It was a showdown of biblical dimension: The king’s priests versus the prophet of God. The photo showed the evangelical leaders laying hands on President Trump in the White House. Then here comes the Rev. William Barber challenging their actions as near heresy and theological malpractice. “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands,” he quoted from I Timothy 5:22. The evangelical leaders cried “foul.” What shall we say to the division of soul in the American church in the age of Trump?
I think of the Hebrew prophet Amos who thundered out God’s judgment on the nation of Israel. Why? They “sell the righteous for cash and the needy for a pair of Italian loafers; they trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the sick” (Amos 2:6-7, loosely translated from the Hebrew).
The king’s priests were not happy with Amos’ pronouncements. Amaziah, the king’s priest from the royal chapel at Bethel, went to King Jereboam and said, “Amos has conspired against you … the land cannot bear all his words.” Then he went to Amos and told him to take his prophesies, leave Israel and go to Judah, the southern kingdom, and do his prophesying there. “But never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary,” Amaziah ended. Amos refused the invitation to leave, “for the Lord said, ‘Go prophesy to my people Israel’” (Amos 7:10-15).
President Trump has courted evangelical leaders as his royal priests, and they have come happily along. But there are prophets in the land, like Amos and Barber, who listen to God’s vision for the world and offer it to the nation.
Jesus said that the nations, not just individuals, will be judged by how they care for — notice the particularity — the hungry, thirsty, stranger (immigrant), naked, sick and prisoner (Matthew 25:31-46).
The present public policy of the Republican congress and Trump administration ignores those for whom God cares.
The evangelical leaders answer Barber’s judgment by saying that their churches, in the private realm of life, care for the poor and afflicted, and many do. But when they enter the public realm of life and speak to public policy the instruction from their Bible seems not to apply. They embrace the conservative ideal of as small a government as possible — and this means shrinking of the safety net that upholds the poor, the sick, the aged and the vulnerable of our land.
I believe the nation is well served by the vigorous interaction of the right and the left. They represent complementary visions and virtues which together make for “a more perfect union.” At its best the church can help people of both the political right and left do their important work for the health of the nation. But beware the king’s priests who give allegiance to the king rather than to the God they profess to obey.