A few weeks ago, I wrote an op-ed column for the Observer, discussing the ways in which Donald Trump’s vision and policies stand in opposition to Jesus’ teachings. I argued that Christians should be deeply anguished at the prospect of voting for Trump, if indeed they are committed to Jesus’ vision for the Kingdom of God as outlined in the Gospels. It received a lively response that invites further comment.
The fact that Christians are behaving counter to their manifest beliefs is lamentable but not unprecedented. History gives far too many disheartening examples of that. Looking at the ways institutional Christianity had failed African-Americans, pastor and civil rights leader Howard Thurman observed that the modern religion called “Christianity,” had become something quite different than the religion Jesus preached, and this modern “Christianity,” by turning its back on disinherited and marginalized black Americans, had also turned its back on its founder. Not everyone traveling under the name “Christian,” Thurman would say, is a follower of Jesus. The same is true today.
Some Christians’ votes and hopes hang on the Supreme Court nail: Is President Trump likely to appoint a justice that will tip the scale against Roe v. Wade? Who can say? Trump has not been easy to predict, let alone guide. But judging from the mail I received, many people are also blinded by a furious hatred for Hillary Clinton, rehearsing her failures and flaws like mantras, unable to see and judge rightly between two options. Jesus’ saying comes to mind: this is a case of “straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel.”
If Jesus’ teachings aren’t convincing enough, we might add to it the testimony of the apostle Paul. Scholars and people of faith still debate how best to characterize Paul’s teaching, but one thing is certain. Paul would say in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, God was bringing outsiders – Gentiles – into the covenant of fellowship with God. Where Paul encountered exclusion and marginalization of Gentile believers, he battled it. When even so prominent a person as Peter hesitated to accept Gentiles at table, Paul stood up and berated Peter in front of the entire community. When Paul learned some of his followers in Corinth were not properly welcoming and caring for believers of lesser status, he rebuked them. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female.” These divisions, so fundamental to ancient society, had no place in the communities Paul founded, and Paul fiercely opposed them. In the words of Ephesians 2:14, the “wall of hostility” that once separated Jew and Gentile has now been broken down.
In light of this, a doctrine that counsels retreat behind walls, pits one group against another, aggravates tensions rather than relieving them and feeds ancient divisions would violate Paul’s deepest convictions.
It is a great challenge, of course, to implement even small fragments of such a vision into concrete social policies, and here, Jesus and Paul would also have words for Hillary Clinton. They would want to know what she planned to do about the disinherited, the displaced, those without hope. They would ask whether the shocking disparity between rich and poor in this country could be overcome and what she was doing to achieve this. This plank in the party platform should receive more, not less attention.
But even after the necessary criticisms and qualifiers are applied to Clinton, the choice between candidates remains crystal clear. The concrete proposals of Donald Trump and more profoundly, the rhetorical world that envelops and sustains those proposals, is a world Jesus and Paul would condemn and reject. If Christians listen to their scriptures, they should do likewise.
Greg Snyder is a professor of religion and chair of the religion department at Davidson College.