Advent Day 19: Means and Ends

OK, I’m going to be honest here: this morning as I sat down to read, all I could think about was the gall of Congressman Loudermilk to assert that our sitting President has received less fair treatment than… wait for it… Jesus.

I have never been one to follow political theater. I think it’s mostly a distraction from the work that matters most. I also don’t get upset about irreverence and am not really all that uptight about the sanctity of religious language.

But let me tell you- when I read his quote, I was… horrified. Angry. Disgusted. Did Jesus offend people? Oh yes. Plenty. But there is absolutely nothing in common between the way Jesus offended people and way Donald Trump offends people. Was Jesus given a sham trial? Absolutely. Is there anything in common between the “trial” Trump has “endured” and what Jesus endured? Or the reasons why they have been tried?

No. Nothing. There is no comparison to be made, and it really, greatly offends me as a Christian, a pastor, and a human being that this kind of comparison would be made. It is – I hesitate to even use the word – blasphemy.

Luckily, the psalm for this morning had some room for my anger. Here’s an excerpt:

Psalm 50

But to the wicked God says:
“What right have you to recite my statutes,
or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
You make friends with a thief when you see one,
and you keep company with adulterers.

“You give your mouth free rein for evil,
    and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your kin;
    you slander your own mother’s child.
These things you have done and I have been silent;
    you thought that I was one just like yourself.
But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.

The line that got me here was “You thought that I was one just like yourself.”

I hear God saying here, “Uh-uh. No way. Don’t pin that sh*t on me.”

Far be it from me to know the mind of God, but I feel like God might respond similarly to Congressman Loudermilk.

As I was making breakfast this morning I was thinking over my rage response to this comment. I assume that Mr. Loudermilk is a Christian. We all know that Christian evangelical were and are integral to the success Trump has found as a politician. It has been a mystery to me how evangelicals are able to look at Trump and actually think he is chosen by God in some way. It seems so clear to me that he is a complete charlatan, totally unsuited for any kind of public service and completely incapable of rising to the occasion. To say nothing of the face that he has no principles – none except, “Donald Trump.” I don’t know how evangelicals, who have always valued so much the faith of their president, can actually believe that Trump sincerely is a Christian or believes in anything but himself.

But it dawned on me as I was in the kitchen this morning: of course Trump makes sense in Christian evangelicalism. Evangelicalism, by and large, is a “means to an end” theology. God made his own son suffer for other people’s mistakes – horrible, but a means to an end – the end being our salvation. God commanded genocides before the time of Christ – horrible, sure, but necessary to bring about the will of God. Lots of native Americans were brutally killed when the Europeans colonized the Americas – terrible, but the means to the end of the “Kingdom of God.” And Trump? Sure, children are being kept in cages at our border; sure, hate crimes are rising; sure, wealth inequality is growing. All sad, but a necessary means to an end: stacking the court with pro-life judges.

This makes me angry and makes me sad, but I know it’s all rooted in that means-to-an-end theology that evangelicals embrace around the death and resurrection of Jesus. The death of an innocent man is sad, but God uses horrific means to achieve wonderful results.

I hate all of this. I hate that this thought is endemic in such powerful strands of Christianity. I hate that by and large Christianity has ceded its theological imagination to the rich and powerful and that so many of us have forgotten that the means are the ends.

And I’m struggling today with my evangelical siblings. I refuse to think of them any other way: they are my siblings. Along with my Jewish siblings, and Muslim sibling, and Hindu and Buddhist and atheist siblings. So much of what Jesus taught broke down the entire us/them worldview. And while it’s so tempting to toss that out – can’t I just hate those other people, those evangelicals who are not related to me at all (sad, but a means to an end? The means to a more just and loving world?) – I know that if I believe what I’m saying here, I cannot. There is no us and them – that’s a lie and an illusion and, I often believe, the source of evil in the world.

So I will continue to say, “siblings” and know that we are all on our own paths. I will continue to argue and teach against a theology that I see as violent and blasphemous both in my words and my deeds. But I will not give in to the temptation to think of Congressman Loudermilk as “other.” Or Trump as “other.” I will try, with all my heart, to make my means become my ends.

Pray for me, and for all of us. This is no easy calling.

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