The Christian Problem with Trump

the-good-samaritan-after-delacroix-1890.jpg!BlogIn every Christian Tradition (except perhaps extremist Calvinism – I’m looking at you, Westboro Baptist Chipmunks!) the “Rubber Hitting the Road” moment is when you recognize that, under Christ, the new life is lived not for self, but for the neighbor. The history of Western Civilization – which is the history of the church – is the history of humanity’s attempt to live up to that standard. There have been failures, of course. But the rise of mercy-places (hospitals, orphanages, etc.) and learning places (universities, schools for the common person, etc.) owe their existence entirely to the church’s belief that we serve God best when we show love to our fellow man. This is a uniquely Christian worldview.

There were no orphanages in ancient Rome. There were no charity hospitals. Schooling was only for those who could pay for it. No money? No education. No healthcare. The emperor’s goal was to keep the people just happy enough that they didn’t rebel.

Under Luther, the doctrine of vocation (or calling) made even the humblest job an exercise in love for neighbor. The oft-cited example of the cobbler, who engages in a holy task because his neighbor needs good shoes, shows how important this understanding is.

We are all called to show love to our neighbor in all we do. Whether it be as cobbler making the best shoes we know how, the gas-station attendant providing fuel for transportation, or the President of the United States, proposing policies that will help secure the nation politically, militarily, and financially.

And almost every candidate for President of the United States has understood this – if only cynically. LBJ (my nominee for worst president) tried to institute the “Great Society”. I was an urban pastor for six years, 30 years after his presidency, and saw the city I served only beginning to recover from his disastrous policies. But, his policies were at least a misguided attempt to help the poor. Growing up, the liberals believed Reagan was trying to destroy the working man. He believed that his policies would help the lower classes. Even our current president – so vilified on the right – believes that his policies of government intervention are necessary to bring justice to the poor. I may disagree with many of his actions, but I can not fault his intention.

That we have an almost unbroken string of Presidents who commit themselves to helping the poor succeed – regardless of how misguided their efforts may ultimately be – is still testimony to the Christian ethic that the holy work of a person’s calling – whatever that calling may be – is to show love for their neighbor.

And then there is Donald Trump.

I don’t question his faith in God, or in Jesus. He may very well be sincere in what he says about Two Corinthians. That’s not really the issue, and I don’t think it’s a big deal that he doesn’t know how to reference it properly.

But his behavior, over the years, has shown a pattern of un-love for his neighbor.

He has abused eminent domain laws, forcing people from their homes for his own personal enrichment. It is a lack of love that shoves families to the curb for the sake of the latest casino/office building, etc.

He has declared bankruptcy four times. True, as he says, he only followed the laws in place, and used them for maximum benefit. But it was for his own personal benefit. In the ninth commandment, we say that “we should not seek to get our neighbor’s money or possessions, nor obtain them by a show of right…” This means that, although we may have a legal right to take something – or to avoid paying back what we have borrowed – we should not do so. It is legalized stealing from our neighbor. Rather, we are to “help our neighbor to improve and protect his property or income.” In declaring bankruptcy – four times – Trump abused the laws, cheating his neighbor out of what was owed. Perhaps he was merely incompetent, which speaks for itself regarding fitness for office. But, given his overall pattern of conduct, it is more likely that he knew he would be protected by law from paying his debts. This drove him to reckless and unloving behavior with his neighbor’s money and possessions.

Donald Trump has a long history of doing business very publicly. He revels in the sort of tactics I mention. And his candidacy for president is not founded on love for neighbor. He promises to “make America Great again”. Wonderful. But at what cost? Has there been anything in his campaign that has indicated even the slightest understanding of “love your neighbor as yourself?” Is he running to serve his neighbor, or for his own self-aggrandizement? And given his penchant for self aggrandizement, is there even the slightest bit of evidence that he believes a Trump Presidency would be opportunity to show love to his neighbor? Because those who run for high office, with only their own personal charisma and their belief in their own righteousness, with no underlying principles to guide them, do not have a happy history. A commitment to national greatness. without a commitment to show loving to your neighbor can only lead to a nation that shows its lack of love in reckless anti-humanitarian policy. Historically, even if it were nothing more than cynical show for the media, at least our presidents paid lip service to the idea of Christian charity. Trump doesn’t have it in him. The honestly may be refreshing. But it is a dangerous step away from who we have always been as a nation.

Or, to put it another way, if Bernie Sanders was pro-life, even though I believe every single one of his policies would be disastrous to our nation, that would be enough to earn him my vote against Donald Trump, At least he understands that we have try to take care of our neighbor, and his policies, misguided as they may be, are predicated on that love. I would rather have a loving fool, than a smart demagogue. Because at least mercy and compassion would be underlie each foolish act.

Placing a man in high office who does not believe it is his task to show love to his neighbor – as Donald Trump has repeatedly demonstrated throughout his career, and continues to demonstrate on the campaign trail – should never even be an option for the Christian. And, regardless of his campaign prowess, or his promises, his utter failure to understand that he should have spent his life serving his neighbor means he will not have my vote.

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