It’s funny when our faith comes back to us in surprising ways, huh? The desire to be empathetic, compassionate, and responsible to others is what drew me to Mennonites in the first place, and my decision to place myself into accountable relationships with Mennonites helped me develop this kind of thinking as a discipline. After decades of this spiritual endeavor, that kind of thinking should be kicking in when I’m most frustrated with others–it’s times likes these that I’ve been training for. So I’m very encouraged (and I hope other readers are too) to see you coming down on the side of loving Trump supporters.
But how? That’s the harder part for me. I find it almost easier to love those who embrace Trump for his racism than for me to love those who embrace him despite his racism. The first–white nationalists, white supremacists, the alt-right–seem to me to be more honest and thus easier to speak to and about because you know what their issues are. Loving them means working with them to find pathways out of hate (from tattoo removal to legal help) and to keep pressure on them to leave, which can include a range of strategies to make life in a hate group uncomfortable for them.
But for those who ignore, downplay, or excuse Trump’s bigotry–toward women, toward immigrants, toward Muslims, toward people of color–and especially for those who call themselves Christians, love is more of a challenge.
It’s not my usual style here at 606 to get into scripture, but I want to share some thinking I’ve been doing on Jude that has helped me. It may help others, too–and I think the model espoused in Jude can be useful to non-Christians and non-believers, too.
But, first, three caveats:
First, I think that Christians are obligated to love everyone. I think this is true for all Christians, even those who don’t agree on anything else. I don’t think you have to believe that God loves everyone. (I tend to default this belief. I suppose that God loves even Donald Trump, though I have no idea why. And I see no evidence in Trump’s life that God loves him.) But if you’re a Christian, you’ve been told explicitly by Jesus your neighbors and your enemies.
But I don’t place the same burden for loving enemies on non-Christians, not because Christians hold the patent on loving enemies but simply because I’m not going to tell non-Christians to live by a Christian standard.
A second caveat: Especially among Mennonites, it’s easy to turn turning the other cheek and loving your enemies into competition and oppression. The mandate to forgive is used to keep women in abusive marriages, children into abusive relationships with parents, and perpetrators of sexual violence in the church out of jail. That’s not how forgiveness works. We aren’t in a competition to see who can endure the worse abuse and then forgive for it. Let’s not cheapen forgiveness like that or make it pornographic by gawking at those who exercise it in the most trying of circumstances.
And a third caveat: Jude talks about sin and divides sinners into types, which might sound a little judgmental to some folks. I don’t think that is Jude’s purpose. I think Jude shows us that we can use different strategies to love people who are committed to their sins to a greater and lesser degree. And to be clear: I think supporting Donald Trump is an act of violence against our world’s most vulnerable people and is thus a sin, and because Trump has such power, it is a sin against most of the world’s population. In terms of reading Jude, we might read the words violence the vulnerable or racism/sexism/ nativism/ableism/Islamophobia when we see the word “sin.”
So, on to the book of Jude:
It’s one of my least favorite books of the Christian New Testament. It’s short and direct, with lots of fire and brimstone, and it’s been used against LGBT Christians. You don’t hear many sermons out of it not only because there’s not much there (25 verses total) but because it’s kind of negative. But I find it also very helpful in laying out some ways of loving those who are hard to love. You can read the whole text in under 3 minutes here.
Jude is writing to Christians and telling them how to deal with those who call themselves Christians but who are not acting like it. The point, though, isn’t about what behaviors will get you in trouble but a warning against a kind of spirit or character: exploitative, duplicitous, deceitful. I don’t believe that the Bible predicts specific political leaders today, but, boy…
Is Trump Satan? Prolly not, though you can find YouTube videos arguing yes. Are Trump supporters complicit in the evil he is producing in the world? Yes. [Above, an image of Donald Trump with devil horns, a tail, and a pitchfork.]
Jude warns against those who claim to be Christians and yet
- “pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness” (excuse away exploitative behavior on the grounds that “God forgives so I can do what I want”)
- “revile whatever they do not understand“
- “grumblers, malcontents, following their own passions, loud-mouthed boasters, flattering people to gain advantage” (See, any speech given by Donald Trump. If you’re not sure where to start, try this one, given to the Faith and Freedom Conference this past fall.)
- “set up divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit [love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control]” (See Donald Trump’s Twitter feed.)
