‘Just watched and listened to President Trump speaking at the USA National Prayer Breakfast – has he become a Christian? Very God centred. Impressive. While some have been ranting – maybe others have fulfilled what is required of Christians – to pray for those in authority?’ Gerald Coates
Thus the charismatic church leader Gerald Coates commented on facebook. It provoked a torrent of responses – both in support and to disagree with the assumptions behind his comment. He seemed genuinely shocked and surprised by the response. It reminded me of something Rev. Ken Leech once wrote:
‘All Christians are political, whether they recognize it or not. But especially when they don’t recognise it.’
I think this is something that Gerald hasn’t truly grasped.
Like Gerald, I too am an evangelical Christian. But I found his comments on politics deeply troubling and I think they illustrate the political naivety which is being shown by so many Christians in response to Donald Trump.
For many “evangelicals”, especially in the US, right wing politics is a default position. But the irony is that Donald Trump isn’t even a conservative. He has co-opted the Republican Party in the same way that “his” party has co-opted the evangelical church over the last 3 decades.
And given his tendency to duplicity and irascibility it is extraordinary that many Christian leaders are cosying up to him. It seems incredible to me that Christians who “take the Bible seriously” and love the Jesus who preached the Sermon on the Mount are so supportive of someone like Trump.
An over-emphasis on personal belief
The strength of evangelical Christianity is its emphasis on a personal faith – this is where it draws it dynamism and power. But when it comes to politics, this emphasis becomes a weakness. As with Coates’s comment ‘Has he become a Christian?’ there is an obsession with whether someone has ‘prayed the prayer’ of commitment or not – as if this makes all the difference in and of itself.
It is overly personalized emphasis to judge what is a public role. When faith is claimed there has to be at least some concomitant evidence of true repentance.
Trump is man who has said that he has no need of forgiveness – from anyone. His speech at the National Prayer Breakfast showed no sign of Christian doctrine whatsoever. I fear that his “conversion” is instrumentally convenient as he seeks to bed down his core support in his first year as President.
I make no judgment on the man’s justification before God – that’s not my job. But we must remember that although God’s grace is freely given, it is not in any way cheap. As US Christian, Ron Sider wrote:
“Cheap grace results when we reduce the gospel to forgiveness of sins; limit salvation to personal fire insurance against hell; misunderstand persons as primarily souls; at best, grasp only half of what the Bible says about sin; embrace the individualism, materialism and relativism of our current culture; lack a biblical understanding and practice of the church; and fail to teach a biblical worldview.”
So praying a simple prayer is never enough. God’s salvation is both as simple as accepting Christ’s sacrifice and as complex as seeing a whole life utterly transformed. So the idea that we do not critique Trump, or treat him more generously on the basis of a prayer he may or may not have prayed is naïve and depressing. In fact, if we do believe that his Christian faith is real then we hold him to a higher standard. His faith will be evidenced by the fruits of what he does.
Speaking truth to power
Gerald Coates is right – the Bible is clear that we should prayer for our leaders. But, it also contains many examples of people who stood up and spoke truth to political power (Moses, Nathan, Jeremiah, Amos, John the Baptist, Peter). We should never limit our political engagement to an uncritical commitment to pray.
We live in dangerous times. All Christians, and especially Church leaders, need to think carefully about the role our faith is playing in our turbulent political context. What is the approach that Jesus would advocate? He came as the Servant King – and we need his commitment to speak and display God’s justice, love and compassion more than ever.
Matthew Rhodes is a Streatham-based Leeds United fan. Follow him on twitter @MatthewRhodes
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