White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney declared at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast this week that faith drives the Trump administration’s policy proposals, arguing that “the principles of our faith (are) being manifest” under the president’s watch. My shock threshold is high, but I reeled when I read Mulvaney’s remarks. As a Christian and a theologian, I believe the torrent of hateful words, brinkmanship executive orders, racist dog whistles, sexist behavior, malignant deceit and national idolatry are uneasily linked with anything we might call Christian.
Yet President Donald J. Trump’s popularity with evangelical Christians persists, and to their delight, he consistently says things out loud that they think but – with a few notable Baptist pastors among the exceptions – are too self-protective to say.
“When Trump mused that he could not remember ever asking forgiveness for anything, he basically forfeited any claim to Christian identity.”
Last month, Pew Research Center found that Trump had a 69 percent approval rating among white evangelical Protestants, compared to around 40 percent among all Americans. This is astonishing. Indeed, the willingness of Trump’s base to overlook the absence of a moral compass, much less Christian values and practice, only seems to grow with each passing month. With Trump’s judicial appointments and a flurry of policy changes and legislative proposals, moral traditionalists see their ends-justifies-the-means long game coming into view. For this, they will put up with reckless leadership that cares little for an authentic Christian theological vision for life.
In one sense, I concur with Mulvaney’s statement. The “principles of faith” that drive the Trump administration and its Republican sycophants in Congress are, indeed, manifest. But the principles on my list are different.
One clear principle is xenophobia, fearing and reviling the stranger, which is a stark contradiction of a prominent biblical theme. Welcoming the stranger is a way of remembering God’s providence in the life of an insignificant people; it is also a way of being enriched by holy presence. A corollary principle regularly manifested is racism, as we witnessed when Trump referred to nations where persons of color predominate with an epithet.
Immigration policies reflect both of these principles. Honoring every person as created after God’s likeness, bearing the image of God, is absent from the insulting rhetoric employed and actions taken.
Egregious in its impact, another principle is protecting the rich at the expense of the poor. The Bible’s prophetic literature and the ministry and teachings of Jesus accent justice for the poor and warn of judgment upon the rich who will be “sent away empty.” Current tax law is a windfall for those who least need it. The widows and orphans of our day are ground underfoot in wage disparity, lack of educational privilege and shrinking access to varied health and social services.
“Perhaps the most glaring of the principles I find to be antithetical to Christian theology is the arrogation of power to one individual.”
Similarly, the attempts to marginalize sexual minorities are growing. LGBTQ rights are in the cross-hairs, and for the foreseeable future case after case will wind its way through the appellate system on the way to the Supreme Court. A conservative majority will be predisposed to beat back recent gains as this central issue draws untoward attention in the current culture war. Clearly the New Testament makes space in the reign of God for non-traditional expressions of human sexuality, as the story of the Ethiopian eunuch attests.
Incessant saber-rattling and projected military growth ignore the biblical admonition to “be at peace with all, so far as it depends upon you” (Romans 12:18). Threats to bomb nations into oblivion go far beyond national security; these bellicose words are more about presidential swagger. Even the attempts at negotiation with other nations are so full of ego that every encounter is a win-lose drama rather than a genuine pursuit of common ground. Further, the “America first” quest arises from a distorted doctrine of exceptionalism, which includes claiming divine preference for national interests.
Policies that roll back environmental protection also defy God’s directive to humanity to care for this creation as God’s own representatives. Demonstrating an incomprehensible, dismissive attitude toward the consensus of climate scientists worldwide and the dire warnings from the United Nations and other international bodies – namely, that environmental disaster looms unless radical action is taken in the next two decades – this administration is accelerating its support of destructive practices. The unwillingness to curtail pollution of the atmosphere, to participate in global environmental accords or to prevent rampant oil and gas drilling and fracking, are having a deleterious effect. These profligate actions are tantamount to humanizing the eschaton, i.e., bringing about the destruction of the earth.
Perhaps the most glaring of the principles I find to be antithetical to Christian theology is the arrogation of power to one individual. While in humility Christ Jesus gave power away, the current president presumes to be the final arbiter on most matters of governance in our system of democracy. With Caesar-like imperiousness, this administration claims a kind of sovereignty that eschews bowing the knee to any higher authority.
When Trump mused that he could not remember ever asking forgiveness for anything, he basically forfeited any claim to Christian identity. The very heart of authentic faith is knowing the gap between what God’s righteousness calls us to do and what we actually do. Forgiveness is that shattering experience that acknowledges our sinfulness and the grace of God that draws us near.
Mercy, justice and humility are the marks of authentic Christianity. I see none of these in the principles of faith by which the president of the United States operates. Indeed, the only thing worse than the failure or refusal of people of faith to see this reality is to remain silent.