Donald Trump holds up various mirrors to American society. If you don’t understand this, you’ve probably misunderstood why he’s so popular.
Trump’s outrageous political statements are a kind of Political Mirror for many Americans.
Personally? I believe Trump does not share the core values of many of those who see their reflection in his Political Mirror. But that’s completely beside the point.
They gaze into the mirror, and they do see themselves. And their feelings for him appear to be completely resistant to factual analysis. (But, I will note this seemingly correlative truth: the more outraged the pundits and press have become, the higher his poll numbers have tracked…)
I, for one, do not see myself in Donald Trump’s Political Mirror. This probably doesn’t surprise anyone reading.
But recently, it dawned on me that Donald Trump also has a Christian Mirror too. This truth hit me like a lightning bolt, following Trump’s two glaring Christian “stumbles” on the Iowa campaign trail.
I recently gazed into Donald Trump’s Christian Mirror, and found my own heart pulled in a curiously compassionate direction. Not compassion for him, but for Christian-stumblers in general.
More on this in a minute…
Evangelical Christians seem to see two polar opposite things in Donald Trump’s Christian Mirror: their greatest hope, or their greatest fear.
Trump is doing well with segments of the Evangelical Christian community. Some extremely prominent pastors have endorsed him. And, although it (Evangelical Christianity) is not my community I share the shock of many over this.(1)
Among Evangelicals who look in Trump’s Christian Mirror with horror instead, is Rachel Held Evans. She has a thoughtful analysis of Trump’s “theology,” verses traditional Evangelical theology. It’s worth reading.
And then there’s this piece from “This American Life.” I hope you’ll give it a listen. The subject is a Christian Radio Talk Show host named Dr. Tony Beam, who broadcasts from a station in South Carolina.
Beam simply cannot believe the number of Evangelical Christians who support Trump. The story thoughtfully leads us through his growing disbelief over the past several months. (It picks up his story around the 8-minute mark of the hourlong show…)
Dr. Tony Beam speaks for many Christians, when he says this about Donald’s popularity among Evangelicals, “It’s not Trump that bothers me. It’s that Trump is so popular.”
I’ve been thinking the exact same thing, frankly, from my own very different place in the Christian universe.
But as I said a minute ago, I recently looked into Trump’s Christian Mirror as well. Trump gave all Christians the perfect opportunity to disdain him…to lambast him…to shame him. And he did it twice.
First, when he read from “Second Corinthians,” and mistakenly called it “Two Corinthians.”
Then, this week, as a communion tray passed down his row in church, he almost dropped a dollar in it, thinking it was the offering plate instead.
You’d think these kinds of faith-faux pas would drive Christians away from Trump. But to paraphrase “The Donald’s” own crass words about shooting somebody, thus far it seems that:
Trump can call it “Two Corinthians,” and Christians will still vote for him.
I briefly hopped on board the Trump-bashing train for a short time two Sundays ago. I kind of regret it now.
It was after the “Two Corinthians” debacle. It so happened we were reading from 1st Corinthians that Sunday, and I made the easy joke in my sermon. I called the book, “One Corinthians.”
Shooting fish in a barrel.
Then came this week’s faux pas with the communion tray. And suddenly it’s clear that Donald is not as familiar with “my little wine” and “my little cracker” as he purports to be.
And, again, my mind immediately raced to the jokes I could make; this new train I could hop.
But then, it hit me. A wave of compassion. As I said, not for Donald. But for all the others who “stumble” as it pertains to this strange animal we call “Christian culture.”
You see, when I look in Donald Trump’s Christian Mirror, it reflects back every other “outsider” who knows nothing about our faith….
I saw, reflected in Donald Trump’s Christian Mirror, the millions and millions of other people who never set foot inside the door of any Church.
The millions who don’t understand fancy theological words like “Atonement” and “Incarnation.”
The millions who don’t know the “proper” way to take holy communion, or whether it’s “First” or “One” Corinthians.
Hell, they have no idea what a Corinthian is. Or who Paul was. Or what any of those ritualistic acts we Christians routinely perform every Sunday are about. These are the very people we say we want so desperately to reach. You know, the so-called “unchurched?”
The so-called “Nones”
The so-called “Dones”
I mean, let’s pretend I am teaching a Bible study and some new visitor calls the book “One Corinthians” instead.
Would I laugh at her? Would the rest of the Bible study group?
I’d hope not. I’d hope I’d have the compassion to make it a “teachable moment,” not a shaming one.
But in our zeal to shame Trump over his Corinthians faux pas, do we not also shame all those millions of others too? Are we not also shaming those who, for what ever reason, look into Trump’s Christian Mirror, and see themselves as outsiders to the Church?
We Christians —even those of us who want to reach out to the world— tend to speak in a kind of “insider” language. A short hand.
We preachers go to seminary to get trained in this language. We earn advanced degree in speaking it. And then, we spend the rest of our careers, trying to figure out how to put those fancy concepts in words ordinary people can understand.
I think of Holy Communion, for example. Every Communion Sunday(2), I give a brief explanation of what “communion by intinction” means. I’m sure most of our members are beyond sick of this.
But there’s a reason for it. Because I don’t want to assume too much about anybody, especially visitors and outsiders, who might be there that Sunday, afraid to participate or feel a part of the community.
Isn’t our calling to be compassionate of the very kinds of religious rituals faux-pas we criticize Trump for?
Didn’t it drive Jesus crazy when folks cared more about performing religious rituals correctly than loving God or our neighbors?
Don’t we all long for a Church where outsiders feel truly welcomed? Where all are able to stumble, and not be shamed?
Again, none of this is about Trump, per se. He’s a big boy. He’s playing in the political big leagues. I get that.
Frankly, since Christianity is such a foreign subject to him, he should have been better “briefed” on it. You know, like getting briefed on the crisis in Syria or Indonesia’s political system.
Some handler or staffer should have made sure he knew how to pronounce the book name, and take communion. So, I don’t have much sympathy for him.
Get briefed, or don’t pander. It’s as simple as that.
But, see, I don’t just see Trump in his mirror.
I see me.
I see the Institutional Church.
I see the kinds of outsiders who’d do the exact same things he did.
And I feel compassion for them.
And I pray to God the Church of Jesus Christ does too.
And if we don’t have compassion for them, then we shouldn’t be shocked when they see themselves in Donald Trump’s Christian Mirror, more than they see themselves in us.
(1) Please don’t write me, all offended that I’ve said all Evangelical Christians support Trump. I didn’t say that. That’s precisely why I mention Evans and Beam….I know full-well many oppose him too. That’s my real point.
(2) An insider term…btw