Tag Archives: Donald Trump

Reaping What You Sow

From Baylor University sociologist professor comes this thoughtful and balanced reflection on Evangelical Christian support for Donald Trump. The whole article is worth reading but I found his conclusion on point:

Many conservative Christians accuse Democratic Christians of endorsing abortion because they vote for pro-choice candidates. If those Christians stay silent on that issue, then they have a point. But if Democratic Christians vote for Democrats despite abortion and make it plain that they opposed that plank of their political party, then they do not own the pro-choice label. It is fairer to say that their vote is due to the reality that neither political party accurately reflects their overall political beliefs and they had to make the best of a bad situation. Likewise, if you cannot find it in yourself to not vote for Trump—although I really hope that you won’t vote for him—I would urge you to hold him accountable by becoming vocal about his dehumanizing, race-baiting, and sexism. Too many evangelicals have supported Trump without condemning his vile speech and actions. That failure tars our faith with his actions. We dare not allow him to continue to poison the good name of Christians.

Read the rest here: Why Evangelicals Support Trump—and Why They Shouldn’t – The Bulwark

Just A Grain of Incense

In the early Church, pagan authorities would ask Christians to offer a grain on incense to the gods. Sometimes,as it Maccabees, believers were to merely pretend to do so. Many made the compromise but many didn’t and were martyred.

Many of my Christian friends worry about a coming persecution of believers. But what if the problem in front of us right now is not the persecution of Christians by the progressive Left but the moral compromise of Christians to conservative Right?

What brings this to mind is David French’s recent comments on conservative Christians who uncritically support President Trump:

Why does the larger public not see the compromise in the same way Republicans do, as a necessary, (often anguished) transactional embrace of the lesser of two evils? Well, because these same socially conservative Republicans spent years—decades, really—telling the American public that transactional politics was wrong, that character mattered. The same Southern Baptist Convention that will overwhelmingly vote for Trump next fall passed a resolution in 1998 on moral character of public officials that contained this statement, “Tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality and lawlessness in the society, and surely results in God’s judgment.” (Emphasis added.)

Even as someone who broadly shares their policy and cultural concerns, is hard to escape the conclusion many conservative Christians are only concerned about morality and character in politics when they see these as winning issue.

And winning means supporting a man whose character and life is contrary to the Gospel? Well, ifs it’s only a grain of incense, does it really matter?

Yes, yes it does. And so French say

You cannot unring that bell. You cannot maintain credibility with a skeptical culture and say, “Our bad. Politics is really just a transactional, antiseptic evaluation of competing policy proposals.” If you’re going to reinterpret a decisive, theological declaration, you need to show your work. And if you think that public skepticism doesn’t matter, that you can just win anyway, write laws, and change the moral character of a nation, an entire history of public resistance to morals legislation—from prohibition, to bans on contraception, adultery, sodomy, and obscenity—stands in your way.

Christians who support Trump to score a win in the culture wars might want to ask themselves how this is in their best long-term interest. As for the hope to avoid persecution, they might as well this squares with the witness of the martyrs?

Or as French concludes: “From the beginning, the American experiment has been inextricably linked to the virtue of a ‘moral and religious people.’ Embracing an immoral man to save morality is not a bargain that most of the American people understand—no matter how well it plays on talk radio or conservative Twitter. ”

Something to think about.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Exposing Ideological Conceits

Few discoveries are more irritating than those which expose the pedigree of ideas. Sharp definitions and unsparing analysis would displace the veil beneath which society dissembles its divisions, would make political disputes too violent for compromise and political alliances too precarious for use, and would embitter politics with all the passions of social and religious strife.

Lord Acton, Essay on Liberty, p. 62 quoted in , p. 346

In the summary of John Marini’s, Unmasking the Administrative State: The Crisis of American Politics in the Twenty-First Century we are told that

The election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency shocked the political establishment, triggering a wave of hysteria among the bicoastal elite that may never subside. The biggest shockwaves of all, however, were felt not in the progressive parishes of Manhattan or San Francisco, but in the halls of the political elite’s cherished and oft-overlooked center of power—Washington, DC’s sprawling “administrative state”—for President Trump represented an existential threat to its denizens, who came to be known as “swamp creatures.”

Reading this on my Facebook page a friend responded that “Trump has left most of the administrative positions VACANT. Basic abuse and neglect of the administration is what he’s doing. Some genius ‘unmasking’ that is.”

While it is true that many of the administrative positions in the Trump White House are still vacant, this isn’t why Marini says that the election and subsequent administration of Donald Trump have triggered the reaction it has.

Yes, many administrative positions remain empty and yet, the Republic still stands, the economy is growing and the country as a whole seems to be chugging along. It seems that whatever else might be said for good or ill for President Trump, his administration at least raises the question that Marini explores in his book that rule by experts is over-rated.

