Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Where Is the Fruit?

Something has been bothering me throughout this election season. I have kept it mostly to myself sharing it with only a few people. I didn’t share it publicly because our politics are so divisive during a presidential campaign I wouldn’t want to add to that. I wouldn’t want to be seen as for one candidate over another. That is not my job as Pastor. Even after Mr. Trump was elected I thought I would wait and see. I really did give it a try. I didn’t say, “This is not my President”. I didn’t try to make a stink about it. I was hoping that the campaign rhetoric was just talk. I was hoping that maybe we would be brought together. I was hoping that maybe the weight of the office of President would change things, or that Trump would realize he couldn’t build a wall, deport people, or close off the border. I hoped the diplomacy through tweeting and intimidation would stop. I hoped the history and importance of what was being done would be enough. It is not. Every day I wake up with a really bad feeling about the world. As a positive person I am having a hard time finding the silver lining.
            I have to speak up. I have to say something. But I want to be clear about what it is that is bothering me. This is not about policy. This is not about whether we should have a tax cut or not. My grandfather and father were both conservatives. They believed in less government, personal responsibility and old fashion values (like holding the door open for women as they enter a store). People of good will can and do disagree on policy. We disagree about how best to make the world a place that is prosperous for everyone. This is not about that.
            It is about evil. It is about a man who is against all the good things of the world, but wants us to believe it is all good. It is about what it really means to follow Jesus Christ. I say it because Donald Trump has told us that he is a Christian. He has told us that the Bible is his favorite book.  He has said that "nothing beats the Bible". And that he has read it a lot, "Nobody reads the Bible more than me," and yet he doesn’t live his life like he ever read any of it.
            Just to be clear, this doesn’t mean that God does not love Donald Trump. It doesn’t mean that he isn’t a Christian. If a Christian is someone who is saved by the grace of God given through Jesus Christ then Donald Trump is that. I believe that God loves and cares for him. This is about Donald Trump’s words and actions and how they go against the things that Jesus has told us to be in this world.

Fruits of the Spirit:
Let us start here. Jesus has told us that,You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:20) People will know us as followers of Jesus Christ by what we do. It is the part that comes after knowing that we are saved by grace. It is the overwhelming feeling we get knowing the love and mercy of God and our response to that truth. St. Paul writes about these fruits in his letter to the church in Galatia. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”  (Galatians 5:19-23)
            St. Paul says the fruits of the Spirit are love, kindness, gentleness, patience, generosity, self control… Think about that list. Does Donald Trump exhibit any of these things? I am not asking about his personal life here. I don’t know him as a person. I know him as a public figure, and now as president of the United States. I know him by what he says, and by what he does as a public figure. I know him by his fruits.
Let us look at some of the Fruits of the Spirit:
Patience: Trump has no patience towards others who disagree with him. His first instinct is to lash out, to fight back, and to call names. Having patience means being able to deal with the world and the people who live here. To understand that we are imperfect, and we don’t all agree all the time. But that every person deserves to be treated well even when they don’t treat you well.  “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) Patience comes from the understanding that God has patience with us because we are all imperfect sinners. Patience is important as we live in community and try to understand each other.

Kindness: Trump is continually mean. He doesn’t use words to build people up but to take them down. He uses words to conquer other people. As it says in proverbs, “With their mouths the godless would destroy their neighbors, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.” (Proverbs 11:9) or “Those who guard their mouths preserve their lives; those who open wide their lips come to ruin.” (Proverbs 13:3) Kindness also means seeing the best in our enemies to give them the benefit of the doubt and to try to understand where they are coming from.
Just a couple of things that Trump has said about people of his own party. He called former NH Governor John Sunnunu, “”Dummy”. He called former Governor Jeb Bush, “A pathetic figure!”. He called Bill Kristol, Editor of the Weekly Standard, “Dopey”. I could go on and on, but these are not the words of someone who knows and exhibits kindness.

