Thursday, 10 November 2016

'Exile': Doing Theology in Donald Trump's America

I will not lie to you; I'm very, very worried. 

The election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency is bad, potentially disastrous.

A man who so openly courted neo-Nazis to his campaign- the real, honest-to-God ones, not the vaguely centre-right establishment Republicans that so many of the left have ludicrously called ‘fascists’ for the past two decades;

Who so openly enflamed racial divides;

Who so openly incited violence at his rallies;

Who so openly embraced every piece of junk science;

Who praised foreign dictators;

Who made going to war a campaign promise;

Who promised to tear up every international agreement, trade deal, or treaty that he thought was ‘a disaster’;

Who demeaned women, Muslims, people of colour and… well, anyone not like him, really;

Who showed such unveiled contempt for a free press;

Who showed such open disdain for the Constitution, 
Separation of Powers, and an independent judiciary;

Who boasted that his celebrity allowed him to grab women by the pussy- not ‘p**sy’, by the way; that’s not what he said... He said ‘pussy’…

… That guy won.

It’s not good. It’s very, very bad.

I’m not shocked, though. That might come as a surprise, but I’m not. I currently live in Montana, the red state against which all other red states are measured, and I spent almost two decades working with an Evangelical Christian organization. From that long experience, I’m positive that most of the media, American progressive liberals, and establishment pundits had no idea how unpopular Hillary Clinton is and how many people would vote for anyone- and we now know literally anyone- but her. That made her dangerously weak, weaker than any of her supporters who repeated ad nauseum how spectacularly qualified she was, who shouted down anyone cautious about her nomination given what was at stake, seemed to realize.

It was her turn to run. She got her turn. And she lost. Big.

I doubt many African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, LGBT people, or Muslims were shocked either. For them, this was simply a confirmation of what they’ve known for centuries- that racism, intolerance, misogyny, and xenophobia are American developmental disabilities, embedded deep in our national DNA.

So what do we do?

In trying to construct some kind of theological reflection on this, my mind immediately was drawn to one word:


It might feel like everything instantly became foreign, all the old understandings were swept away, nothing feel's like 'home' anymore...

The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, writing to the Jewish community living in exile in Babylon, had this advise for them in chapter 29:

The Lord God of Israel who rules over all says to all those he sent into exile to Babylon from Jerusalem, ‘Build houses and settle down’. Plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and allow your daughters to get married so that they too can have sons and daughters. Grow in number; do not dwindle away. 

One of the major cautions repeated over and over throughout the Hebrew Bible is against false prophets, those who purport to be wise and speaking for God but are actually just talking out their hats. Hey, who doesn’t want to stay positive and search for good news in the aftermath of catastrophe? Who doesn’t want a ‘word of encouragement’? Obviously, there were those who were telling the Jews of Israel that their captivity in Babylon would be a very short-lived affair, but the prophet Jeremiah here puts paid to that notion. 

Exile would last years, even generations.

My social media is filled with notes saying, ‘don’t worry, it’s only four years!’ Well, it might very well be eight… or more. 

Trump was a terrible candidate who ran a chaotic campaign, struggled to stay on message for hours at a time, and was in open rebellion against his own party’s establishment. I shudder to think how we’ll do against a candidate who espouses all of Trump’s ideas but who is focused, sharp, and an expert campaigner.  

America might have turned a political corner for the foreseeable future; Trump will fade, maybe even flair out spectacularly, we just don’t know… But ‘Trumpism’ might, in some shape or form, be here to stay. 

Those of us who have a very different vision of what American democracy, society, and culture might be had better at least start thinking in the long term, perhaps the very long term…

Work to see that the city where I sent you as exiles enjoys peace and prosperity. Pray to the Lord for it. For as it prospers you will prosper.’

‘Support Trump’s America? Are you insane?!’

Yes. Well, if anything he said in the campaign is to be believed, not necessarily the policies, 

but the people.

Whether we agree with the statement or not, Trump ran as a ‘change’ candidate. Many voted for change because the situation they find themselves is unbearable- poor economy, poor job choices, cultural decline, insecurity, and yes, fear. Any Hillary supporter who had listened to American talk radio for a single afternoon would have had reason to be nervous about her chances. Right-wing demagogues and a good amount of Christian clergy have been screaming for years that these people have a right to be angry and have good cause to fear. 