There is no question that President Trump (who I didn’t vote for) is a divisive personality–but he also owns this about himself. And by his own admission, he is not a morally upright man. He brags about cutting “good deals” in business, is an unapologetic self-promoter and takes a great deal of pride in his sexual promiscuity.

Nevertheless, the Republic endures. When Marini says the Trump presidency has “unmasked” the pretensions of the administration, he is not saying that Trump is a good man. Nor is he saying that Trump has only lifted the veil on the ideas of the Left.

Trump’s presidency (rather than simply Trump himself) not only calls into question the (progressive) commitment to rule by experts, it also casts doubt on the (conservative) notion of rule by the virtuous. Neither expertise nor virtue is evidently what effective government requires.

Or maybe more accurately, both conservatives and progressives have flawed notions of virtue and expertise.

Both ideologies I think are too narrow and fail to take into account the complexities of governance. If we are not (as the right says) electing a Pastor-in-Chief, neither are we electing a Professor-in-Chief.

This isn’t to disparage either pastors or professors (and I am both) but to highlight that for too long we have sought to find in the president and other elected officials a reflection of our own, idealized self-image. Trump hasn’t just pulled back the curtain on only progressive conceits. He’s done the same for conservatives.

Finally, none of this suggests that (a) he is a morally good man or (b) that he did this intentionally. But did it he has I think.

As I was finishing this post, a priest friend sent me a quote from Malcolm Muggeridge that speaks to the underlying discomfort of both Christians on the Left and the Right have with not just the Trump administration but the Obama administration as well. Muggeridge writes:

I’m saying that contrary to what has been the practice and indeed dynamic of the church in the past century, that to identify Christian hopes with an earthly cause – however ostensibly noble – is disastrous, because all earthly causes end in total disappointment.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Contempt Isn’t A Winning Strategy

Yesterday, I was at a meeting at UW-Madison. While not mentioning President Trump, the administrator who was speaking mentioned in passing that the country has changed in the last year or so and that we are now living in a context that is politically divisive. A few things caught my attention.

First was the speakers casually assumption that everyone in the room agreed with his assessment that we are now living in politically divided times. Second, that the cause of our divisions is the election of Donald Trump as POTUS.

While I would agree with the speaker that we live in politically fractious times and that Trump’s election as POTUS figures in this, I don’t think that Trump election is the cause.  Yes, President Trump is a divisive figure. So, however, is President Obama.

Trump divides by his manner. He can be impulsive, rude and vulgar. Obama is much more polished but he pursued policies that were antithetical not only the moral values of many Americans but were also an assault on religious liberty. His rhetoric on a range of social and economic issues matters could also be divisive.

Deep, and sometimes bitter, political divisions plagued us during the Bush and Clinton administrations as well. Neither side has a lock on either civic virtue or civic vice.To suggest otherwise is wrong morally and factually.

In any case, the speaker seemed to me to be secure in his assumption that everyone in the room shared his evaluation of our current political situation and its causes.  While state employees have a right to their political views, I found it disheartening and worrisome that a member of the UW administration presumed that I agreed with him.

What brought this all to mind, is a video making the rounds. In it, Hillary Clinton explains to an audience in India why she lost the 2016 Presidential election.

The take away for Christians and others of good will is this. We need to be careful that we don’t presume people agree with us. And, if they disagree with us, we need to be careful that we don’t impute malicious motives for their disagreement.

Judge for yourself why Ms. Clinton thinks she lost. Based on the video, however, it appears to me that she thinks she lost because, as one (liberal) commentator said, voters

…sensed her contempt and lack of concern for their predicament. It wasn’t hard. She had contempt during the campaign even when she was under pressure to act like she cared, and it’s no surprise that she has it when she’s free of that pressure. To express her contempt and lack of empathy now is simply to revel in the freedom of not having to appeal to the people for their votes.

Contempt for those who disagree with us is never a winning strategy.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

If you look at the map of the United States, there is all that red in the middle where Trump won. I won in the coasts, I win, you know, Illinois, Minnesota, places like that. But what the map doesn’t show you is that I won the places that represent two thirds of America’s gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward, and his whole campaign, “make America great again,” was looking backwards. You know you didn’t like black people getting rights, you don’t like women getting jobs, you don’t want to see that Indian American succeeding more than you are. Whatever your problem is, I’m going to solve it.

Source: The Weekly Standard

Most of Life is Not Under My Control

Political decisions are rarely straightforward or simple. This seems especially to be the case in what National Review‘s Victor Davis Hanson calls our “Manichean” political age. He makes a point about Trump voters that I think has a broader importance for our political life. He writes:

…there are understandably legitimate differences in conservative attitudes toward Trump, the first U.S president without prior political or military experience and service. But should such acrimony extend to the Trump voter?

