One central idea I try to impress upon my students is that, if you’re finding it easy to be a Christian while largely living by the standards of our broader culture, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Our radical duties to the poor push directly against what is generally understood as the American dream. Norms of sexual fidelity and commitment are totally incompatible with the hook-up culture. Our responsibility to safeguard God’s creation requires us to directly resist the consumer throw-away culture.
Oh, and then there is Jesus’s command to “Love your enemies.” Especially in an era of hyper-polarization in our politics, this is profoundly counter-cultural.
And now in this political moment it suggests the following question, “What does this command mean for a Trump administration?”
Trump supporters might find this question puzzling, but they are not the audience for this piece.
Instead I have in mind folks (like me) who are disturbed by what Pope Francis described as a tendency to build walls rather than bridges.
These folks are disturbed by talk of a Muslim registry, defended by explicit references to World World II era internment camps, and by administration appointments like Michael Flynn (who has made deeply offensive anti-Muslim comments), Jeff Sessions (who has a history of making racist comments), and Steve Bannon (who has partnered with and profited from white nationalism).
Oh yes, and disturbed by Trump’s performance and excusing of sexual violence against women.
In light of these concerns, it may seem naïve at best—and offensive at worst—to speak of loving Trump and others in his administration so connected to persecution and evil. Yet this is precisely what Christ commands us to do.
In light of this difficult situation for deeply #NeverTrump Christians, I have four suggestions for fulfilling Christ’s command during a Trump administration.
Be skeptical of reports from Trump’s adversaries in the traditional mass media.
Few serious people would deny that traditional mass media in New York and Washington are able to erase their political commitments in their reporting. Even the New York Times public editor admitted that the paper was biased in its slant during the election and needed to do better. Such major media’s overall approval rating is at an all-time low, with a paltry 14 percent of Republicans believing these institutions are trustworthy.
In light of this, loving Trump and his supporters would mean giving them the benefit of the doubt, especially when negative reports fit all-too-nicely with an anti-Trump narrative we are predisposed to accept. We ought to dig deeply into such reports, perhaps checking out what media with different political commitments are reporting.
Don’t judge Trump or his appointees exclusively by their worst moments or who they were in the past. Instead, try to get a more comprehensive sense of who they are today.
Each and every one of us would be in serious trouble if we were judged by our worst moments. Thank goodness for God’s mercy and the capacity for grace-filled redemption! But isn’t it the case that those of us who oppose the Trump administration tend to focus on their worst moments?
For instance, Jeff Sessions appears to have a racist past, but wouldn’t an honest evaluation of who he is have to take into consideration the facts that he desegregated Alabama’s schools and was an enemy of the KKK?
People are rarely reducible to the labels we attached to them based on their worst moments. And if we are to love someone, we need to do the hard work of engaging them in the fullness of their complexity.
Address the failings of your opponents in a non-partisan context. Don’t single them out for special scrutiny.
Outraged over Trump’s proposal to build a wall? Good. But have you been criticizing the Obama administration in claiming they went “above and beyond” what Republicans requested in building border fencing to keep out immigrants?
Despise Trump’s suggestions about mass deportation of immigrants? Good. But have you joined immigrant rights groups in pounding the Obama administration for their own mass deportation policies—policies which, according to the Los Angeles Times “have left a wake of devastation in Latino communities around the nation”?
If you’re like me you think that Trump should have been disqualified from living in the White House on the basis of his relationship with sexual violence alone. But that very same standard, if it is to be authentic and not merely political, must be applied to people like Bill Clinton as well. Have you so applied it?
Loving Trump and his administration means that we must refuse to have a special standard for them that we are not willing to apply consistently across the political spectrum.
Pray for the Trump administration.
Jesus, immediately after commanding us to love our enemies, commands us to pray for them. A Christian might be #NeverTrump, but we should nevertheless give his administration high priority in our lists of intentions. We might pray, in particular, that he comes to know and live out Christian love — putting the needs of the most vulnerable well ahead of the wants of the rich and powerful.
Let me be clear: none of these suggestions means that we ought to refuse to call out evil or injustice that we will no doubt see in a Trump administration. On the contrary, when these events come to pass, Christians must stand up in loud, strong, and unequivocal opposition.
Following these suggestions, in addition to fulfilling the commands of Jesus, actually puts us in a better and more authentic position for our opposition to be taken seriously.
Charles C. Camosy is Associate Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University and author of Beyond the Abortion Wars: a Way Forward for a New Generation.