I am breaking my rule. Normally I never write about politics because (a) it’s a divisive topic, and (b) others incorrectly equate faith and politics, and I don’t want to be part of that. But the politics themselves have become so divisive now. That— more than any specific policy or candidate— is today’s topic.
The Christian Science Monitor summarized it perfectly. Reflecting on the previous night’s GOP debate, it asked, “Does GOP debate show Donald Trump has already won?” and observed that, “Belligerence was the order of the night. Trump himself said he would ‘gladly accept the mantle of anger.'”
Spoiling for a fight
I have many church friends who are ardent supporters of The Donald. To them, Trump channels their frustration and anger over losing twice to Obama— one describes it as “an 8-year reign of terror”— as well as a deeper anger that their values are being taken away: planned parenthood, same-sex marriage, etc. In Trump’s fiery rhetoric, they see the strong medicine that they feel our country needs.
But I cannot number myself among them. Something in me rebels against the notion that Christlike ends can be achieved by such un-Christlike means. Consider the warnings of scripture:
- “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” (Proverbs 29:11)
- “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.” (Psalm 37:8)
- “Blessed is the man who does not sit in the seat of the scornful.” (Psalm 1:1)
- “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)
There are dozens more.
Some counter that righteous anger is the appropriate response to the apostasy of our times, and point to the model of Jesus getting angry at the temple merchants— and not only angry, but violent as well, fashioning whips and overturning tables. But even including that episode, I do not believe there is any honest comparison between the public persona of Donald Trump and the example and the teaching of Jesus Christ.
In a Republican field with a lot of very similar positions, Trump’s pugnaciousness has made him the stand-out among those who are spoiling for a fight. That instinct is perfectly natural. The problem is, scripture is often at odds with our natural instincts. For instance, there is nothing natural about forgiving our enemies, yet scripture repeatedly urges this, from Joseph reconciling with his brothers to Jesus praying from the cross.
Jesus’ anger has this same element of reversing our natural instincts. The one thing that made Jesus angry was when the religious establishment, instead of leading people to God, used the weight of their influence to keep people away. (Clearing the temple was one example, the “woe to you!” verses of Matthew 23 are another.)
But today’s Christian anger is directed in a much more “natural” direction: not at our own religious establishment, but at all the outsiders, who are exactly the people that Jesus embraced. The central message of Christ’s life and sacrifice is reconciliation, and as Christians, we need to be striving toward that, not toward deeper division. Very closely connected to that is how we treat one another, and especially our enemies. If our society is sick, then “you who are spiritual should restore them gently,” urges the scripture; “gently” being the operative word.
Good governance, by these lights, is not about anger. It is all about seeking resolution of our differences. At its best, it is about functioning together as countrymen despite them. What we are seeing now on the national stage is nothing like that. Far from it: the personal insults, the battle lines, the ridicule— to the Christian, this is as close as I have ever seen, in my lifetime, to governance at its worst.