Hot off the press in 2020: “The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump: 30 Evangelical Christians on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity” Ronald J. Sider, Editor. I decided to mention in first, just in case any reader doesn’t make it through to the end. It helps any preacher to know she or he is not alone. If I read the book, it would just provide material to make this “unpreached sermon” even longer.
Sermon Title: “Thou Art the Man” (Nathan to King David in 2 Samuel 12:7 KJV)
Theme: Speaking Truth to Power
If I were not retired, I would have to decide whether or not to comment on the Presidency of Donald Trump from the pulpit or in church newsletters. And the scales would be tipped heavily in favor of commenting on it, based on what the Bible has to say about corrupt kings, emperors and assigned political leaders within the Roman Empire, with specific reference to the Herods. Lest you don’t remember, one King Herod allegedly ordered the killing of some children in Bethlehem. Merry Christmas. Fox News would have had some commentators telling their listeners that somehow the children deserved it. And some of the listeners would have believed it. For whatever reason, FOX NEWS does not focus on complete and accurate information.
For me, the final straw occurred when President Trump held up a Bible for a photo op in front of a church near the White House on June 1, 2020. In context, Attorney General Barr utilized massive force to push back peaceful protestors so that the President could walk to the church and get his picture taken with a copy of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Gratefully, the Episcopalians objected, but nary a peep out of the right-wing Christians who currently hold up the base of his political power. Nary a peep out of most Republican Senators with the exception of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski.
True to form, Trump and some of his administration tell lies about the event, but the event was filmed by television crews, so history will get it right, even if FOX NEWS and the President and his followers, whoever they might be, get it wrong.
If I were preaching a sermon, I would probably have to prepare the congregation with a lot of philosophy about “freedom of the pulpit” and the prophetic nature of a significant part of the Bible. I am painfully aware that most Christians leaders in Germany were silent about the abuses of Hitler until it was too late to change the course of history. At some point, the choice was to be silent or to be silenced permanently by execution.
Perhaps this cartoon by David Horsey in the Seattle Times says it all: (Sept. 12, 2020)
Young woman: “I DON’T LIKE ALL HIS RUDE TWEETS, BUT I’M VOTING FOR TRUMP BECAUSE HE SHARES MY VALUES.”
Young man: “VALUES?! TRUMP CHEATED ON ALL THREE OF HIS WIVES! HE ILLEGALLY PAID OFF A PORN STAR HE HAD SEX WITH!
AS TENS OF THOUSANDS OF US GOT SICK AND DIED FROM COVID-19, HE PLAYED POLITICS AND DENIED REALITY!”
“HE’S GUILTY OF RIPPING OFF TRUMP UNIVERSITY STUDENTS AND STEALING FROM HIS OWN CHARITY! HIS CRONIES KEEP GETTING SENT OFF TO PRISON AND HE’S UNDER CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS!”
“HE SUCKS UP TO VLADIMIR PUTIN AND DOES NOTHING WHEN RUSSIANS ATTACK AMERICAN TROOPS AND UNDERMINE OUR ELECTIONS!”
“HE CRUELLY TAKES MIGRANT KIDS AWAY FROM THEIR PARENTS! HE PRIVATELY CALLS SOLDIERS KILLED IN BATTLE SUCKERS AND LOSERS! HE CAMPAIGNS ON FEAR AND RACE BAITING! HE’S AN AMORAL NARCISSIST WHO LIES, LIES AND LIES SOME MORE!”
(Young woman) “OKAY, SURE…BUT HE SHARES MY VALUES.”
(Young man) THEN GOD HELP US ALL.
One biblical approach would be to look at King David being reprimanded by a prophet for causing one of his soldiers (Uriah) to be killed, so he could take Uriah’s wife as his own. He had already lay with her and she was pregnant. The prophet, Nathan, condemns the King for these actions, getting David to react to a story of injustice about a rich man who had taken a poor man’s lamb. King David said: “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die.” And Nathan said “You are the man!” And indeed, he was. (2 Samuel 11-12)
Flashback: Who spoke up to protest representatives of Saudi Arabia killing and cutting up a newspaper reporter? They got a pass from the current administration. We may never know why. All we hear is the refrain: “Fake News!” Back to the sermon…
There are prophets in our land, but King Donald is not listening to them.
