SOCIAL JUSTICE, THE GOSPEL OF JESUS, AND THE ELECTION OF DONALD TRUMP

©Wendell Griffen, 2016
Circuit Judge, Sixth Judicial District, Division 5
Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock
CBFAR Past Coordinating Council Member

 

Ezekiel 2:1-7

2He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. 3He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. 4The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them. 6And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house.

 

The decision by voters in the United States to elect Donald John Trump to become the 45th President of that nation forces prophetic followers of Jesus to confront, confess, and proclaim some inconvenient yet unavoidable truths.

Mr. Trump was supported, cheered, and elected by a voting bloc of people who self-identify as “evangelical Christian conservatives.” Although Dr. Ben Carson shows that people of color can sell their moral and political birthrights for a chance to manipulate the levers of government, ninety-two percent (92%) of black voters did not support Donald Trump.  White Christian evangelicals – hereafter identified by the term “white Christian nationalists” – voted for Donald Trump in overwhelming numbers, elected Mr. Trump to become the 45th President of the United States.  

White Christian evangelicals who take umbrage at being identified as “white Christian nationalists” pretend to not know that the voting history of “good” white Christian evangelicals is functionally the same as that of white supremacists such as David Duke and Thom Robb who also claim to be followers of Jesus.  Despite their shared voting history, “good” white Christian evangelicals imagine themselves politically different from people like Duke, Robb, and Stephen Bannon, persons they consider outright bigots.  However, other observers understand that “good” white Christian evangelicals and white Christian supremacists traditionally vote the same way.*  

Self-proclaimed “good” white evangelical Christians overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in 2016 knowing they were supporting the same candidate endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke.  In doing so they behaved like “good” white Christian evangelicals who voted in 1980 to end the presidency of President Jimmy Carter.  

Carter was a white Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher committed to racial justice, gender equality, human rights, justice for Palestinians, environmental protection, and worker justice.  His personal and political record was clearly different from that of his rival, former California Governor Ronald Reagan, who was embraced and championed by “good” white evangelical leaders Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade for Christ), and James Robison (who mentored a young Mike Huckabee).**  White revivalist nationalists looked past Reagan’s ecumenicalism and marital history – just as “good” white evangelical Christians looked past Donald Trump’s marital history and misogyny this year – and elected Reagan because his positions on reproductive freedom, affirmative action, welfare, and militarism agreed with their patriarchy, white supremacy, self-righteous materialism, militarism, imperialism, and xenophobia.  

“Good” white evangelical Christians and white supremacists like David Duke, Thom Robb, and other white nationalists who claim to be followers of Jesus have supported the same race-baiting, patriarchal, militaristic, imperialistic, and materialistic candidates endorsed by white supremacists for two generations – since President Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.  Donald Trump’s personal and commercial racism, white male supremacy and patriarchy, racist and misogynist bigotry, xenophobia, and pathological penchant for violence, oppressiveness, and fear of others will shape U.S. policy for one reason:  because “good” white evangelical Christians and white supremacists –white Christian nationalists – embraced his candidacy and elected him.  

Now, as after any other election in the United States, Cooperative Baptists and the rest of the nation are being urged by politicians of all persuasions to unify, come together, and heal the insults, wounds, and fractures exposed and worsened by Mr. Trump’s candidacy and election.  Cooperative Baptists must consider those calls for unity and reconciliation with prophetic skepticism if we hope to be agents of the radical and liberating gospel of Jesus Christ.   

Allan Aubrey Boesak and Curtiss Paul DeYoung have written that injustice must be challenged and removed at the roots, meaning by initiatives and sustained efforts that are radical, to achieve the Biblical reconciliation that produces justice.  Otherwise, people will merely seek to reach political accommodations.  

Such political arrangements invariably favor the rich and powerful but deprive the powerless of justice and dignity.  Yet more often than not, this “reconciliation” is presented as if it does respond to the needs for genuine reconciliation and employs a language that sounds like the truth but is, in fact, deceitful.  This we call “political pietism.”  Christians measure these matters with the yardstick of the gospel and therefore know better.  When we discover what is happening is in fact, not reconciliation, and yet for reasons of self-protection, fear, or a desire for acceptance by the powers that govern our world seek to accommodate this situation, justify it, refuse to run the risk of challenge and prophetic truth telling, we become complicit in deceitful reconciliation.  We deny the demands of the gospel and refuse solidarity with the powerless and oppressed.  This we call “Christian quietism.”  Therefore, reconciliation must be radical.*** 

To be prophetic, one must speak inconvenient and uncomfortable truth to people in power.  Moses did not collaborate with the Egyptian oppressors of the Hebrew people. Samuel, Nathan, Deborah, Huldah, Elijah, Elisha, the prophets whose ministries challenged and displeased rulers during the 8th Century BCE, John the Baptist, and Jesus rejected the idea that calls for national unity somehow were more compelling than allegiance to divine love, justice, and truth.  Followers of Jesus should bear this in mind as we are urged to “get over it,” “fall in line,” and be compliant with and complicit in the policies, programs, and practices of the Trump presidency.

Like the Southern Baptist Convention from which they broke only a quarter century ago, Cooperative Baptists, by and large, are not known for speaking inconvenient and uncomfortable truth about racism, sexism (including homophobia), misogyny, xenophobia, militarism, imperialism, and commercialism.**** Thus, Cooperative Baptists – along with others who follow the gospel of extravagant generosity and radical hospitality shown in the life and ministry of Jesus – must now engage in what will be uncharacteristically rigorous thought resulting in prophetic choices and commitments that show we know what following Jesus means and demands.  

Simply put, we must recognize the difference between the ethics of Jesus and the ethics of President-Elect Trump, and refuse to forsake Jesus for Mr. Trump. The world is watching to see if we recognize and will live out that difference in obedience to the lordship of Jesus Christ and the examples of prophetic souls who have spoken truth to “rebellious house” people in every previous age.

*See http://religiondispatches.org/douthat-the-good-christians-reject-trump/.  Also, see http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/31/the-fearful-and-the-frustrated.  
**Daniel Hummel has traced how, religiously and politically, revivalist nationalism evolved into what is now evangelical nationalism in a recently published article titled Revivalist Nationalism Since WWII:   From “Wake Up, America!” to “Make America Great Again” that can be read online at www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/7/11/128//.
***Allan Aubrey Boesak and Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Radical Reconciliation:  Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2012), 1.
****This observation does not disregard the prophetic examples of people such as Foy Valentine, T.B. Matson, Robert U. Ferguson, President Jimmy and First Lady Rosalyn Carter, James Dunn, and others.  However, those examples are exceptions to the record of Cooperative Baptist witness concerning social justice.