It appears that the Trump presidency will go out with a bang, rather than a whimper. As we arrive at a climax (of sorts) to a tumultuous season in the history of the church and the history of our nation, I feel compelled to say a few things as clearly as I know how:
Jesus is not a Republican. This has been said before. But now it must be said more loudly and more clearly than ever. There are good and godly men and women who vote Republican and serve in elected office as Republicans. But the association of the name of Christ with the Republican party of Trump has become a scourge of shame for the church. The time has come––indeed, it is long overdue––for the entire church to denounce this association in the strongest possible terms.
Jesus was not a violent revolutionary. It is not uncommon for Christians, particularly progressive Christians, to describe Jesus as a revolutionary. Of course, in a sense, this is absolutely true. During Jesus’ first life on earth, he challenged many social norms having to do with Torah observance, women’s roles in society, and association with the marginalized. However, Jesus was not a violent revolutionary. The “zealots” of Jesus’ day were revolutionaries who aspired to violent rebellion against Rome in God’s name. Jews had successfully (though temporarily) thrown off the rule of their imperial overlords in the Maccabean Revolt less than two centuries earlier. The Jews would rebel again in the century following Jesus’ death and resurrection, this time unsuccessfully and with devastating results for the nation.
But Jesus was not a zealot. When asked whether God’s people should pay taxes to the empire, Jesus answered “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Give to God what is God’s.” (Mark 12:17) When Jesus was arrested, Peter rose violently to his Rabbi’s defense. Jesus rebuked him, saying “Put your sword back in its place, for all who choose the sword will be destroyed by the sword. Don’t you realize I can call on my Father, and he will at once put more than twelve legions of angels at my disposal?” (Matt 26:52–53, my translation) He later tells the Jewish authorities, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would be fighting to prevent my arrest.” (John 18:36, my translation)
What this means for Christians today is that the way of violence is not the way of Christ. Much has been said in recent days about the hypocrisy of “the left” or “the media” denouncing the violence in the Capitol while endorsing the violence of the BLM movement last year. Frankly, I don’t care that much whether “the left” or “the right” are hypocrites. What I do care about is that the violence at the Capitol was perpetrated in Jesus’ name. Look no further than the Christian symbols that permeated the rioters’ ranks, including a massive yellow sign reading “Jesus Saves” on the steps of the Capitol, crosses in the crowd, or t-shirts reading “Jesus is my Savior and Trump is my President.” As far as I can tell no glaring effort was made by BLM demonstrators to associate their movement with Jesus or the mission of God in America. That, without question, makes the violence of the movement at the Capitol the more grievous sin, akin to the wicked acts of the professing Christians who perpetrated the Crusades in the Holy Land. Jesus’ Kingdom comes, not through violence, but through love.
Jesus is Lord. In spite of all of this, Jesus remains truly the Master and Ruler of the entire world. His rule is not subservient to or enacted through any political party. He rules over Democrats and Republicans. Any implication that being a Christian requires a certain political allegiance should be firmly and finally rejected by God’s people. Our allegiance is to Jesus. The kingdoms of this world will pass away. And indeed, they must. But Christ’s Kingdom will abide forever. The association of any earthly kingdom with Christ’s is an insult to the true King, one he will not tolerate, and neither should we.
Christianity is not nationalism. This point is closely related to the previous one. But let me say this clearly then unpack what I mean. Christians should not be afraid of what will happen to the United States. As Christians, we have renounced our citizenship to this nation in favor of our citizenship in God’s kingdom (Phil 3:20). This means that I have more in common with a Christian woman in Nigeria with whom I am bonded by the blood of Christ than I have in common with my co-citizens of the United States. Because of this, my hope is not built on the future and flourishing of America. Christians should seek and serve the good of our nation and its institutions as we are able. God told his people during the Babylonian exile, “Seek the prosperity of the city to which I have sent you as exiles” (Jer 29:7). But seeking the prosperity of our nation does not make us Americans in an ultimate sense any more than seeking the prosperity of Babylon made the Jewish exiles Babylonian. We are Christians first, Americans second. If loyalty to American identity compromises our allegiance to Christ, then let us reject our American identity without hesitation.
St. Augustine wrote The City of God in the 5th century at the twilight of the Roman Empire. As the earthly city of Rome fell, Augustine reminded Christians that the City of God would remain and endure forever. Let’s remember that the Roman Empire had lasted for over 1000 years, four times as long as the history of the United States. For many in Augustine’s day, the fall of Rome felt like the end of the world. Maybe you feel like the US is falling apart and the world as we know it is ending. Maybe it is. But for Christians, this is not of ultimate concern. Nor is it an occasion to lose hope or rise up and fight to secure our earthly future.
