Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

When Caution does not Suffice: Reflections on the Current Presidency

Friday, August 25th, 2017

This is a long follow-up to my Facebook post about Donald Trump and the Fiddler on the Roof (see the end of this piece).

When the President speaks with a teleprompter, that is not Donald Trump speaking. Donald Trump’s largely non-teleprompter “speech” Tuesday night (8/22/17)—despite his appeal to earlier remarks allegedly condemning racists and white supremacists—was once again implicitly racist and pro-Nazi, and explicitly supportive of illegal activity (that of the convicted sheriff), in addition to being mean-spirited toward anyone who questions or disagrees with anything he says or stands for, including a U.S. senator battling brain cancer.

Writing in today’s Washington Post (8/25/17), former longtime Republican senator John Danforth says this: “As has been true since our beginning, we Republicans are the party of Lincoln, the party of the Union. We believe in our founding principle [that of a united country]. We are proud of our illustrious history. We believe that we are an essential part of present-day American politics. Our country needs a responsibly conservative party. But our party has been corrupted by this hateful man, and it is now in peril. In honor of our past and in belief in our future, for the sake of our party and our nation, we Republicans must disassociate ourselves from Trump by expressing our opposition to his divisive tactics and by clearly and strongly insisting that he does not represent what it means to be a Republican” (emphasis added).

Mr. Danforth does not go far enough. Former Bush-speechwriter Michael Gerson, also in today’s Post, starts to go a bit further as he (like me above) calls out the real, non-teleprompter, Phoenix-side of Donald Trump: “Trump deserves a patent on the idea that political authenticity means spontaneity. So it was the real voice that we heard in Phoenix, attacking a man with brain cancer — Republican Sen. John McCain — without any wish for his recovery. The real voice defending a supporter who had been fired by CNN for writing ‘Sieg Heil’ on Twitter. The real voice making fun of a TV anchor’s height. The real voice again widening racial divisions by defending Confederate monuments as ‘our history and our heritage.’ (Instead of the royal ‘we,’ the white ‘we.’) It was the real voice expressing greater passion in criticizing journalists than white supremacists.”

Gerson’s next sentence is a stark but truthful one: “Trump dares us to take him at face value. His self-revelation comes unbidden, even involuntarily. And his transparency reveals a disordered personality” (emphasis added).

Gerson goes on to discuss some of Trump’s odd claims Tuesday night, then commenting as follows: “What if Trump really believes what he claims? Then he would be not deceptive, but deluded. A deluded man in charge of North Korean policy. A deluded man who could employ nuclear weapons at a moment’s notice (actually two to three minutes to order a launch)…. Trump is not merely acting unpresidential; he is erratic and grandiose” (emphasis added).

But even Gerson does not go far enough, concluding simply that “Trump’s version of reality appears to make another Republican legislative and political disaster inevitable. The unified control of House, Senate and presidency means little when the president lives in a reality of his own.”

Unfortunately, this cautious final paragraph is an anti-climactic, insufficient, and perhaps even illogical conclusion to the charge of presidential delusion and personality disorder. There is a time when caution is wise and prudent, a virtue. There is a time when caution becomes a vice. I don’t blame Gerson and Danforth for wanting to be prudent, but perhaps now prudence (in the sense of good judgment) requires something other than caution.

It seems to me, in light of the last two weeks, that many (and perhaps most) people in the U.S. now realize what some of us here and many around the world have thought all along but have been hesitant to say publicly: the current President is morally (and otherwise) unqualified for such an office. They—including Mr. Danforth and Mr. Gerson—intuitively know, in the words of the 25th Amendment, that he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” If that is true, unless he repents (meaning both confession of sin and radical behavioral change—and that is the only adequate word for what he needs to do, yet it is nearly impossible for a deluded and disordered person), it now falls to those who have blindly supported him, those who have worked with him and do work with him, the cautious critics, etc., if they have any integrity, to call for and find the quickest way to effect his removal from office. For the sake of African Americans and Jews. For the sake of refugees and immigrants. For the sake of the Republican party. For the sake of this country. For the sake of East Asia. For the sake of the world.

I suspect that Mr. Danforth and Mr. Gerson feel similarly, but caution prevents them from saying implicitly what their critiques imply.

I have no delusions that the current Vice President should actually be President, but perhaps he would at least stop being a puppet for the man who is currently his boss. We can pray as much.

I do not say any of this lightly, and I obviously do not expect everyone to agree, but I would hope that people would at least take these thoughts seriously. (Feel free to discuss this in a civil manner here—but only in a civil manner.)

