; it is time for the church of Christ in America to practice and proclaim the politics of Jesus Christ.

Those are not the politics of a country, but a kingdom.

Those are not the politics of a politician, but a King.

Those are not the politics of a party, but a church.

As the church of Christ in America, let us declare our independence from the American political system. Let us declare our independence from the political media. Let us declare our independence from the political parties. Let us declare our independence from politicians.

Let no political party, politician, or pundit say of the church of Christ: “Those are my people. I can count on them to do what I want them to do!”

Rather, let the church of Christ today confound and confuse people every bit as much as the ancient church did in its time. Let the most common questions about us be:

“Don’t they know that what they are doing will never work in the real world?”

And:

“Why are they so good to people who treat them so bad?”

And:

“Why do they give so much to people who have nothing to give back?”

And:

“How is it that they avoid political power and yet their power grows?”

And:

“Why are they so calm, so peaceful, and so sure when everything around them is raging out of control?”

And:

“Whose side are they on anyway?”

And:

“How do I get some of what they have?”

Coach was right to warn me about bringing American politics into the church of Christ. I hope you can see that he and I are actually on the same page. I hope that you can see that he and I agree (I think) that American politics corrupts Christians, the Christian church and the Christian Gospel.

Truth: When the Christ wants to restore and save his church, he does not send politicians; he sends prophets. He does not call to his church from the halls of power; he calls from the wilderness. The prophets our Christ sends do not lead us to political power; they lead us to the cross of Christ.

Politicians who claim to be sent by God to save the church of Christ are liars. When Christians follow and support these politicians, they believe and give themselves to a lie.

As Christians, let us stop believing liars and stop following lies. Whether it is Donald Trump or any other party, politician or pundit, let us stop giving them the belief, loyalty, obedience, and trust that belongs only to our Christ.

Let us take our Christ at his word and obey him:

Then if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the [anointed one]” or “There he is!”–Do not believe it. For false [anointed ones] and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible even [the people who ought to know better]. Take note, I have told you beforehand (Gospel of Matthew 24:23-25).

Donald Trump is not the anointed one sent by God.

No figure in American politics is the anointed one sent by God.

The church of Christ has only one Christ, one Lord, and one Savior.

He was enough for his church 2,000 years ago.

He is enough for his church in America in 2021.

It is time for us to act like it.

Grace and peace.

 
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