And then there is the story of Naboth’s vineyard. King Ahab wanted it, so Queen Jezebel arranged for him to get it. She arranged for “false charges” to be made against Naboth and he was stoned to death. Elijah informed the king that “in the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.” (I Kings 21)
Where are our Nathans? Where are our Elijahs? Are they being beaten on our streets by a few bad police, who are emboldened by the words of the President of the United States. Law and Order without Justice does not exist!
The guideline that I believe ministers should follow, under current law, is never, ever to tell people who they should vote for. So I shall just comment on what has been happening under the leadership of the current President. My colleagues in Germany were silent until it was too late. As Martin Niemoller wrote: “They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”
I lost track of the times in my ministry when some people asked me to shut up. But none of them were as important as the issues we are facing today in America and in our world.
One of the most difficult opinions with which I have had to deal as a pastor is that a preacher should not bring “politics” into the pulpit. While I can understand our reluctance to be lectured on partisan politics, the Holy Scriptures that we refer to as The Bible is filled with political positions. How we treat the poor is one of them. The prophets were not reluctant to confront power that was abused. Nathan’s confrontation of King David is a classic example.
This idea that we should be silent fits the designs of power abusers, but don’t claim that your position is supported by the Jewish or Christian Bible. Prophets, Jesus and preachers have all correctly spoken the truth to power. Sometimes it gets some of us killed or fired, but this is about power, not about biblical truth.
So accuse me of being partisan and I will listen. Accuse me of being wrong to comment on abuse of power or stupidity or immorality and we can talk about it, but I will not advocate silence.
Here ends my self-justification for talking about Donald Trump.
Where to start?
Column in THE WEEK dated Nov. 22, 2019 (page 6)
Heading: Trump admits to misusing charity.
President Trump admitted to misusing his charity’s fund last week and agreed to pay $2 million in damages. Settling a lawsuit with New York State, the president acknowledged using Trump Foundation funds on his businesses and to buy an autographed Tim Tebow football helmet and a $10,000 portrait of himself that was hung at his Doral, Florida, golf course. The foundation raised 2.8 million at a supposed veterans fundraiser in 2016, which Trump illegally diverted to his campaign. Trump agreed to disperse the foundation’s remaining $1.8 million to eight charities and follow restrictions in future charitable work, such as submitting to audits. Trump himself has donated little to his foundation in recent years and donated nothing from 2009 to 2015.
Column in CNN.COM by Jay Parini reprinted in THE WEEK dated Dec. 13, 2019
Was Trump chosen by God?
Was President Trump chosen by God to lead our nation? asked Jay Parini. In a recent interview with Fox News, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said he believes — and told Trump personally — that the president is “the chosen one.” sent to achieve the Lord’s will. This belief has spread like “a strange virus” among other evangelical Trump supporters. They contend that God often uses imperfect men to achieve his aims, such as the biblical King David, an adulterer. As a practicing Christian and son of a Baptist minister, I nonetheless find Trump to be an odd choice to further Jesus Christ’s message of love, forgiveness, and selflessness. Jesus asked us “to curb our anger, not even to hold a grudge.” He insisted that “one cannot serve two masters, God and money.” and that “we should treat others as we wish ourselves to be treated.” Does this sound like Trump? He embodies rage, vengeance, greed, dishonesty, and cruelty. Proclaiming Trump as “the chosen one,” moreover, implies that all world leaders are chosen by God, including Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Ayatollah Khamenei. True Christians know that our world is “a deep mystery,” and that only the arrogant think they know “what the Divine has in mind”. (end of quote)
One of the charities misused by Trump was designed to help children and yet he used it to help himself. Children! And yet he is praised.
I started this sermon long before the editor of the conservative Christian magazine “Christianity Today” had an editorial criticizing President Trump. Immediately Trump tweeted one more lie. He labeled the magazine as a liberal magazine. Believe me, every time I have read it, it was not liberal, but conservative. The liberal magazine is called “Christian Century”. Full disclosure – I am a financial supporter of the “Christian Century” magazine.
