Our mettle as Americans is being tested. Weary from months of anxiety and self-isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have emerged into crowd-filled streets to protests against racial injustice while our self-aggrandizing president — ever the expert on any issue — fans the literal flames of violence. The events of June 1, 2020, in which the president of the United States tear gassed peaceful protesters so he could have a photo-op — Bible in hand — in front of the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., proved once and for all that Christianity is nothing more than a prop to Donald Trump. Frankly, if that is all Christianity is, I want none of it.
But if the tenets of Christianity are true — which I do believe — then Christians must condemn the hypocrisy of a president who continues to attack anyone he doesn’t agree with on one hand — viciously, hatefully — while holding a Bible in the other. The Beatitudes did not include, “Blessed are the politicians who hate.” Loving God and loving our neighbor (white churches: not just our white neighbor), caring for widows and orphans, feeding the poor — these are the acts of the true, living church.
Granted, Trump is not alone when it comes to caustic rhetoric. Hateful speech can be heard on all sides. But the president of the United States bears the highest responsibility to set the tone, to lead by example, to rise above the fray, especially in times of crisis. But let’s not kid ourselves — a pig loves the mud. The church has a hard enough time being authentic without the president dragging her into the mud with him.
Four years ago — an eternity? — I wrote a column for The Lufkin Daily News titled “Let’s not get Trumped.” It was April 2016 and Trump had not yet received the Republican nomination. I wrote then, “Trump’s campaign speeches are bullying and belittling, full of empty rhetoric and supportive of (indeed, encouraging) violence.” I was appalled at how blindly many evangelical Christian lemmings followed this reality show Pied Piper — one who played “an enticing but fundamentally deadly tune.”
It has turned out even worse than I expected. Evangelical Christian pastors who believe they can sidle up to the president to achieve their pseudo-religious, American theocracy, Republican-Party-or-die goals, and not even look the other way or hold their noses when he tweets, have much to answer for. Apparently, their sycophant-filled congregations aren’t holding them accountable, but a day of ultimate accountability will come (and a terrible day for them it may be).
I fervently pray that my grown daughters and their generation will understand that the faith they were raised with — the faith I cling to — is strong enough to handle these dark and difficult times, the complex issues, the hypocrisy, the hatred, the racism, the injustice in this world, and that they will keep that faith as their own. Of course, faith without works is dead; we have much work to do, many mouths to feed, many wounds to heal.
Christianity — much less democracy — is not validated by tear gassing people protesting injustice so you can get your picture taken holding a Bible in front of a church. True faith would have been displayed by opening the doors of the church and walking inside, arm in arm with protesters in peace and love.