Thanks for drawing our collective attention to Tony Perkin’s total failure to understand the heart of Christianity. In an interview with Politico this week, Perkins argued that Trump was a hero to Christians, who are “finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”
Did you detect a little David and Goliath allusion there?
You pointed out the Perkins seems to be ignoring one of Jesus’ most famous teachings: that when struck in the face, we turn the other cheek. Then Perkins delivers this theological gem: “You know, you only have two cheeks.”
Well, that’s a clear case of textual abuse. But he’s wrong in more than this: turning the other cheek isn’t about (as Perkins later says), being a “doormat.” It’s about strategically challenging your oppressor. For the oppressed Jews who looked to Jesus as savior, a slap from a Roman soldier was a backhanded slap–an insult not just because of the violence but also because it was not violence between equals but between a superior and someone who couldn’t fight back. (This is why many parents, unfortunately, feel that the backhanded slap is an appropriate response to a child being sassy. It’s injury isn’t in the physical violence but in the assertion of authority.)
When Jesus says to turn the other cheek, he’s challenging the hierarchy by saying that the oppressed have equal worth and dignity as the oppressors. Turning the other cheek would have forced the soldier on his victim as if the victim were his equal. He’s caught in an uncomfortable position: using violence to assert his authority requires him to recognize the equality of his victim. And you don’t need more than two cheeks to make it work.
But just because Tony Perkins doesn’t understand the Bible doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand some parts of Jesus’ teaching. For example, he seems happy to follow Jesus’ command to Peter that we forgive “until seventy times seven” when it comes to Donald Trump’s list of sins. In fact, Trump isn’t even sorry about his sins, doesn’t see them as sins, didn’t do them anyway, wouldn’t do them with women that unattractive, and has never asked God for forgiveness for them, and, still, Perkins is happy to give him “a Mulligan,” a theologically insightful term for saying that Perkins doesn’t care what Trump does as long as his fingers can operate a pen to sign whatever terrible legislation Perkins supports.
Evangelical theology doesn’t have to be lazy, but under leaders like Perkins, it sure gets treated that way. In Perkin’s view of forgiveness, mercy flows from God to wipe away the sins of Donald Trump (sexual assault, marital infidelity, pressuring his mistress to have an abortion, then bragging about it on the radio when his daughter was a teen), but it’s not something we offer to others. Jesus has something to say about that, too.
Above, Eugene Burnand’s The Unmerciful Servant examines the parable of the servant whose debts were forgiven but who fails forgives to extend grace to those who owe him.