The list of Trump’s outlandish, but popular (with 49% of those who vote) views or actions are getting bigger and bigger. For every claim, there is a counter-claim. Our opinions are influenced by who you choose to believe.
It seems to be a FACT that Trump likes to belittle anyone who criticizes or opposes him.
On November 30th (2017), under a headline “President keeps stirring the pot.” (Seattle Times) we are informed that he disseminated on social media three inflammatory and unverified Muslim videos, he took glee in the firing of a news anchor for sexual harassment despite facing more than a dozen of his own accusers and used a ceremony honoring Navajo war heroes to malign a senator with what some would call a derogatory slur, “Pocahontas”.
“Donald Trump likes to declare that every good thing that happens while he’s in office – job growth, rising stock prices, whatever – is the biggest, greatest, best ever. Then the fact checkers weigh in and quickly determine that the claim is false.” (Paul Krugman, Seattle Times, Nov. 30, 2017 “We are being scammed, bigly”)
A mailing from the Natural Resources Defense Council (2017) lists Trump environmental policies that they oppose. This includes withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, approving the Keystone XL pipeline and sacrificing our public lands to oil companies and mining interests that are consistently putting polluters and profits before people.
The list is very long:
-heartless and counterproductive Muslim ban
-the barrage of racist and/or corrupt and/or unqualified staff appointments and Cabinet nominees
-the unhinged tweets attacking anyone who opposes his agenda
-the constant, constant lying “Trump’s presidency so far has been one shock to the system after another.” (Al Franken) page 2 of “Al Franken Giant of the Senate” (now in disgrace over pretending to grope a woman while she was asleep for a photo op. He has apologized, long after the fact and he resigned from The Senate. Note that Donald Trump never apologizes, at least not up to this point. He attacks and denies and FOX NEWS gives it all coverage.
-his family and personal record of racism in New York housing projects, as well as attacks on some youth who were found innocent of certain crimes. In his mind they are apparently guilty.
-his inappropriate remarks about women and his obvious unfaithfulness to at least two wives and perhaps all of his wives. We may never know.
-his so-called locker room talk about sexual matters that degrade women.
-his financial “deals” that hurt others
-the fiasco called Trump university where misrepresentation cost students millions of dollars.
-his record of bankruptcies that again hurt others, while protecting his own bottom line.
-his insistence that former President Obama was somehow ineligible to serve as President by being born in Kenya, when all facts say otherwise.
-as I write these notes on November 24, 2017, he recently talked to some military personnel, bragging how he alone had made the world safer from Islamic extremists known as ISIS. The headline screams “Trump to troops on holiday: ‘We’re really winning.’” My first and gut reaction is that our so-called President is lying….again. He states that more progress has been made under his watch than had been made in years of the previous administration. Why the need to put down others, while building up himself? He does it over and over again. And we know that some of it has been proven to be demonstrably false.
He attracted more people for his inaugural festivities than others. FALSE
He got more votes than his opponent. FALSE
He appointed people to positions of power who wanted to undo environmental protection rules; public education support and rules that protect public health. TRUE
Example: Coverage in the Seattle Times November 28, 2017
Article by Froma Harrop, Syndicated Columnist titled “Of course, in Trump’s view, defender of the little guy must go”
At issue is the existence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It was created to protect consumers from financial rackets.
“Trump paired his decision to defang the bureau with one of his habitually batty claims, that ‘financial institutions have been devastated.’ In the fact-based world, bank profits and stocks are soaring.”
He brags about the F-35 stealth jet fighter because the enemy cannot see it. Also FALSE. It is designed to evade detection by radar and other sensors.
It is sad when my automatic response to anything said by this person in authority is to doubt his veracity. Years ago I used the story of the young boy who cried WOLF when there was no WOLF. However, when a real WOLF came, no one paid any attention to him. We have a President who cries WOLF when there is no WOLF. Hopefully, the WOLF does not come on his watch. (written 6/6/2020) Given the reaction to the murder of a black man in Minneapolis, I am hearing the howling of a WOLF.
