Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
I was encouraged this morning by a pastor colleague that this is the moment to stand up and say something to denounce the immorality and corruption of the Trump administration. In some ways, it was the standard clerical collusion with the anti-Trump media — but at the moment in which things seem to be legally breaking against the president. I have mentioned the president only a few times in my public ministry, and certainly not to denounce him, as I did not denounce President Obama in the preceding eight years. We pray regularly for all public officials as the Bible commands, and I say very little about the goings-on of any administration.
I included below my response to this group of pastors that you may find helpful if you are considering such speech, or are wondering how your church should be responding to the present political moment:
I generally would not counsel in favor of this. (Especially in your case XXXXXX — you may not “have much to lose”, but I would encourage you to keep your eye on the task before you as an interim pastor. I would argue it is not something like ‘telling the church the truth they don’t want to hear’ but something like ‘creating unity and expectation for a new season of spiritual fruitfulness’. I don’t suspect making this an issue is going to help with that unity part.)
If our preaching is in conversation with the events of the Trump administration, then we are going to be drawn into something every week. And as clergy, we are charged with not being possessed by any particular political ideology or philosophy. There were a number of actions during the Obama administration that I found profoundly troubling and deeply totalitarian as ways of reshaping Democratic and Republican institutions in ways keeping with collectivist and revolutionary European ideologies. Which is more troubling for example, a president unilaterally making a treaty with a foreign country including billions of dollars of financial incentives (the ‘Iran deal’) which might lead to a rogue nation possessing nuclear weaponry, or a man paying someone hush money for an affair so that it wouldn’t interfere with his campaign (I have heard from one source that it is not illegal to pay someone a hush settlement, but that they did it wrong under the American campaign finance laws)? Or, considering fact checking, has anyone been listening to fact checks concerning the American anti-Trump media?
This is why you are not going to hear me include these things in my work from the pulpit directly. I may talk about the moral issues related to some of the things going on in politics, but I see it as my job as a pastor to help people not fall into the bigger lie – that everything is politics. The one lie that all of the public figures are falling into, is that everything is about the actions of public figures – which I believe is something Christians should not believe. If we look, for example, to the early writings of the Christians, you will find very little of this kind of writing even though the governments they labored under were much more tyrannical. They reference the government in so much as to instruct Christians how to behave under those governments, tyrannical as they were. And when they did, they did so with extreme moderation, addressing the government itself (see Justin Martyr).
Remember, you are probably not competent to talk about these issues anyway. Just because most of the people talking about them are incompetent ignoramuses, doesn’t mean that we should go rushing in to do the same thing as even less competent in this subject matter. Probably 3 to 5 people in the country are up to the day-to-day facts on the Mueller investigation, do you know who they are? One of my first pastors said “It is a great injustice for pastors to pontificate about things they are incompetent to talk about. Study the Bible and preach it to your people, for in it, and in its authority you have competence and authority. Deviate from its scope but a little, and you are a peddler of fleshly opinions standing on the misused authority of the word of God written.” Remember, it is not newscasters who the Bible says will be judged more strictly, but we who are the church’s teachers.
There are both pro and against versions of Trump derangement syndromes, and it is difficult not to get attached or infected by one or the other. If we wanted to be a nation that drew the line at moral dealings with women and the moving around of monies under $1 million to shut them up, we missed our chance with Bill Clinton a long time ago. Bill Clinton was actually openly accused of rape, and profound sexual misconduct, including engaging in adulterous behavior while in public office and within the public precincts themselves. For myself, I was for the impeachment and removal of Clinton then, and I understood at 19 or 20 years old that his ability to remain in office after such behavior would probably permanently justify such behavior in office. Yet no mainline pulpits rang with his denouncement.
However, as Adam Smith said, there is much ruin in a nation, and this is all the more true the larger the government gets. If our elected leaders, whether Republican or Democratic, will content themselves with consensual womanizing, it seems to me that this is a small price to pay in corruption for the extraordinarily large opportunity for corruption accessible in a government our size. One Hollywood actor said that Trump reminded him of a Shakespearean antihero. I completely agree. But Trump reminds me much more of King Lear than Macbeth, and I would rather have vanity and infidelity at the top then raw and rank murderous ambition that leads to war.
So for this and many other reasons, I would encourage anyone reading this not to be caught up in the especially stirred up atmosphere of the American press this week.
Remember, if you wish to preach Isaiah correctly [the subject of the message this responds to], he condemns everyone and everything everywhere for turning their backs on God. He condemns not just the immorality kings, but he decries the immorality of peoples.
The problem with America, as with most of the countries lamented over in Isaiah and preached against, is the veniality and immorality and lack of responsibility in the nation’s people. Trump did not create our immorality, Nor did Clinton. We created it ourselves through everything we constructed to shield us from our own terrible decisions, in every way we sought to put off our own responsibilities. And we will not recapture it with a better leader — though we should definitely seek to elect one as soon as possible. We must become substantive and godly people ourselves. And if we seek to encourage this by using words either in preaching or writing, we should start by not falling for the larger lies, before attacking the lies discussed presently by the chattering classes. A deeper wisdom is required, not the glandular insights that are so pleasing to our emotions.