Christianity is not a white supremacist religion. Much has been said on this point, but allow me to say it again. Christianity is not a white man’s religion. Jesus was not (and is not!) European. Not a single one of the authors of scripture was of European descent (with the possible but unlikely exception of the author of Hebrews). Christianity’s roots are thoroughly Jewish, which is to say, non-white. Moreover, much of the early history of the church was characterized by an unlikely association between Middle Eastern, European, and African saints. Today, the vast majority of Christians are non-white and the church’s population centers are in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The past, present, and future of the church is not Western, and Western Christians must repent of our ethnocentrism in thinking that it is or ever was.
That being said, we must honestly, humbly, and repentantly acknowledge that Christianity has become a tool of white supremacist agendas and systems. This is a grievous wickedness that we cannot deny nor tolerate any longer. We must be honest, not defensive, tearfully stating the truth of our shame. We can both acknowledge that this is who we have been and insist forcefully that it is not who we ought to be or who we truly are in Christ. The church now must immediately face a painful and terrible reality. Emergency surgery is necessary, and there’s no time for anesthesia. For the good of the entire body, this rotten flesh must be cut away. God will judge those outside. We must purge this wickedness from our midst (1 Cor 5:13).
ON THE CHURCH AND HER WITNESS
The church we see is not the true church. Again, this point is related to what I’ve just said. We must remember that the visible church is not the same thing as the true church. Yes, the visible church contains the true church. But false Christians, those who do not truly yield to the Lordship of Christ, are also included in what we and the world see in the church. Wheat and tares grow together. And it is Jesus who will ultimately pronounce who truly are and are not his disciples. Still, the church should strive to maintain purity within her ranks. If we are timid or hesitant in this effort, how can we possibly tell a watching world that the actions they see done in the name of Christ are not representative of “true Christianity”?
True, lasting damage has been done to the church’s witness. Let me say plainly that Christianity’s association with Trump’s Republican party has severely marred our ability to contend for the gospel in this generation. I cannot overstate how devastating I fear the consequences of these four years will prove to be for the church. Indeed, the political machinations of these days have eternal consequences. Certainly, this damage to the church’s witness is not felt as deeply in every American context. But I feel that older saints in particular don’t always appreciate the seriousness of this harm. As a millennial, I fear that there are millions of young Americans in my generation that will be hardened to hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ for their entire lives because of what has been said and done and tolerated in the name of Jesus these past four years.
Yes, God can and does work miraculously to soften hearts. And I pray that he does. If I can be honest, I am filled with a certain kind of dread thinking that I will now spend decades of my life cleaning up the mess of previous generations of Christians who have so stained the church’s reputation. I am certainly not without fault in this, and my generation has its own shortcomings and blind spots.
However, I fear that the damage done these four years may be too much for us to bear. I do not think I’m being melodramatic when I say that real people have been hardened to Christ because of this. We have made it harder for many to come to faith in him. We have made ourselves a barrier between a lost world and the forgiveness that could be theirs. We have done this. An under-nuanced appeal to God’s sovereignty in salvation will not do here. Our actions have eternal implications, implications for life and death, heaven and hell. Indeed, my confidence in God’s sovereign ability to work through even our most egregious failings is the only thing that gives me hope for revival in my own generation.
Ongoing repentance is needed. In recent days, I’ve seen some Christian leaders express sorrow over the state of our nation and the violence at the Capitol in particular. This sorrow is often expressed in generic terms: “The real problem in our nation is sin. And the real solution is repentance and faith in Christ.” This is of course true on a basic level. However, this does not say nearly enough. It is not enough to send out a simple condemnation of sin or a generic call to repentance. Let’s get specific. That’s what I’ve been trying to do in this article. Let’s begin by looking inward at the church’s own sin. And let’s prepare ourselves for a long and painful process. Martin Luther began the 95 Theses by saying, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” We certainly have much repenting to do.
God is not mocked. “It is time for judgment to begin in the house of God” (1 Pet 4:17). It seems the American church will now reap what she has sown for decades. I am both sobered and comforted in the knowledge that God is watching all of these events unfold. His judgment will come, against Republicans and Democrats, professing Christians and non-believers alike. No one is getting away with anything. Psalm 2 is well-worth revisiting in a moment such as this. The resurrected Jesus, enthroned in heaven, laughs and scoffs at the kings of the earth (vv. 1–4). God has rebuked us in his anger; he has already installed his King (vv. 5–6). All things and all lands have been given to him (v. 8). Let us heed the warning of his coming judgment and serve him with fear and joy (vv. 10–11), lest we too be destroyed (v. 12).
All of this I commend to you in hope and humble submission to the true Sovereign of the United States of America and of the world, the Lord Jesus of Nazareth.