 

*Facebook post of 8/23/17: Early in Fiddler on the Roof, the rabbi is asked if there is a blessing for the czar. He wisely answers, “Yes: May God bless him and keep him—far away from us.” There might be a similar appropriate blessing for Donald Trump: “May God bless him and keep him—far away from us, and far away from the nuclear codes.”

Inaugural Lecture PLUS a Seminar on Paul Nov. 8-9

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

Nov. 8: Raymond E. Brown Inaugural Lecture and

Nov. 9: A Morning with the Apostle Paul (and Friends)

If you are anywhere near Baltimore, you are cordially invited!!

On Thursday, November 8 I will deliver my inaugural lecture as the first holder of the Raymond E. Brown Chair in Biblical Studies and Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary & University. The topic will be “The Death of the Messiah: Theology, Spirituality, Politics.” A book sale and signing will precede the lecture at 7 p.m., and a period of dialogue will follow. This event, which is also this year’s Dunning Lecture, is free and open to the public.
Click for lecture information.

On the morning after the lecture, the conversation will continue as other biblical scholars and theologians (Richard Hays, Kathy Grieb, Fr. Tom Stegman, and Brent Laytham) will join me for “A Morning with the Apostle Paul (and Friends),” a discussion of some of the themes from my work on Paul and their significance both for understanding Paul and for the life and mission of the church today. Advance registration for this seminar is required, and space is limited.
Click for seminar details and registration form.

Christians and Politics

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

Here is part of the handout for my forum presentation at church Sunday. It will be preceded by an excerpt from the second-century letter to Diognetus and followed by Miroslav Volf’s values for voters.

Some Reflections on Christians and Politics

Some Preliminaries

1. Christians are first of all citizens of God’s kingdom, subjects of the Lord Jesus. Our first and ultimate loyalty is to that kingdom and to its politics and fellow-citizens. All other loyalties, allegiances, politics, political affiliations, etc. are subordinate and secondary to our citizenship in God’s kingdom. See Matt 6:33; Phil 3:20.

2. Before we start thinking about politics as state-crafting, we should think of politics as the public expression of our participation in the kingdom of God. Therefore, before we choose or construct a politics within a given country, we are given a politics—the politics (public life) of Jesus.

3. No human kingdom (i.e., state: republic, democracy, monarchy, socialist state, etc.) is or ever will be the kingdom of God.

4. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of humans will normally be in conflict.

5. As Christians we should therefore think of ourselves as people of another culture living in a host culture as a contrast-society and therefore, in a real sense, as exiles or resident aliens. See 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11.

6. Our primary political activity is to be the church: to worship God truly and to live out the demands of the kingdom of God and the lordship of Jesus.

7. Our political activity in the host culture/country/city should be an expression of our most basic Christian commitments such as (1) love of God, neighbor, and enemy; (2) prophetic concern for justice and shalom; (3) the call to be peacemakers. The basic purpose is to seek the common good, the welfare of the city, not to gain control or power. See Jer 29:7.

8. Religion and politics often use each other for what each perceives as gain, usually meaning either protection or power. Jesus said, it shall not be so among you! See Mark 10:43-45.

9. The bottom line in domestic and especially international politics is often self-interest. For many reasons, Christians must look beyond national self-interest.

10. Christians need to be especially wary about the use of God-talk by states and politicians, always asking, “What do they mean when they say ‘God’?” Which god do they mean? Most political God-talk, even in countries with some form of Christian heritage or presence, is not Christian faith but civil religion (nationalism in religious garb).

11. There is a variety of legitimately Christian ways to understand Christian political involvement in general and in particulars. This diversity ranges from being very active to withdrawing from some or even all aspects.

12. Christians should probably be suspicious of politics and politicians in general, because there is so much seeking, use, and abuse of power, so much lying, and so much death associated with politics.

Some Particulars in our Context

1. The United States is not a Christian country. It was founded by Deists on deist and Enlightenment principles. It is now a secular state with a religiously pluralist populace.

2. The United States is not God’s chosen people, the light of the world, the city on a hill, or the world’s last hope.

3. The dominant religion in the U.S. may well be “Americanism.” See Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics and Peter Leithart, Between Babel and Beast: America and Empire in Biblical Perspective.

4. Christians need to recognize the inherent realities and dangers of the country/culture in which we are located: the world’s lone “superpower” (empire?) with military bases in scores of countries; rampant consumerism; the deification of freedom and choice; and a sense of being specially blessed by God/god because of this military and economic might and this freedom.