Most of Jude is spent warning about these people. We need the warning because it’s not always obvious that a person has this kind of spirit. They may be charming, funny, or charismatic at first. And we shouldn’t confuse them for people who simply get on our nerves, challenge us, or push the boundaries of a group but do so out of love and respect. It’s too easy to accuse people we simply don’t like or who hold different (but carefully discerned) theological opinions of being “false prophets” or “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” The point of Jude (in the reading I give it here) isn’t to coerce theological conformity among believers but to care for the community by helping us recognize when someone is heading toward or fully engaged in sin (racism, sexism, violence toward the vulnerable, exploitation of the powerless, etc.) and giving us advice on how to bring them away from sin so that they can be part of a healthy community and can know God’s love better.
It’s not until verse 20 that Jude starts to answer the question of how we are to love them.
First, Jude tells Christians who are dealing with those who claim faith but aren’t acting in accordance with it to practice spiritual self-care: Be strong in our own faith, which means praying, centering ourselves in God’s love, and being patient. When your own faith is strong, lazy faith isn’t appealing.
Then Jude gives us three strategies, one for each of three different kinds of people we may struggle to love: those who are flirting with sin, those who have just begun to succumb to it, and those who are stuck there.
- For those who have doubt that their faith prohibits violence against the vulnerable, convince them (v. 22). Different translations of the passage tell us to “have mercy” or “have compassion” on these people. The implication is that we should be compassionate with those who have found their faith swayed by false teachers–including those who marry religion and political power. These people may want to be faithful, but a lazy faith is appealing, and so we should meet them where they are. Listen to their doubts, talk with them, and provide whatever it is that they need to reject sin and embrace the work of love. In practical terms, this means taking the concerns of Trump supporters seriously even if they are not valid as a means of meeting them where they are.
- “Save some, by snatching them out of the fire” (v. 23). The image here is of something that’s just been thrown into the fire but that can still be saved, if you are quick and willing to stick your hand in to retrieve it. The Trump campaign didn’t merely reveal racism, sexism, nativism, and a gross love of power in American Christianity; it also created those sins in some people, convincing believers who may have been wary about caesaraopapism–the combining of church and state–that Trump could be used by God to give them political power. And though they have been primed over the last 30 years to believe that a messiah was coming in the form of a Republican president, some of them can be moved. Engaging with them can be risky because they don’t have doubts: they are convinced. So you have to be standing on firm spiritual ground to do this work so that they don’t pull you into the fire with them. The language here (“snatching”) suggests urgency and direct action, not the sometimes circuitous, patient method of “convincing.”
- And, finally, “on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” This verse employs the metaphor of contagion: just like you shouldn’t touch the clothing of an ill person in order to keep yourself healthy, you shouldn’t get too spiritually close to those committed to sin, those who are die-hard believers that the sins of bigotry aren’t sins at all but strengths. We can love these people too, but we have to hate their ideas. We can’t tolerate their sin while we convince them to leave it; we have to be as firm in our opposition to their bigotry as we are in our love for the individual.
This model may not work in every case, and it could be that not all Christians can engage it in all cases, and certainly other models are also available. You might be able to love people who are stuck in some kinds of sins but not in others because of some circumstance in your own life; maybe you can work with men who have been violent to women and I can’t or I can work with ableist haters and you can’t. You may be able to convince people who I couldn’t talk to–or who wouldn’t listen to me if I spoke. I may be able to “snatch” some “out of the fire” who you are not equipped to work with, and maybe you can confront some people who I couldn’t even approach. But the overall message is clear: Christians, collectively, must address the sins of those who also call themselves Christians, out of love for each other and out of hatred for oppression for the vulnerable. Jude suggests we may do so in conversation or confrontation, depending on the situation.
And you and I (and I suspect, many of our readers) are in an especially strong position to do so because we are white people who can speak to white people in ways that they can hear.
A final thought:
Jude can be harsh, but his advice isn’t to shun people or break off relationships. At the start of the passage, he warns that for those who are committed to sin, their “condemnation was written about long ago”–that is, that it has always been the case that our sins have consequences. (Here I don’t mean damnation to hell. I mean that 150 years after the end of great sin of slavery, we live with the the terrible consequences of that sin.) But he doesn’t discard these people. Instead, he tells us to maintain a relationship with them in order to bring them out of sin–this is showing “mercy” and “compassion.” We should remember that unless we center ourselves in God’s love, we, too, could go wandering off that direction. White people especially have to be committed to not take the easy path of white supremacy, which assures us that our undeserved power is, in fact, what we are entitled to.
Above, an image of cracked ground, with waterless clouds above. Jude calls those who call themselves Christians and yet who exploit others “clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead.”