Thursday, March 17, 2016

trump - again?!

In my first post, over ten years ago, I laid claim to a 30:30:30:10 identity (India:USA:NZ:Southland (NZ)). Each of these worlds has shaped me. Because of this I tend to claim some right, even responsibility, to wade into these worlds and reflect on them critically.

Right now I am as concerned for the church in the USA as I am for the church in India.

The reason for my concern? A revelation about Revelation. The entire book is a letter (cf 1.4-8; 22.21) written to the seven churches and, like any other letter, it must make sense to its original recipients first. This is where it becomes interesting. Most people live under the impression that Revelation is only for the suffering, harassed and persecuted church. They are wrong. Why? Because when you look closely at these seven churches, not all of them are being persecuted. So how does this letter make sense to those churches? Only by affirming, with Ramsey Michaels, that the enemies of God 'are within, as well as outside, the Christian congregation' (20).

When we draw near to these churches in their cities we find one of two situations: either (a) it is a time of poverty and/or persecution where the enemy is more external and there is little hope for justice; or, (b) it is a time of complacency and/or compromise where the enemy is more internal and there is great need for warning. The book of Revelation is written into both settings. 'It is the complex relationship between the presence or absence of accommodation and persecution that drives this letter' (Michael Gorman, 25).

So, I say it again: I am as concerned for the church in the USA as I am for the church in India. India nestles, increasingly and alarmingly, into setting (a) above, while the USA settles, increasingly and alarmingly, into setting (b).

And yes, the rise of Donald Trump has focused these concerns. I was under the impression that there were enough fair-minded Americans, many of them genuine Christians, on the right side of the political aisle who would rise up, eventually, and send this outrageous, arrogant, ungodly, naive, narcissistic, ethnocentric phenomenon back to Trump Towers with his tail between his legs.


I was wrong. Why? One reason may be because Trump is articulating what people - many of them genuine Christians, apparently - are saying around their dining room tables and in the quiet corridors of their lives. Their response to him is positive because his spoken words resonate with their quietly-spoken thoughts. He appeals to them as courageous. But I wonder if there is a deeper reason behind this one...

[As a little aside... In my teaching of preaching over the years there has been a commitment to learning how to preach worldviewishly. Together we picture society to be like a tree, with its fruits and roots. The fruit tends to be visible behaviour. The root tends to be invisible assumptions. In class, we tend to focus on the fruit that is bad and then explore how to trace that fruit to its root, or cause, where the issues of worldview lie. Most people struggle to do this tracing. And yet, the invisible is the influential. The root is the real issue. It determines the fruit. Too much preaching is too shallow. Every sermon needs to make this effort to surface roots and engage them with the gospel].

I wonder if part of Trump's success - among many genuine Christians, apparently - lies with what is going on at the 'root' in the lives of these people. Gospel roots are mingling with roots that are far from the gospel. It is called syncretism and it is a worldview challenge for Christians in every culture. This mingling expresses itself in muddied conversations in those corridors and around those tables in people's lives.

Yes, there is confusion. Lots of it. People - including many genuine Christians, apparently - are not thinking biblically enough, or even clearly enough. American roots are mingling with biblical roots, producing fruits that are just bad. For example, the 'pursuit of happiness', mandated in the US Constitution, actually runs counter to the call of the gospel. Personal individual freedoms, so celebrated in the USA, are not unlimited. They need restraints placed on them, with an eye on the greater, even global, good. Social ethics is as important as personal ethics (and so addressing the evil of racism sits alongside addressing the evil of abortion). The Constitution does not carry the same authoritative weight as the Bible/Christ combo - in theory, or in practice. The right to bear arms is really about the right to bare arms, to roll up your sleeves, and give yourself in selfless service of others (!). And don't get me started on the wanton hijacking of the word 'evangelical' because I've been there before.

And I'm sorry, but the American people are not an extra special people in the eyes of God. The doctrine of 'American exceptionalism' and the 'make America great again' slogan, together with the patriotic, nationalistic fervour whipped up by them, have little to do with God's strategic rescue plan for the world. That plan is wrapped up with a global church, rather than a local nation.

Maybe the tide of people flowing towards Trump - many of whom are genuine Christians, apparently - has some source in this muddied thinking below the surface. Being American is not being separated adequately enough from being Christian. Even at their very best, they are not the same. Maybe that is partly why so many Christians are flocking to this obnoxious pagan. How can it be possible to soak in a biblical worldview and be a supporter of Donald Trump? I can't see it. I'd rather flock to the Duck, or to Ronald.

A better way forward is to call the church in the USA to get its eyes off politics as a route to 'wealth, power and might' ... and to sit humbly, graciously and courageously in Revelation once again and hear its message for them. It still speaks into a time of complacency and/or compromise where the enemy is more internal and there is a great need for warning. Such listening would open the door to many more genuine Christians living in a way that serves the purposes of God in our day - with no 'apparently' about it whatsoever.

nice chatting

Paul

3 comments:

Fred Brunell said...

Thanks Paul - I've shared it on fb. In addition to syncretism, I wonder if there's another factor involved in Trumps success. He's giving voice to the Precariat. We are beginning to see the fulfillment of Standing's sub-title, "The New Dangerous Class". Here the church has soooo much to offer... if only she would wake up, strengthen what remains...

James Addis said...

As a New Zealander currently resident in the States, I'd just point out that Trump's views are intensely disliked by many Christians. Jerry Falwell is hardly representative. My Facebook feed is awash with commentary roundly condemning him. Max Lucado never speaks about politics, but he felt bound to strongly condemn
Trump.

Paul Windsor said...

Yes, indeed, Fred.

You make a fair comment too, James. One of the features of American Christianity which Kiwis struggle to get their heads around - is its sheer size. Every section on the Christendom spectrum seems to be big enough to have its own college, its own publishing house, its own radio station etc etc. Its huge. So while what you say is true - lots of Christians 'roundly condemning him' ... sadly, it is still also true that there are lots of Christians roundly commending him. That is my concern. I don't doubt that there are many who dislike him (hopefully, all my family members!) - but that is not the full picture on Christians and Donald Trump. There are still many who like him very much.

In Vancouver (for a few days) - where the political air seems a little bit different.

Paul