Nov 6, 2017 Christian Century article “After the glass factory” by Amy Frykholm
Racism “is coming back. The ones that would hide it, saying it behind your back, are bold enough now to say it.” That was written in 2017. Now in 2020, the nation is dealing with street protests fueling by racism in all of its forms. Trump did not create racism, but he has encouraged it, over and over again. It may be true that there are good people who are racists, but our President should not have said it in the midst of national pain.
A sister (Hollie) agreed “Now you have Trump saying, ‘Make America great again,’ which we say means ‘Make America white again.’” story from Lancaster, Ohio, home of the Anchor Hocking Company, a major maker of Depression glass.
I get lots of material from the Skagit Valley Herald which insists on publishing a variety of views on contemporary issues. In other words, they print things that compliment the President and they print things that attack him. You make up your own mind.
August 17, 2017 Letter to the editor
Delusion, denial and dysfunction
“Let’s agree that at the minimum, he displays poor impulse control. This lack of emotional maturity is a most common element found in a broad range of relationship dysfunctions, including divorce, child abuse, obesity, addictions and murder/suicide.
His lack of emotional development causes him to go off script and tell supporters at one rally to “punch protestors in the face.” You might notice that he never apologizes or owns that he made a mistake.
He apparently doesn’t see the connection between his words and a white supremacist driving his car through a group of protesters.” (Hal Pullin of Mount Vernon, WA)
The Bloomberg News supplied this list on September 28, 2019:
“(Trump) has abused his power, degraded his office, obstructed justice, undermined the Constitution, impeded legitimate oversight, defied court rulings, enriched his family on the public dime, ignored inconvenient laws, asserted nonexistent privileges, declared spurious emergencies to justify his whims, and otherwise acted like a would be tyrant almost from the day he entered office…”
Reflections on scriptures that I might share with Trump, if I had the opportunity to do so.
-A soft answer turneth away wrath.
-In as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.
-Love your neighbor as yourself.
-The sky is falling. (not scripture)
-what he does is offensive to my understanding of the faith. I wrote these words before he desecrated the Bible by holding it up for a photo op on June lst.
THE WEEK, January 12, 2018 page 6 quoting Brad Stephens in “The New York Times”
Two central conservative truths, are that “character counts” and “culture matters.” Yet Republicans are now pretending that Trump’s character – his constant lying, his crude bullying, his racial bigotry, his monstrous narcissism – are mere distractions
The Seattle Times, Feb. 28, 2019 Headline “Cohen turns on Trump: ‘He is a con man…he is a cheat..’ he is a racist…
(undated 2019 in the Mt. Vernon newspaper. Article by Aisha Sulton quoting Sarah Kendzior of St. Louis, on what she is telling her children:)
“I’ve flat out told them, ‘This is not normal. This is not how the government is supposed to work.’” We’re in a turning point in American history.
“It’s not normal for the president to be retweeting white supremacists or tweeting racists taunts. It’s not normal to have a president who has lied more than 10,000 [update April 2020 18,000 false and misleading claims; during the coronovirus he has averaged 23.8 lies per day] times in office, many times about things people easily can see and hear simply aren’t true.
“It’s not normal for an American president to dismiss a foreign threat to American democracy, and, in fact, openly encourage that foreign interference in an election.
“None of us have ever seen a president behave like this before. And it’s unsettling to the majority of Americans who don’t support this to understand how others can go blindly supporting him as though what he was doing to favor their agenda was somehow good for our nation and for our world.”
So I am not telling anyone else how to vote (if this were in a sermon), but I can assure you that I will not be voting for Donald Trump for anything and I will be able to avoid his next reality show. (As I did his first ones.) Hopefully the world will be safer when he is back doing his thing on television…without the perks of the presidency.
Postscript: 6/20/2020 Now John Bolton, National Security Advisor to Donald Trump may have used words like “narcissistic pathological liar”, “more ignorant than we thought”, “corrupt, dumb and immoral”. And this before the book is released for sale! Bolton was among the dozens of people Trump has fired or encouraged to resign. Trump must not be a very good judge of character, but he would spin the fact in another direction. He is good/bad at that.
There been other Presidents who were immoral and who did bad things while in office. Hopefully this nightmare will only last four years. Stay tuned…