But like all right-wing demagogues the world over, they’ve pointed the finger of blame at ‘others’- black ‘thugs’, ‘predatory’ gay men, Muslims, Jews (they call them ‘the international banking conspiracy’, but don’t be fooled) …

America has big problems that many- left and right- have ignored for years. There are millions of people- left and right- who have been ignored for years.

Someone once asked Jesus, ‘who is my neighbor?’ Your neighbors are Trump supporters, Hillary supporters, Evangelicals, gays, single parents, ‘zero contract hour’ workers, ‘Black Lives Matter’ supporters, Standing Rock supporters… 

This country is all of us. We need each other... Now more than ever. If you don't know your neighbors, or don't recognize the image of God in the neighbors you despise, You need to start now.

Remember those houses the prophet told us to build? Build a house for someone who has no house.

Remember those gardens we need to plant? Share the produce with a local food pantry.

Remember the weddings we need to plan? Make sure everyone’s marriages are supported, valued, and protected.

Remember ‘Grow in number’? Invite people in.

This is our country. Make it work… for everyone.

…‘Do not let the prophets or those among you who claim to be able to predict the future by divination deceive you. And do not pay any attention to the dreams that you are encouraging them to dream. They are prophesying lies to you and claiming my authority to do so. But I did not send them. I, the Lord, affirm it!’

And Oh my God, did every one of our 'prophets' boot this one...

Every poll was wrong. Every pundit was wrong (Well, Michael Moore called it…). Many of us sat for hours on end listening to tables full of experts explain ‘the numbers’. They all told us to ‘stay tuned’ for more. 

And who won? Chrysler, Cadillac, Viagra, Annheiser-Busch, Travelocity, Target, and every other company who bought airtime on MSNBC, FOX, CNN… All the same companies on every network. What does that tell you?

Now, the same pollsters, pundits, and commentators are on again for hours on end explaining how exactly they got it wrong. And Chrysler, Cadillac, Viagra, Annheiser-Busch, Travelocity, and and every other company are still there…

Turn it off. Turn it all off. You don’t need it.

All of the fun ‘click bait’ stories about how such-and-such celebrity just ‘*DESTROYED* Donald Trump with a single tweet’? Well, funnily enough, the tweet didn’t destroy anyone…

Don’t click. Ever. It’s all worthless.

And while I’m at it, let me just say that I’m done with the late-night ‘comedy news’ people. John Oliver, Seth Meyers, SNL, Sam Bee, Stephen Colbert… Almost a year of all of them saying, ‘Oh, look at him! What a buffoon! And his ancestral name is Drumpf! Can you imagine? Isn’t it just too ridiculous?! Isn’t it all hilarious?!'

Now, after the election, with thousands of lives potentially ruined if Trump does a mere tenth of what he promised to do, the same comedians sheepishly offer us inspirational words of comfort, ‘Oh, well, we’ll all get through it’…

Well, many might not, funny man…

Worse, now my social media is filled with messages saying, ‘oh well, at least Alec Baldwin has four years of work ahead of him!’

I can’t do it anymore.  

‘Don’t worry! It’s funny!’

Well, for a lot of people, it’s serious as hell.

…‘Only when the seventy years of Babylonian rule are over will I again take up consideration for you. Then I will fulfill my gracious promise to you and restore you to your homeland. For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope. When you call out to me and come to me in prayer, I will hear your prayers.  Then you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, I will make myself available to you,’ says the Lord. ‘Then I will reverse your plight and will regather you from all the nations and all the places where I have exiled you,’ says the Lord. ‘I will bring you back to the place from which I exiled you.’

God remains God, the God revealed by Jesus- a God of justice, righteousness, compassion, and love.

The Gospel of Jesus- food for the poor, sight to the blind, release to the prisoners, freedom for the captives, life for the lifeless, a voice for the voiceless- has been our Christian duty whether we live under Augustus, Nero, Charlemagne the Borgias, the Vikings, Queen Victoria, George Washington, Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama,

and yes, Donald Trump.

This is what the people of God will do- or at least should do- now, without fear, without fanfare, with dedication and determination…

Even in exile…