Progressive Christians in the Trump World
February 19, 2017
Bonnie A. Perry
The Pew Research Center put out the results a couple of days ago of their poll on President Trump’s Executive Order on Travel Restrictions. Apparently 95% of the people interviewed had heard about it. 78% said they had heard a lot about it… Here’s the good news, 59% of Americans disapprove of it. A majority of the Americans interviewed disapprove of the Travel restrictions.
Now here’s some interesting and not necessarily heartening data: 49% of the white people interviewed approve of the travel restrictions. 50% of white people disapprove of it. While 84% of African Americans disapprove as do 74% of Hispanics. (An Asian cohort was not mentioned.)
Here are the numbers that really caught my attention. 76% of the White evangelicals interviewed approve of the travel restrictions. With 50% of the white mainline protestants also approving, while most Catholics 62% disapprove and 74% of those unaffiliated with a religion disapprove of the policy. Hmmph.
What the heck is Jesus saying to that? Or for that matter, the prophets, the saints, the sinners?
Seems to me, in our tradition, we have a fair amount written about welcoming the sojourner and alien, caring for the outcast, loving our neighbor as ourselves and even a very clear admonishment, to love our enemies.
* * *
I’ve just returned from an extremely beautiful place, filled with lovely people, that describes itself anecdotally and statistically as a non-Religious country. Despite the devotion that many in this country have to the Anglican Prayer book of New Zealand, from what I saw and what I’ve read, its quite possible that we are more familiar with it than most of the people who live in that island country.
I asked my New Zealand host, if she knew where the nearest Anglican church was. “No,” she said, “I’ve no idea.” Just then, sitting in the back of the car I looked to my left and saw St Martin’s [at St. Chad’s]. She passed by and had for the last 8 years, the local Anglican church twice a day in the mile and half she drove to and from work.
A day or so later, while teaching a sea kayak class in the Hauraki Gulf just off Auckland, I watched a group of people gathering for a full immersion baptism of one of their friends. I recognized what was happening long before one of my Kiwi students figured it out. When I suggested it was a baptism, he said to clear my possible mistaken impressions of his country, “That’s very unusual. We don’t do that sort of thing here in New Zealand.” He, had at that point, absolutely no idea of my day job.
Later on I told him that I rather enjoyed a good baptism…
Why be Christian? Having just returned from a country that is becoming more and more non-religious I find myself asking the question—why am I a Christian?
Because of my Christian beliefs do I live my life any differently from non-religious or areligious people?
Why are you Christian? More to the point—how are you a Christian?
This morning’s Gospel, is a significant section of the Sermon on the Mount. The chapters in Matthew’s Gospel where one could make the case, that Jesus boils down what we need to know, and how we need to act, to the very potent, concentrated essence of Christian actions and behavior:
Turn the other cheek
Go the extra mile
Offer your coat
Give to all who ask
Love your enemies not just our friends, not just our neighbors but love our enemies (think for a moment who that might be…)
Pray for those who persecute you,
Be perfect, as our Lord in Heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48).
This then is what Matthew records Jesus saying as what he requires of his followers.
How’s that going for you so far?
Given this description, are you making it as a Christian?
Given the data revealed by the Pew Research Center, I’m pretty clear that there are a bunch of white evangelicals who are falling grievously short of Christ’s mark. But casting those stones are way too easy. The question here to be answered, for me is how far below the Christian line am I?
Where are you?
* * *
I spent a fair amount of time, reflecting on this passage: reading, researching…Lots of time. As soon as my spouse Susan warned me, “Have you seen the Gospel for this Sunday? It’s terrible, it’s the “Turn the other cheek one…”
In my study, on this terrible passage, what became quite clear is that many have tried to come up with alternate interpretations that would make this section more palatable, livable, do-able.
What the scholars of any repute have concluded is that Jesus meant every word he said, literally. That turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, is not “a passive acquiescence in the face of violence and harm.” But rather as theologian Matthew Myer Boulton says, “the centerpiece of this teaching is noncooperation with harm in all its forms.”
That is, you strike me, I will not strike you back, nor will I crumble and fall, instead I will offer you my other cheek so that you may reconsider your previous action. You ask me to carry your goods, as a Roman soldier was permitted to conscript anyone to carry his gear for a mile, then once asked I will offer to you twice what you require. I will do so in such a way that you may see yourself as an honored child of God. And hopefully in those two miles, I too may see past your oppression to your goodness.
Is this a rationale for bowing to abuse, staying silent in the face of oppressive destructive relationships? No. Never. Absolutely not. Nor can anyone of us, ask another to take on any of these activities. None of these actions can faithfully be executed if we lack freedom of choice or will.
But in those times and in those places when we have choice and free will, loving our enemies, turning our cheek, walking the extra mile offers us the possibility of creating a different world, a different place, one where executive orders and travel bans are repudiated by all, and the people who write them are loved into a different way of being. Imagine that one if you will. Love of that sort and that kind for all.
On most days, I call myself a Christian. And on most days I do want to be the person that embodies these beliefs. I want to say, “Hell yeah—with God and God’s help—I will do this.” Each day, I will try to do it again. I claim the gift of Christianity as the fuel that enables me to try, not alone, but with other equally fragile believers, one more time, one more day. Hell yeah. I will with God’s help.