Self-Control: This seems to be Trumps biggest weakness. He has no self-control. Because of this he starts fights with the wrong people. He can’t let go of the smallest insignificant slight. He can’t laugh at himself. And he can’t control himself. This is why he is up at three am tweeting things. Look at all the tweets he has had against people. Just to name a few he has tweeted his dislike for Lincoln Chaffe (Former RI Governor), Juan Willams, Jeff Zeleny, Mort Zuckerman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elizabeth Beck, and Scott Walker just to name a few. These people are “not smart”, “dopey”, “easy for me to beat”, “bad reporter”, “dummies”. Our words matter, and need to be selected so we build each other up. Again we don’t always live up to this so that is why we admit when we are wrong and ask God and our neighbors for forgiveness when we don’t exercise self-control over our speech.

Gentleness: Trump only shows his harsh side. He is always posturing for the camera and the crowd. He uses bravado and machismo to make his point, shout down his detractors, and hurt others.  Gentleness helps us to be open to more than one opinion, to make friends, to show that we don’t always know everything. Trump has said, “When people wrong you, go after those people, because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it. I always get even.”, and “When someone crosses you, my advice is ‘Get even!’ That is not typical advice, but it is real-life advice. If you do not get even, you are just a schmuck! I love getting even.” This is not the talk of a gentle person. This is talk of someone out for revenge. It is also not the way Jesus called us to be in the world, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27)

Greed: This is the biggest idol in the Bible. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” (1 Timothy 6:10)  Jesus talks about money more than anything else. (Mark 10:21) Trump brags about how much money he has, how much he has made. Trump has said, “Part of the beauty ofme is that I’m very rich.”His whole life has been about making money. And related to this is that he has spent his whole life promoting himself. It might be an American ideal to be rich, but it is not a Biblical one.
Trump is about accumulating things. I will let him explain, “I probably visited Mar-a-Lago, my 118-room house in Palm Beach, no more than two dozen times in the years I’ve owned it. As for my yacht, The Trump Princess, it is a dazzling trophy and a terrific business tool, but it never really became part of my personal life. For me, you see, the important thing is the getting ... not the having.” Jesus tells us that it is foolish to having things. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” (Matthew 6:19-20) and “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.”  (James 5:1-6)

Humility: “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:10)
Maybe the thing that is most disturbing about Trump’s claim to be a Christian is that he also says, “Why do I have to repent, why do I have to ask for forgiveness if [I’m] not making mistakes?”, or “I fully think apologizing is a great thing. But you have to be WRONG ... I will absolutely apologize sometime in the hopefully distant future if I’m ever wrong.” And “Everything I’ve done virtually has been a tremendous success.”  Let us be clear if you never do anything wrong you don’t need Jesus. If you have no sins to confess then you don’t need someone to die for your sins. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matthew 9:13)

Trump has said, “Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest -and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure; it’s not your fault.” This is not the way people who are humble speak about other people. As Christians we are called to see in others a person of value and worth. We are called to give them more credit than we would give ourselves.

