Resisting Trump with Revelation (06)

John (1:9-11)

“Discipleship of the Crucified leads necessarily to resistance to idolatry on every front. This resistance is and must be the most important mark of Christian freedom."[1]

Ah, this quote – vintage Ernst Käsemann! And a most appropriate way to describe John the Seer. He practiced such freedom and leaves his vision for us that we too may practice such freedom in our age of Trump.

The Religion of Trump                                                                                                          Christians, don’t be fooled: Trump has deep religious convictions[2]
By Stanley Hauerwas January 27

Many Americans appear ready to give President Trump a pass when it comes to his lack of religious knowledge, sensibilities or behavior, but I think that’s a mistake.
Trump is quite pious and his religious convictions run dangerously deep. But his piety is not a reflection of a Christian faith. His piety is formed by his understanding of what makes America a country like no other.
Trump proclaimed Jan. 20, the day of his inauguration, a “National Day of Patriotic Devotion.” Patriotic devotion? Christians are devoted to God, not to any nation. Trump defended his call for a day of patriotic devotion by drawing attention to his other claim — taken on faith — that there are no greater people than American citizens. Faith in Trump’s view, though, requires belief in those things for which we have insufficient evidence.
There is nothing, in Trump’s view, the American people cannot accomplish as long as we believe in ourselves and our country. But Christians do not believe in ourselves or our country. We believe in God, but we do more than believe in God. We worship God. Nothing else is to be worshiped.
Christians have a word to describe the worship of that which is not God: idolatry. Idolatry, of course, can be a quite impressive form of devotion. The only difficulty is idolaters usually end up killing someone for calling into question their “god.”
Trump’s inauguration address counts as a stunning example of idolatry. His statement — “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America and through our loyalty to our country we will recover loyalty to each other” — is clearly a theological claim that offers a kind of salvation.
Christians believe that only God demands “total allegiance.” Otherwise we run the risk, as Trump exemplifies, of making an idol out of some human enterprise.
The evangelistic character of Trump’s faith should not be missed. He suggests that we will rediscover our loyalty to one another through our total allegiance to the United States. Quoting the Bible, he even suggests we will learn to live together in unity.
But history tells us people experience repressive politics for challenging such “oneness.” It is difficult to imagine those who have faced slavery and genocide can be in solidarity with those who believe we can let bygones be bygones.
Consider Trump’s use of the phrase “the people” in his inaugural address. “The people” have borne the cost. “The people” now own, rule and control the government. “The people” have not shared in the wealth of the country but now they will. “The people” will have their jobs restored.
To which one can only wonder: Who are these people? The answer must be that they are Trump’s people who now wait for his call to action, that is, to make America great again. Trump, in his mind, is not just the president of the United States. He is the savior.
Trump identifies as a Presbyterian. However, he has said he does not need a prayer for confession of sins because he has done nothing that requires forgiveness, one signal that he does not believe in a basic Christian tenet. He has identified with Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote the book “The Power of Positive Thinking,” which does not represent Christian orthodoxy. Christianity in Peale’s hands was closer to a set of beliefs a follower could make up to suit their desires. Trump has adopted this strategy and applied it to the country.
Christians must call his profound and mistaken faith what it is: idolatry. Christianity in America is declining if not dying, which makes it difficult to call Trump to task. Trump has taken advantage of Christian Americans who have long lived as if God and country are joined at the hip. I do not doubt Trump thinks of himself as a Christian, but America is his church.
Christians have a church made up of people from around the globe. That global interconnectedness might just produce a people with the resources to tell Trump “no.” At the very least, Christians in the United States have little to lose by beginning to reject our long love affair with American pretension.
How to Become a Christian Atheist
John stands now after the Call to Worship to introduce Jesus, the guest preacher for the day. He offers a brief introduction to himself as Jesus’ interpreter. Remember, none of us speak Jesus naturally. We all need help and John is our help here.
The little he tells of himself does not satisfy our historical curiosity. We’d love to know more about him. But what he does tell gives us enough to at least gesture toward what we might call his “Spirit-uality[3] for Resistance” or “How to become a Christian Atheist.”Here’s what he tells us:
1.       He is a “brother” to his readers (v.9). This is a prime reason many scholars do not believe he was the apostle John. If so, he would surely have identified himself as such and claim that position as authority for his words. But this John emphasizes his solidarity with his hearer. He is one of them. A brother. He speaks not from position but from community with them.

2.       He has shared with them “in Jesus” in “persecution” - from social pressure and ostracism to (expected) violent engagement, in the ”kingdom,” and “patient endurance. ”  John’s description here parallels his earlier description of Jesus:

-“faithful witness”/which often results in “persecution”;                                                                                -“firstborn from the dead”/Jesus’ resurrection establishes God’s “kingdom”;                                        -“ruler of the kings of the earth”/enables “patient endurance.”

All of this takes on a strange and powerful relevance in this age of Trump. Faithful witness now may well be prayer for the defeat of Trump and his agenda even as Dietrich Bonhoeffer found himself praying for the defeat of his own country in World War II. Given Trump’s childish vindictiveness, we may well pay a price for such witness.

3.       John[4] is on Patmos either in Roman imprisonment for his witness or to evade the threat of Roman action against him, more likely the latter based on the evidence we have. Loneliness, anger, and fear mix a sour cocktail for the prophet to swallow. Feelings many of us resonate with these days in America.

4.       In addition to being “in Jesus” with his churches, which I take to mean that we live from and for him alone, John is also “in the Spirit” (v.10). What exactly this means is not clear. But what is clear is that John is in a position of receptivity to God even with all the negativities swirling around him. I suppose for us this translates into a practice of the disciplines that place us open and ready to hear and respond to God. That may include some sort of prophetic trance or visionary experience but for most of us these practices will be more mundane and “ordinary” (though whenever we meet God it is never “ordinary” in that sense.)

5.       Finally, our Christian atheism is best nurtured in regular worship. John’s vision and commission to write it out comes to him “on the Lord’s Day.”  Even in the solitude of his island exile John apparently a regular worship with God.

May it please God that such “atheism” be ours in abounding measure in these years of Trump.

[1] Ernst Käsemann, On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene: Unpublished Lectures and Sermons. Edited by Rudolf Landau, with Wolfgang Kraus. xxi.
[3] I use Spirit-uality to remind us that growth in Christ and the life of faith is the work of the Holy Spirit not our marshalling our inner resources to use for God as in much contemporary spirituality.
[4] Points 3-5 are adapted from Kraybill, Apocalypse and Allegiance, 28-29.


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