In his first week as President of the United States, Donald Trump and or his administration, have reinstated the Global Gag Rule; called for an investigation into the alleged voter fraud that cost him the popular vote; coined the phrase “alternative facts” to deflect media criticisms; signed orders to start construction of a U.S.-Mexican border wall (which is estimated to cost billions of dollars); renewed efforts to build the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines; and most recently, instituted a ban, preventing citizens of select countries from entering the United States. Needless to say it has been an eventful first week in office—one that has been particularly burdensome for the most marginalized members of our society.
This past election, and the months leading up to it (...and if we’re really being honest, the last several hundred years) revealed what we have already known to be true about America: we are a nation that is deeply divided. Behind our religious rhetoric and questionable reverence for freedom, we find that the moral foundations we claim undergird America’s origins are fractured to the core. Our emotional state is at the mercy of breaking news headlines which roll in like tidal waves, leaving many submerged in a sea of despair. I am reminded of our urgent need to be anchored in a hope that is constant, sure, and steadfast. Today, reports of Trump’s ban provoked rage in some and resounding praise from others. And in the swarm of news articles, protest coverage, and twitter threads, this same question arose: how did we let this happen?
As much as I would love to believe in the abnormality of these recent events, the truth is, we have seen this before.
LOVE OF ONE’S COUNTRY BECOMES A DEMON
WHEN IT BECOMES A GOD.
— C.S. LEWIS, THE FOUR LOVES
During the Holocaust, many Jews including Anne Frank and her family were also denied entry as refugees to the United States. Americans viewed Jews with a similar suspicion, and maintained restrictive immigration policies that prioritized national security at the expense of preserving life. We will never let anything like this happen again, we vowed. Or, take the Civil Rights Movement: southern evangelicals who probably would have considered themselves righteous and fair in their personal dealings with black folks, largely opposed the dismantling of segregation. If I was alive back then, I would have done differently, some might say.
And finally, let us consider Jesus. We have all heard the story of Jesus driving out the money changers and turning tables in the temple. Aside from being a shocking display of righteous anger, what was the significance of this event? God’s vision was for His house to become a place that would welcome people of every nation, tribe, and tongue (Isaiah 56:7-8, Revelation 7:9), but the Jews were using His house for their own gain, and preventing outsiders from entering in. In his book It’s Not What You Think, Jefferson Bethke writes “The temple had become a stronghold for Jewish nationalists who were so zealous they believed they needed to incite violence to bring God’s kingdom to earth. Israel and the temple existed to be the bearers of good news to the nations, and now Israel camped out and called all outsiders evil.” In other words, it wasn’t the commerce in the temple that angered Him, but the opportunistic use of this holy place as a diversion and barrier to keep non-Jews from worshipping God. Jesus had just done a marvelous thing by cleansing the temple, but Scripture tells us that the chief priests and the scribes were indignant.
CAN ANYTHING GOOD COME OUT OF NAZARETH?
— JOHN 1:46
Jesus, an innocent man who lived a sinless life, is accused, rejected, mocked, scorned, betrayed, and eventually killed by the religious leaders of the day. God in the flesh was in their midst. You would think the Jews—who had been waiting centuries for the promise of the Messiah that was prophesied to them—would have rejoiced at His coming, falling to their knees in awe and adoration. For hundreds of years they had been anticipating an extravagant arrival of a mighty king to deliver them from their Roman oppressors. But Jesus arrives as a baby born in an unlikely region, spends His time ministering to sinners, and makes His triumphant entry on a donkey. All of His teachings are completely subversive and offensive to the religious. He tells them to love their enemies and that it is the meek who will inherit the earth. Jesus was nothing like the king they had expected, nothing like the savior the Jews felt they deserved. And they hated Him for it.
I have read through the gospels many times, and I have always asked myself: how could they have missed Him? How could they have killed Him? The Jews’ hypocrisy and hatred towards Jesus is startling! There He was, the Creator of Heaven and earth walking among them; but they wanted power more than they wanted true justice, love, and mercy. I read of their wild accusations and vitriolic attacks, and think: Surely, I could never be like them. “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets...” (Matthew 23:30). But the truth is, we are them. And we would have killed Jesus. Our hearts are no different than the hearts of those who shouted “Crucify Him!” when we reverence destructive American ideals over the commandments of God and principles of His Kingdom. Scripture reminds us on several occasions to champion the cause of the oppressed (Psalm 82:3), and to love the foreigners among us as though they are natives (Leviticus 19:33-34).
...WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF YOU, BUT TO
DO JUSTICE, LOVE MERCY,
AND WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD?
— MICAH 6:8
Trump’s presidency may protect our religious liberties, but it also poses a threat to our spiritual lives. We know from the New Testament church and from the accounts of persecuted Christians around the globe today, that the church can thrive even in the absence of having political power. When personal safety becomes our highest priority as Christians, we minimize the plight of fellow believers around the world. We might find ourselves like Peter, denying Christ when it threatens to disrupt our lives. And we should not be so arrogant as to believe persecution won't bust through our white picket fences and come knocking on our doorsteps. What Jesus warned would be the greatest threat to us was not who was in office. Jesus did caution us to guard our hearts, lest our love grow cold in the day that lawlessness abounds (Matthew 24:12). May we not be jaded and complacent, blinded by our own self-righteousness, when the world needs us most.
Here is a moment in history, where the truth of the love of God can be expressed while the whole world is watching. Don’t miss it! As the days grow dimmer, we must remember our mandate to be a light and our duty to love as Jesus loves. His love is without terms and conditions. His love is not entitled. His love is sacrificial, and it transcends barriers and labels. If we bolster our religious resumes, but have little capacity for love beyond convenience, we have nothing. We must settle in our hearts to see ALL people as humans created in the image of God, not “illegal aliens” or threats to our national security. Let us roll up our sleeves and do the work of justice. Resolve to pray fervently, give generously, love fearlessly, and serve selflessly.