5. Christians cannot escape being influenced by their host country/culture. But for Christians, some American values are not only wrong, they are idolatrous. Therefore the values we bring to politics and voting need to be examined and re-examined again and again.

For further reading: Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation. Michael Budde, The Borders of Baptism: Identities, Allegiances, and the Church. Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. David Gushee, Christians and Politics Beyond the Culture Wars. Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon, Resident Aliens. Ted Lewis, ed. Electing Not to Vote. Ron Sider, Just Politics. Jim Wallis, God’s Politics. J. Philipp Wogaman, Christians and Politics. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus.

Good Friday Reflections

Friday, April 6th, 2012

What makes Good Friday “good”? Or, what is the meaning of Good Friday?

The first thing to say is that it is good only in light of Easter. Given the reality of Easter, it is good because it reveals the depth of God’s love and communicates that love to us in order to liberate us from Sin and Death and to give us life in abundance and life eternal.

‘Volumes have been written on this, including some by yours truly. Here are just a few reflections summarizing some of what I have written elsewhere at greater length:

1. The main purpose of Jesus’ death was to create the people of the new covenant, who would be empowered by the Spirit of God to resemble Jesus himself: faithful to God and loving toward their neighbors and enemies.

2. The cross is not only the source but also the shape of our salvation.

3. The cross reveals the love, power, wisdom, and justice of God, and it does so, paradoxically but powerfully, in weakness.

4. The cross is not only the signature of the Risen One (so Kaesemann), but also of the Holy One of Israel; that is, the cross is a theophany.

5. The fact that Jesus died as the Jewish Messiah on a Roman cross means that his death contains within it a political theology and spirituality.

6. When the cross is used for anything that contradicts its character as divine love, power, wisdom, and justice displayed in weakness, it is being used blasphemously.

7. When I survey the wondrous cross, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

On Misreading “Greater love…” (John 15:13)

Monday, May 30th, 2011

In my previous post, I counseled preachers not to apply John 15:13 to war-deaths. Of course I know it is done all the time. By coincidence, an old (very old!) set of friendships is being renewed on Facebook over this issue. Below is what has transpired in the last 24 hours among me (MJG), old friend #1 (FB1), and old friend #2 (FB2).

FB1: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13


This Memorial Day weekend, take time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, thank those who served and serve today to preserve that freedom, and pray “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”

MJG: With all due respect, FB1, wasn’t our Lord in John 15 talking about his disciples abiding in him and imitating his radical love, rather than patriots??

FB1: ?”By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35. I choose not to dwell on the distinction between discipleship and patriotism at this time, but rather on the intersection of the same.

MJG: Once again, with all due respect, I would suggest that that is one of the most serious–and potentially dangerous choices–one can make. It’s worth thinking through again, IMHO.

FB2: Actually, Mike, Jesus was equating what he was about to do (willingly get crucified) as setting an example of the ultimate sacrifice one can exhibit. Whether for your country or your beliefs, willing offering your life still fits the example.

MJG: FB2, I would agree that Jesus is setting an example, but he is speaking to his disciples about their willingness to die for one another and for him, as disciples, in their mission in the midst of a hostile world. (See the rest of John 13-17.) He is not enunciating a general principle but articulating a potential consequence of being his friend in the world that killed him. Applying this to other kinds of deaths robs it of its meaning for mission and discipleship. Jesus is not creating a proverb (“dying for friends is a loving thing to do”) but borrowing and radically redirecting one.

FB1: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14

To expand upon my admittedly oblique point, I believe it is easier (the broad road) to compartmentalize our faith. In so doing, many have isolated themselves to some extent from the world and the issues of the world. But I make the more dangerous (narrow road) choice of integrating my faith with my life to the extent that God grants me courage, so that all of my words and actions may be brought under the Lordship of Christ. Thus, I focus on the intersection of my faith and my patriotism.

MJG: FB1, I certainly agree that our lives should not be bifurcated, and that all of life is to be brought under the Lordship of Christ. But as a good friend of mine says, “If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.” Or, to put it differently, the reign of God and the Lordship of Christ challenge all our other allegiances. More to the contextual point about the quote from John, I think Jesus is telling his disciples (and therefore us) that his kingdom is indeed worth dying for. But other kingdoms do not have the right to demand our bodies and ultimate allegiances, at least in part because their claim on our dying includes a corollary, inextricable, and ultimately unChristian claim on our killing. In other words, the church is called to make and honor martyrs, not soldiers.

Jim Wallis on Egypt

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Jim Wallis has an excellent essay on Egypt, which I recommend especially for a good perspective on the recent change in the U.S.’s view of Mubarak.

Pray for the peace of Cairo.


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