King of America

Tomorrow will see the inauguration of the next President of the United States. We will end the eight-year tenure of Pres. Obama to make way for (at least) four years of Pres. Trump. The people, as they say, have spoken. Even though Mr. Trump lost the popular vote, the rising tide of partisan politics ironically allied with an increasing distrust of the Washington establishment was sufficient to carry him all the way to the White House.

It’s true that Mr. Trump has been subjected to more media scrutiny than any other candidate I know of, and, given the ubiquitous bias of our news agencies, he has been the subject of more fake or horribly slanted stories than any other as well. However, I’m not here to vindicate him, nor am I here to condemn. Mostly I just wonder at how a man objectively questionable on many metrics made it to his inauguration day — and I marvel a bit at the role the Church played in his doing so.

In a time when the Moral Majority is now defunct and the Religious Right has lost all sway, it would seem impossible for the evangelical voting bloc to influence an election. Yet it did, due in no small part to the tactics and policies of the current/previous administration. Pres. Obama may have billed himself as a champion of hope, but for evangelicals and other Christians, he destroyed hope. His global advocacy for same-sex “marriage” and abortion struck a nerve for many of us, and the policies advanced under his watch created an America defined by liberalism and progressive mores: acceptance of the LGBTQ community and non-binary genders, expanded abortion under the guise of women’s rights (despite it resulting in the deaths of countless women), stronger emphases on scientism and rationalism, restricted religious liberties, major changes to the healthcare system, etc. Most Christians view these as moral issues, and that makes them religious issues. And religion votes if you make it angry enough.

That, to me, is the good side of the evangelical alliance with the conservative party, our commitment to holding the line on some of the things which are clearly taught in the Bible. But there’s a dark side to it, too. Just beneath the surface runs a jingoistic strand of nationalism masquerading as simple patriotism. While I consider myself a patriot, I do not believe every country is totally inferior to the United States in every respect, nor do I believe our nation to be infallible, and I don’t even think capitalism and federalism are sacred cows. So I reject the all-too-common xenophobia, racism, and isolationism of the Republican party. I dismiss its assertion socialized medicine will only destroy us but allowing pharmaceutical companies and hospitals to charge exorbitant prices for what we need to survive will save our lives. Unfortunately, these are evils frequently propagated by those bearing the name of Christ who seem to put party above church and earthly citizenship above heavenly citizenship.

When we re-prioritize state above Savior, we fall into the same trap as did the ancient Israelites in 1 Samuel 8. You can replace “king” with “president,” but verses 6-7 would otherwise read the same: “But when they said ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: ‘Listen to all the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected Me as their King.'”

To me, the 2016 election sounds an awful lot like 1 Samuel 8. Evangelical voters no longer trusted God to see them through the increased persecutions of a darkening world. Hope had been lost as influence waned, and they cried out for a new Messiah to save them from a shifting, sinful landscape. Prayers morphed to votes, and we elected a man who has yet to prove himself in political office or display the majority of the fruit of the Spirit despite reports of a mid-election conversion and baptism. Is it too early to offer decisive opinions on his presidency and a change of character? Absolutely. Only time can reveal both of those things, no matter how current indicators may appear. Is it safe to say he will do more in favor of Christian values than his opponent would have? Again, absolutely. Another Clinton presidency posed grave perils to evangelical beliefs and freedom of conscience.

But Mr. Trump should on no account be heralded as the new Christ come into the world to save us from the “pagan progressives,” either by name or by fact of attitude. There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:4-6). Mr. Trump is none of those. The Republican party is none of those. Only Jesus can provide access to all of them, and so it is in him we have hope.

As always, I will obey just laws and submit to all governmental authorities; these are biblical commands. Evangelicals may have cried out for a king of America to rule them in this life — and we received one. And who knows; he may even have been chosen for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). But he is not a Savior, a crucified and risen Lord. So during the inauguration, remember this: Donald Trump will be my president, but Jesus Christ will remain my only King.

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Looking Backwards

It’s hard not to be glad 2016 is almost over. To paraphrase a line from a favorite old movie, I could draw a year out of a hat, blindfolded, and get a better one. And thus many of us are quite content to watch 2016 in its death throes.

It was an . . . interesting year, to be sure. I don’t think anyone woke up on January 1st and thought we’d be where we are now, personally, nationally, or globally. For me personally, I began 2016 with hopes of becoming the youth minister at my current church — which I did, for all of two months. I never expected to be the senior minister (and frequently said so to the friends who told me I was going to be “promoted”). Our church saw new souls saved and added other members, and praise God for it!

But . . . that rest of the year, though.

This is arguably the most surprised I’ve ever been that a presidential candidate 1) won the election and 2) didn’t get shot in the process. Our country is still feeling the aftermath of one of the most contentious, uncivilized elections in history. That combines with strings of shootings with a diverse group of victims and results in a divided land. Whether you attribute such things to media coverage or to “real” problems, 2016 revealed some of the worst aspects of our fellow Americans (and ourselves).

The Church hasn’t fared much better these past twelve months. United Methodists narrowly avoided schism by (in essence) kicking the can down the road a few more years, all because clergy and laity in a few areas didn’t want to follow their own rules anymore. Celebrity pastors fell amid the latest waves of scandal. The marriage debate continued to sunder ecclesial bodies, and the opening of a replica of Noah’s Ark brought to the forefront not-so-pleasant discussions on origins, the historicity of Genesis, and the complex relationship between science and theism. New surveys came out declaring mine and subsequent generations the most atheistic on record, and other studies proved we are truly in a post-Christendom world.

Meanwhile, people got sick. Some died. We had an epidemic or two.

People were born. Some got married. I was asked how many kids I had five times.

Friends were made. Friends failed to remain friends.

I gave up a return to grad school to remain a pastor. I learned how difficult — and how rewarding — ministry can truly be.

I killed spiders, fought other bugs, and trapped many, many mice. (Seriously, I’m looking for a house to rent at this point.)

I bought a lot of books and read most of them.

Our Bible study still hasn’t finished Revelation, but we¬†have enjoyed a lot of food and fellowship.

Yes, 2016 was an interesting year. It’s not a year any of us are likely to forget, try as we might. But should we try? It wasn’t all bad. Even the horrors exposed problems we can fix and be better than we were before. We can’t erase the past simply because it makes us uncomfortable. We must embrace it, and for the same reason.

A blessed 2017 to everyone! I’ll see you next year.