In attributing moral or ethical laxity to Trump voters, Never Trumpers sidestep the argument that in a Manichean world, not voting for Trump was a de facto vote for the alternative — a likely 16-year Obama-Clinton continuum. Is condoning Trump’s antics by default the moral equivalent of its practical antithesis: ensuring a Supreme Court, economy, and foreign policy that would, in conservatives’ views, radically injure millions of Americans for a generation?

If it were really unethical or foolhardy to vote for Trump, is it by extension far more unethical toserve Trump? In other words, are H. R. McMaster, Jim Mattis, John Kelly, Betsy DeVos, Nikki Haley, and Mike Pompeo far more morally suspect for empowering such a president, in a fashion that outweighs their principled notions of serving the country?

Is it still sustainable to suggest that Trump is not a conservative but a dangerous liberal or demagogic wolf in conservative sheep’s clothing? The doctrinaire conservative Heritage Foundation now claims that two-thirds of its proverbial 334 conservative agenda items have been already met by Trump — and at a pace far faster than that achieved even by former president Reagan.

Casting a vote means accepting trade-offs. Often this means tolerating policies or character traits that we find misguided, offensive or even evil.

In the face of this, I can decide not to vote. But not voting doesn’t exempt me from moral responsibility for the outcome of an election. Deciding to not decide is, after all, to still make a decision as youth ministers everywhere remind their young charges.

What I need to always keep in mind is that life is made up of many moving pieces, some of which are on fire, and most of which are not under my control.

It is this last point–that most of life isn’t under my control–that makes Christian witness in the Public Square complicated, often frustrating, controversial and deficient, but always interesting and challenging.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Politics Won’t Save Us

Over at Fr Aidan Kimel’s blog Eclectic Orthodoxy, I have a post reflecting on how Orthodoxy Christians might want to respond to the recent presidential election. In the post I ask

How then are we as Orthodox Christians to live? How do we go about fostering “peace and co-operation among people holding various political views”? While the hierarchy and the clergy have a role here, this is primarily the vocation of Orthodox Christian laypeople in the Public Square.

Do take a moment and go over to Eclectic Orthodoxy and read what I wrote. If you are so moved, leave a comment. 

In Christ, 

Fr Gregory 

Taxes, Justice, Charity & A Fair Share

Moral posturing on economic matters is always risky. When it works it tends to do so because, as with most populist arguments, it appeals to some combination of greed, envy, and/or fear.

This doesn’t mean, I’d hasten to add, that economics and morality are divorced from each other. Like the rest of my life, economic decisions are subject to moral scrutiny and criticism. Like in other areas of my life, my economic decisions can be virtuous or sinful.

Contrary to what we hear from some libertarians or anarchists, taxation isn’t theft. I have not only a legal obligation to pay taxes to support the common good, I have a moral obligation as well.

That said, paying taxes doesn’t have the same moral weight as the obligation I have to care for my family. To my family, I owe a debt of love. To the tax collector, on the other hand, I owe a debt of justice.

Contrary to what Senator Warren would have us believe (see video), Donald Trump’sfair share” in taxes is same as it is for everyone else: it’s what the law says it is and not a penny more. Moreover, if the tax laws of my nation allow me to reduce my tax burden either through deductions (e.g., the mortgage interest deduction) or by sheltering a portion of my income (say in a tax-deferred retirement savings account), it is just—fair to use Warren’s word—for me to do so. The only way it is unfair for someone to minimize his or her tax burden according to what the law allows is if the law itself is unfair.

This maybe the situation in Trump’s case but this isn’t the argument that is being made. Again, as long as things are done within the limits of the law—and those laws are themselves just—it is fair to pay as little tax as one possible can.

While it is in my economic best interest to pay as little tax as the law allows, this doesn’t mean my actions are unfair. Why? Because minimizing my tax bill is more than mere naked self-interest.

I owe a morally weightier debt of love to my family (and to myself), it is not only fair for me to reduce my tax burden, I’m obligated to do so. And again, as long as I stay within the law.

Failure to take advantage the means that the law allows for reducing my tax burden is both unjust (because I give the government more than is due) and uncharitable. Overpayment of taxes is something like spending money on alcohol rather than on food for my children; both are sins against charity.

I’ve not seen the Senator’s tax return but I imagine that, like Trump, she takes all the deductions allowed by law. If she takes those deductions than, by her own logic, Senator Warren isn’t paying her “fair share” either.

Like I said, economics matters are—and should be—subject to moral analysis. Failure to do so is harmful both to the individual and the common good.

But equally harmful, is the all too common tendency (on both the Left AND the Right) to substitute moral posturing for serious reflection.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory