By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
The arrogance of power and its aversion to humility is characteristic of politics. That’s why it is so difficult to reconcile politics with the teachings of Jesus. Michael Gerson has described the moral anomaly of evangelical Christians supporting Donald Trump:
“[Those who support Trump] detest weakness in themselves and others. The country, in their view, has grown soft and feeble. Their opponents are losers, lacking in energy. Rather than despising bullying — as Ryan, Romney and all the Bushes do — they elevate it. The strong must take power, defy political correctness, humiliate and defeat their opponents, and reverse the nation’s slide toward mediocrity.
…This type of leadership can motivate, usually through resentment and anger. What it cannot do is inspire. …In American history, inspiring leadership has often been informed by religion, which (at its best) universalizes our empathy.
…The Republican Party is not engaged in a policy argument; it is debating the purpose of politics. …Trump is attempting to place nativism at the center of U.S. politics. Those who resist are not enforcing the rules of a private club. …They are opposing a candidate who mocks disabled people, demeans women, engages in ethnic stereotyping and encourages religious bigotry.
…Hating losers and the weak is fundamentally inconsistent with Christian ethics, and other sources of moral judgment, in every income quintile. Make no mistake. Those who support Trump, no matter how reluctantly, have crossed a moral boundary. They are standing with a leader who encourages prejudice and despises the weak. They are aiding the transformation of a party formed by Lincoln’s blazing vision of equality into a party of white resentment. Those who find this one of the normal, everyday compromises of politics have truly lost their way.
…We are seeing, in the word of G.K. Chesterson, Lunancy dancing in high places. None of this requires a vote for Hillary Clinton. But it forbids a vote for Donald Trump.”
Trump’s supporters have said they support him for standing up for what is right. If they support Trump’s standards of legitimacy, they ignore the teachings of Jesus that describe the moral standards of legitimacy summarized in the greatest commandment. Exit polls indicate that most Trump supporters consider themselves Christians. If so, they need to be reminded that Jesus taught reconciliation and humble service rather than division and exploitation of the weak. Christians who support Donald Trump have lost their way, and according to Dr. David Gushee they should repent and confess their resistance to Trump. (see Gushee's commentary in Notes below)
A politics of reconciliation and humble service is needed to redeem a political culture pervaded by the arrogance of power. Jesus made that point when he told his disciples: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44) Earlier, Jesus had told his disciples, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)
The disciples believed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah who would restore the power and glory of ancient Israel, and they wanted to participate in that power and glory. Jesus disabused them of that idea, and distanced himself from those Jewish zealots of his day who were committed to overthrowing Roman rule. According to Jesus the kingdom of God did not require a political revolution since it was not based on worldly power but instead on the power of God’s love to reconcile and redeem all people.
Lord Acton’s observation that Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely continues to be validated in politics. Power produces pride based on a sense of superiority over others, while humility—the antithesis of pride—is based on the belief that we are all equal in the sight of God. Humility is not based on weakness, but on strength that enables us to follow the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors—even those we would rather avoid—as we love ourselves. It is a standard of legitimacy that can reconcile us and redeem our politics from the corruption of worldly power and pride.
The ascendancy of Donald Trump in the Republican Party illustrates the relevance of religion to politics. The support of so many Americans—many of them evangelical Christians—for Trump’s vulgar narcissism and nativism, with his mocking of disabled people, demeaning women and encouraging religious bigotry, illustrates how the arrogance of power has eroded political morality in the U.S. It is in stark contrast to the moral imperative to reconcile and redeem humanity through the love of God and neighbor taught by Jewish prophets, Jesus and Muhammad. Our democracy will fail without a renewed commitment to that moral ideal.
References to Related Blogs and Notes:
For previous blogs on related topics, see Religion and Reason, December 8, 2015; Faith and Freedom, December 15, 2014; The Greatest Commandment, January 11, 2015; Love Over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy, January 18, 2015; Is Religion Good or Evil?, February 15, 2015; Religion and Human Rights, February 22, 2015; The Kingdom of God, Politics and the Church, March 15, 2015; The Power of Humility and the Arrogance of Power, March 22, 2015; May 10, 2015; Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, April 12, 2015; Religion, Human Rights and National Security, May 10, 2015; De Oppresso Liber: Where Religion and Politics Intersect, May 24, 2015; Liberation from Economic Oppression, May 31, 2015; Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity, July 12, 2015; Fear and Fundamentalism, July 26, 2015; Freedom and Fundamentalism, August 2, 2015; Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities, August 9, 2015; How Religious Fundamentalism and Secularism Shape Politics and Human Rights, August 16, 2015; The Power of Freedom over Fear, September 12, 2015; Politics and Religious Polarization, September 20, 2015; Who Is My Neighbor?, January 23, 2016; The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves, January 30, 2016; The American Religion and Politics in 2016, March 5, 2016; Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America, March 12, 2016; Religion, Democracy and Human Depravity, March 19, 2016; Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery, March 26, 2016; Standards of Legitimacy in Morality, Manners and Political Correctness, April 23, 2016; The Relevance of Religion to Politics, April 30, 2016; and Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation, May 7, 2016.
On Michael Gerson’s commentary, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-victory-inspires-lunacy-in-high-places/2016/05/09/16048aa2-160b-11e6-9e16-2e5a123aac62_story.html?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_headlines.
The Rev. Dr. David Gushee is Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University and President-Elect of the Society of Christian Ethics. Gushee helped draft a statement on why Christians are Called to Resist Donald Trump:
…Our statement is not a mere declaration of political preference or candidate taste. It is about something much more fundamental. This line from early in the document summarizes the heart of our concern:
The ascendancy of a demagogic candidate and his message, with the angry constituency he is fueling, is a threat to both the values of our faith and the health of our democracy. Donald Trump directly promotes racial and religious bigotry, disrespects the dignity of women, harms civil public discourse, offends moral decency, and seeks to manipulate religion.
Our analysis is that Donald Trump has gained the following that now puts him on the brink of the Republican nomination by exploiting the economic stresses and cultural tensions that exist in our rapidly changing society. He has risen to power by deliberately inflaming resentment, in particular white, male, working-class, “Christian” resentment. We say it this way:
Donald Trump…is manipulating…anger for his own political advantage – at the expense of the common good. Trump is shamelessly using racial resentment, fear, and hatred – always dangerously present in our society – to fuel a movement against “the other,” targeting other races, women, cultures, ethnicities, nations, creeds, and a whole global religion.
These offenses go as far back as his playing the “birther” card against President Obama many years ago, and include his attacks on Mexicans and other immigrants, his statements about American Muslims celebrating after 9/11, his mocking of a disabled reporter, his numerous calumnies directed against particular women, the atmosphere of violence at some of his rallies, his attacks on certain media members and the threatening environment for reporters at his rallies, and his tendency toward making threats and personal attacks on his political opponents.
…The situation appears especially threatening to many who are members of religious and ethnic minorities in the US, and to many women as well. They live with the direct or feared consequence of a candidate who has taken the low road so frequently and effectively, and created a movement around him in doing so.”
…Think about it. As of May 1, 2016, a man who has done and said these things is the likely candidate of one of our two political parties for president of the United States. This is astonishing. It is a moment in which everyone must stand up and be counted.Our children and grandchildren will one day ask what we did in election year 2016, when Donald Trump was running for president.” See http://religionnews.com/2016/05/01/christian-resistance-donald-trump/