Are we ‘willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake?’ American Christians and Donald Trump

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The savior?

Dear Rebecca:

I’ve been perusing the Mennonite Confession of Faith recently, pondering where I — a person with one foot in and one foot out of the church — fit in, when I came across this sentence in the section on “Peace, Justice, and Nonresistance”:*

“As followers of Jesus, we participate in his ministry of peace and justice. He has called us to find our blessing in making peace and seeking justice. We do so in a spirit of gentleness, willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”

“Willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” That’s an extraordinary claim to make on the lives of believers, and I think it gets to something about why a large section of the American Church — I’m speaking here of broader Christianity, not just Mennonites — has thrown its weight behind Donald Trump: Because the church really isn’t willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

This section of the confession points straight to the Beatitudes as its inspiration.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The first thing to point out is: This is very, very counterintuitive. Nobody feels blessed when they’re insulted and persecuted. The temptation is not to rejoice and be glad. And frankly, it depends on a pretty deep faith — one I don’t really have — for a payoff: You’ll be rewarded in heaven.

Here on earth? Not so much.

Again, it’s interesting to view the relationship between Donald Trump and the church in this light. Because so many Christian leaders seem not to “rejoice and be glad” in the face of difficulties. They are not “willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Instead … they throw down.

One can argue how much American Christians really are persecuted, but it’s certainly less and less the case that society is ordered along the lines they desire. It’s hard to feel bad for folks if they feel persecuted because other people can get married, because other people don’t say “Merry Christmas” at the holidays, because, frankly, they’re no longer dominant.** But they feel persecuted, and that’s where Donald Trump comes in.

Donald Trump promises we’ll all say “Merry Christmas.” Donald Trump gives conservatives the judges they want. Donald Trump, in essence, promises American Christians they won’t have to be the persecuted, ever. He promises, essentially, that they shouldn’t ever feel all that uncomfortable.

That’s got to be really appealing.

When Christianity manifests itself as just another American tribe, jostling for dominance, it seems very much to me like an act of unbelief, then. There’s not a trust that the reward is coming in heaven, only a need to win battles right now. It suggests that even believers don’t really believe in a “reward in heaven.”

It’s possibly hypocritical for me to note this, because I’m unsure of a reward in heaven, too. But it suggests to me that a Christianity whose prime concern is winning today’s political debates is one that, ultimately, doesn’t really believe in what it’s selling.

Respectfully,

Joel

*I’m glad the Mennonites use the Oxford comma. Is that weird?

**I’m actually somewhat sympathetic to people who don’t want to make cakes for gay weddings, in the sense I wouldn’t want my creative work to be used for causes I disagree with, either. I also don’t think it’s wise of them to refuse, based on the whole “if your brother asks for your coat, give it to him” understanding of scripture, but YMMV. I suspect the Supreme Court will eventually weigh in on that matter, on the side of the bakers. Ethically, it’s a conundrum! But that said, the sense of Christians being persecuted in America mostly comes from no longer dominating the culture.

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