But Mr. Graham just betrayed the legacy of his more humble father, Rev. Billy Graham, by revealing how he thinks this does not apply to him. Being interviewed this morning, re our political impasse, he intoned, “Our country has a sin problem” and then elucidated for a moment, pointing his finger at the Democrats. But then the interviewer posed the question, “Does Donald Trump have a sin problem?” He then stumbled, and then equivocated with the commonplace from Evangelical Christian, “Well, he is not perfect but he is….” and in so many words…i.e. my words, metaphorically speaking…”make America great again.” He knows that words like “sinner” would offend his new spiritual leader, Trump. Furthermore, it appears obvious to me that Mr. Graham, and many evangelicals, do not feel the “sin problem” applies to them. They piously announce, “Jesus has forgiven me of my sins and His Spirit now leads me.” I would never quarrel with the notion that Jesus has forgiven them, not even that the Spirit of God is with them. But what they don’t realize is that this “forgiveness” does not take away what the Apostle Paul called, “the flesh,” and this ego component of the heart is really quick to take our spiritual aspirations and twist them to fit our own unacknowledged, self-serving ends and prevent us from ever admitting this. This phenomenon of the heart is why Trump, and hordes of the GOP…and 80% of the evangelical base that supports Trump…cannot admit any wrong. The, “Spirit of God,” is with us all and always wants to lead us but our unwillingness to acknowledge a core fault prevents that Holy leadership from having more influence. Speaking from experience, it is delightful and even intoxicating to, “Know that I’m right,” but now I am understanding and experiencing just how self-deluding this can be. We are never “right” but there is a “Rightness” that graces the whole of life and seeks to find expression when we can humble accept the label, “sinner,” and realize that it means we are separated from our Source and always reduced to, “seeing through a glass darkly.” It never, though, means we are a “worthless piece of shit,” nor are the Haitians and Africans.
Axios reported this morning that the Trump administration is now arguing that the President cannot be guilty of obstruction of justice because the constitution declares he is the chief law enforcement officer of the land. Early in the Trumpian onslaught against our country last year, I began to liken him unto a god of sorts, a “dark” god who had a chthonic grip on a significant portion of the American population. This was best illustrated in his brazen declaration that he could shoot someone in the streets of Manhattan and not lose support. Trump and his handlers are very astute in grasping when he pushes the limits and immediately huddle together and discuss, “Now, how do we justify this?” Simple denial has worked faithfully for him as the base of his party believes everything he says and the rest of the party marches lamely in tow as they too have succumbed to the intoxicating siren song of power. The Republican Party has created a monster which many of them realize they cannot control but they cannot admit this because, like Trump, they cannot admit having made a mistake.
But this phenomenon is an expression of not just the Republican Party but of the American psyche. If we find the humility we will have to acknowledge that our nation has been, as the prophet Daniel put it, “weighed in the balances and found wanting.” Our inherent arrogance and smugness is now egregiously apparent for all to see and many can respond only with a lame, “Oh, that is not true. That is fake news.” One historical example is in the Manifest Destiny theme in American history when we were consumed with the belief that God had brought us to this new world, had created us as a nation, and then given us the “manifest” task of carrying our “truth, justice, and the American way” westward to the Pacific Ocean. This “divine” mandate meant that the Native Americans were merely an obstacle and could be slaughtered in the interest of our goal being accomplished. “God is leading us,” we said, and how can one argue with God?
The attitude that was present then, and did bring these United States to the world stage, is now having the dark, daemonic dimension of that Manifest Destiny impulse exposed. Our task now is having the humility to let “self-awareness” dawn upon us, “self-awareness” being merely the light of day which any tribe always resists experiencing. This cultural blindness is not exclusive to our tribe by any means. It is present with all individuals and all cultures but now we are in the position where we could humbly acknowledge this human frailty and grow from the experience. But, as Auden told us, “When truth met him, and held out her hand, we clung in panic to our tall belief and shrank away like an ill-treated child.” And it is very interesting to note that significant numbers of Christians in our country…especially evangelicals…adamantly remain ensconced in their arrogance as they too, just like Trump, cannot admit that they made a mistake.
(The following is a link to the Axios article— https://www.axios.com/exclusive-trump-lawyer-claims-the-president-cannot-obstruct-justice-2514742663.html)
A writer for Christianity Today, Katelyn Beaty, has written an op-ed for the New York Times that addresses the insularity in evangelical Christianity that has been a focus of mine. They have put their energy into the culture wars and in so doing missed the essential thrust of the Gospels, opting for the sweet nectar of vicarious power and legitimation rather than grasping the basic teaching of Jesus that power lay in powerlessness and legitimation is a gift from Him, based not in the least on anything we do or know. Their fierce support of Trump, and now Bill O’Reilly, in the face of overwhelming evidence of their moral turpitude reveals their willingness to overlook anything to know that they, and their way of viewing the world, is “right.”
Beaty quotes a grandson of Billy Graham, Boz Tchividjian, who recognizes this insularity of his evangelical compatriots, noting they are willing to overlook even sexual abuse at times, that they respond to abuse with their primary concern being “institutional self-protection” which is explained as necessary to protect “the name of Christ.” Mr. Tchividjian has at least some grasp of something most evangelicals are not willing to consider, that Jesus Christ is often largely a foil for the purpose of accomplishing their very self-serving ends. This is because they can’t acknowledge the “performance art” dimension of their faith because it would be too painful to suffer the disillusionment, though if they did so they could learn that any good they accomplish in their life, including in the name of Jesus, will be done in spite of them and not because of them. But when the ego predominates in faith, their ministry or Christian practice will be superficial, another demonstration of the wisdom of Shakespeare, “With devotions visage and pious action they sugar o’er the devil himself.”
With Trump in particular, these evangelicals have prostituted themselves to a man who continues daily to demonstrate in word and deed everything that Jesus opposed. And they have very lame explanations like, “Well, he is just a baby Christian” or “Who am I to judge” or “Who am I to cast stones?” In Trump they have unwittingly found a voice for the unconscious dimensions of their heart, that region where the Grace of God, that is definitely present in their life, would like to work if they would only acknowledge the need of it. But acknowledgement of the need of it would be an affront to their Christian persona and would require admitting they made a mistake. But like their president, they can’t admit making a gut-level, existential mistake…though admitted he can’t admit making any mistake! Oh, they can confess to being a sinner all day long. That is easy. That is what they’ve been taught to do. But cognitive understanding of sin, and confessing of “knowledge” of sins, does not address the deep-seated avarice, greed, and egotism that lurks in all hearts, regardless of how pious we might think that we are. To see, understand, and experience this is to begin to process of becoming human and that is what God wants of us. That is the “incarnation” that Jesus illustrated for us.
(Link to NYT op-ed cited abo e—https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/02/opinion/bill-oreilly-shielded-by-christians.html?ref=opinion&_r=0)
There are two other blogs listed below which you might wish to check out.