Trump was asked what his favorite Bible verse was (Remember he has read it more than anyone.) Trump said, “Well, I think many. I mean, when we get into the Bible, I think many, so many. And some people, look, an eye for an eye, you can almost say that. That’s not a particularly nice thing. But you know, if you look at what’s happening to our country, I mean, when you see what’s going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us, and how they scoff at us and laugh at us. And they laugh at our face, and they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our money, they’re taking the health of our country. And we have to be firm and have to be very strong. And we can learn a lot from the Bible that I can tell you.”
To not even be able to say something like Psalm 23 or John 3:16 is a weird thing for a Christian to say. I have been a pastor for 13 years; I have had people of all kinds of political beliefs as parishioners. I have never had someone say there favorite verse is “an eye for an eye”. (Deuteronomy 19:21) But as long as we are there then let us talk about the Old Testament. It is the same God in the Old Testament that we know in Jesus Christ. It is a God “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Numbers 14:18) It is a God that called a small insignificant people to follow him. (Genesis 17:5)  It is a God concerned about people being treated unfairly. (Exodus 23:2) It is a God who rescues his people from the oppressive Government, (Exodus 3:7) and leads them to the Promised Land. It is a God who reminds them not to forget that they are aliens and foreigners and not to oppress others. (Deuteronomy 16:19, Exodus 23:9)
            It is a God who calls us to responsible living in the Ten Commandments (Do not commit adultery. Do not bear false witness…to name a few.) (Exodus 20) If you love that God then you love Jesus because it is the same God. Jesus calls us to responsible living too. He calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. I am wondering how Trump sees himself living these things out, or at the very least failing to live them out, as we all do, and asking for forgiveness.
            This is not about policy. So I am not arguing the merits of our current or future immigration I am talking about tone and the way we talk about it. Is it helpful to call Mexicans rapists and murders, to say that just because you are Muslim and you come from Syria that you are a terrorist? If you want stronger immigration policy find a way to make the argument that doesn’t scare everyone, and that puts your neighbor in the best possible light.  (Deuteronomy 24:17, Leviticus 19:33-34, Galatians 5:14) That would be a faithful Christian way to go about doing what you want to do.
            Jesus over and over again tells us not to fear. “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 10:31, Mark 6:50, Luke 5:10…to name just a few) I am guessing because he knew once he left his disciples would have to overcome fear to go out into the world to spread the Gospel. Trump only encourages us to fear. He tells us what to fear, and who to fear. “Lock your doors folks, OK? Lock your doors. No, it’s a big problem … . We have our incompetent government people letting ’em in by the thousands, and who knows, who knows, maybe it’s ISIS.”, and “They’re trying to take over our children. ...They’re pouring in and we don’t know what we’re doing.” or “That could be a Mexican plane up there. They’re getting ready to attack,”   This kind of talk is paralyzing in our responsibility to love our neighbor. We can’t love what we fear. We can’t build new and helpful relationships if we are fearful of whom we might meet across the street. If Trump really wanted to build bridges he would tell us not to be afraid.
I want to say a few words about some things that happened on the campaign trail. One was when Trump went to Liberty University and said, “two Corinthians”. What he should have said was, “second Corinthians”. Or when he attempted to go to worship at a church and didn’t know the difference between the communion bread and offering plate. Trump says he is a Presbyterian and a member of Marble Collegiate Church, but Marble Collegiate is not a Presbyterian church and has no record of Trump being a active member. None of these things is horrible but it gets at a deeper problem. Trump didn’t go to Church. How can you know Jesus Christ and his saving grace without going to Church? How can you know about the Bible if you didn’t study it with other Christian people?
            I would love to see his taxes to see how much he gave to the Church. Did he give as much as Mitt Romney (Romney gave about 10% to his Mormon Faith). This shows how dedicated we really are to our faith. As the former Lutheran Bishop Reverend Dr. William Lazerth said, “Show me your check book, and I will show you your God.”
            Why does any of this matter? One can be President of the United States without being a Christian. It matters because what Jesus disliked more than anything was religious hypocrisy. He hated it when political leaders like Herod pretended to be religious in order to keep power, or when Religious leaders used religion to gain political power. (Mark 8:15) He called the Pharisees and teachers of the law hypocrites. (Matthew 7:5).
As Pope Francis has said, “The sickness or, you can say the sin, that Jesus condemns most is hypocrisy, which is precisely what is happening when someone claims to be a Christian but does not live according to the teaching of Christ. You cannot be a Christian without living like a Christian,” It is one thing to say, “I am a Christian and that means I fail to live up to what God wants me to do. I make mistakes. I am a sinner. I am not perfect.” It is another thing to say you have, “read the Bible more than anyone.” And exhibit no attributes that make me believe you have. Otherwise you are a hypocrite, and we need to call this what it is.
I know good faithful God loving Christians that voted for Mr. Trump. They had their reasons. Maybe they disliked Hillary Clinton, maybe they were just sick of the whole thing, maybe they liked the way Trump spoke his mind. You can be a Christian and vote for Trump, but it is hard to make the argument that Donald Trump exhibits any fruits that make me believe he has actually read the Bible, or tries in some way to live by it. I hope that no matter who we voted for we are still able to see hypocrisy and know when we are being lied to. I also hope that we will not allow Mr. Trump to use Christianity as an excuse for things he wants to do. Not because the things he wants to do are not Christian, but because I see no evidence that he is one. I am not saying that Mr. Trump is not a Christian, that is between him and God, but if he is I have not seen the fruits of that faith. I continue to pray that will change.

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