Hey Evangelical Christians, or On Antichrist(s)

10 03 2017

Hey evangelical Christians! I have some things I want to run by you. I’m a Jew, and I haven’t read the Christian bible cover to cover, so there may be gaps in my understanding, but I get the broad strokes, and I’ve done a decent amount of reading about specific concepts. What I’m offering here is an outsider’s take on things. Very often, outsider interpretations can be off the mark and even just plain wrong, but they can also be insightful and helpful by offering a fresh perspective. I’m aiming for the second one.

I want to talk about President Donald Trump. He has enjoyed overwhelming support from evangelical Christians. 80% of voters who self-identify as evangelical Christians voted for him. Major evangelical figures have offered him great praise and continued support, even after the worst revelations about him during the campaign and now as he’s shown us his priorities after nearly two months in office. When confronted with incontrovertible facts about him – he’s a proud womanizer and adulterer, he’s a (failed) gambling magnate, he’s relentlessly profane – evangelicals will often retort that God sometimes works through the ungodly. I’ve seen this called the “Cyrus Anointing,” referring to Cyrus the Great and his generous treatment of the Jews. Cyrus was likely a pagan, clearly outside of God’s chosen people, but he treated those chosen people so well that the Book of Isaiah even calls his “Messiah.” (Isaiah 45:1, specifically the Hebrew לִמְשִׁיחוֹ, l’moshiacho, which literally translates to “His anointed” and is the root of the term messiah) Even if he is an imperfect vessel, the idea goes, he can accomplish God’s plan on Earth.

I can’t dispute that possibility. Mysterious ways and all that. What strikes me, though, is that Cyrus receives that anointing based entirely on his actions. It was his tolerance toward minority religions that made him such an important figure to the Jews. As far as I can tell, his ungodliness was purely a function of his traditional Persian religion, not a life of profligacy that suddenly shifted gears to the benefit of God’s chosen people. His equitable treatment was also not unique to the Jews – he is often credited as one of the first rulers to codify universal human rights. In a fun side note, Wikipedia tells us that

Karl Hoffmann has suggested a translation based on the meaning of an Indo-European-root “to humiliate” and accordingly “Cyrus” means “humiliator of the enemy in verbal contest”.

I take that to mean that he was undefeated in freestyle rap battles.

None of that (including the rap battle thing) sounds much like Donald Trump. He has made no secret of his intolerance to at least one minority religion and has signed executive orders rooted in that intolerance. Those orders were predicted by his own Department of Homeland Security to be ineffective at keeping terrorists out of the country, and many experts believe that their very intolerance will serve as a recruitment tool and rallying cry for terrorist organizations. Still, it may not be fair to compare Trump to Cyrus on the specifics – perhaps God’s plan for the Neo-Babylonian Empire is very different from the one for the United States, after all.

Fortunately, Christians believe that God made His plan very clear in the form of Jesus, and that’s where evangelical support for then-candidate, now-President Trump becomes very difficult for me to grasp.

The core of Jesus’s message is love. Love for everyone. Radical love, even for your enemies. A love expressed through self-effacement, even against direct violent attack. “Turn the other cheek” has become detached from its original literal meaning – it wasn’t “If someone makes you mad, get over it.” It was “If someone smacks you, offer yourself up for another smack.” On multiple occasions, Jesus was asked what people should do to ensure salvation, and his answer was clear – give completely of yourself to help those in need. Sell everything you own, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Him. Sacrifice your own comfort and even your own safety to do as Jesus does. In the end, when divine judgment comes, it will those who helped the poor, the sick, the prisoner, the least of these, who are the sheep, even if they say to Jesus “I have no idea who you are.” Love is the most important thing, and you are commanded to be like Jesus through radical, all-encompassing, self-effacing love. Love everyone. Especially love the least of these. Especially the prisoner. Especially the refugee. Especially your enemies.

That is what it means to be Christ-like, and none of it sounds at all Trump-like.

His Justice Department has voided an Obama administration plan to phase out federal use of private prisons, which have been shown to be less secure and more cruel than government-run facilities. That is not love for the prisoner.

His Immigration and Customs Enforcement division has instituted nationwide deportation raids, sweeping up hundreds of people, including many who were brought here as minors, through no fault of their own, and many who have been law-abiding, taxpaying, economy-building members of their communities for years. In at least one case, ICE seems to have falsified arresting documents (poorly) in order to detain a DREAMer, and in another they seem to have lied about where they arrested another person in order to make it seem more palatable. That is not love for the stranger.

His executive actions have specifically shut down refugee admissions to the United States. That is clearly not love for the refugee. As many have pointed out, Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees fleeing persecution by an unjust ruler. They fled to Egypt, where others of their religion had brought about the death of every first-born child and many other horrible hardships, so they could easily be seen as a potentially lethal threat. How are modern refugees any different? How is the mission of radical love served by turning people away? Even if they pose a danger to you, isn’t the rule to turn the other cheek? If your goal is to spread the good news, how is “We don’t want you here. We don’t trust you” a good starting point for that mission?

His party is currently pushing a health care plan that will strip coverage from millions, increase costs, accrue benefits overwhelmingly to the wealthy, and lead to unsustainable insurance markets as the young and healthy opt out, and he has given it his full support (despite the plan failing to live up to his campaign promises of cheaper, better insurance for everyone through an actual plan that was always just a few days away from being complete and ready for public review). From a Christian perspective, that’s not love for the poor or the sick. From a purely logical perspective, the American Health Care Act is a legislation with no clear positive outcome for anyone but the rich – how is that good policy at all?

The bible also gave warnings. “The antichrist” is a term that gets kicked around a lot in modern life and applied to pretty much anyone someone disagrees with, a singular bringer of the end of the world, but the Epistles of John talk about many antichrists, including many present at the time of his writing. These antichrists are deceivers, liars who will turn the believers astray.

I’m not saying that Donald Trump is The Antichrist. I’m saying that he may well be an antichrist.

We know beyond any doubt that he has lied in many ways, big and small, throughout his life. One of the big ones is about his charity – exhaustive reporting by the Washington Post during the campaign failed to turn up evidence that he had given much of anything to anyone. Even more than simply failing to give, he appeared to have funneled other people’s money to charitable causes and claimed it was his own. He also seems to have used “charitable” donations to settle lawsuits against his properties, which means that it wasn’t charity at all.

We know beyond any doubt that he is a serial adulterer. You may or may not take issue with his professed treatment of women, but if you view the marriage vow as sacred, you can’t dispute that he has violated it at least once. His daughter Tiffany is literal living proof.

The Epistles of John and 2 Thessalonians speak of antichrists as deceivers who “[do] not confess Jesus.” That’s a tougher one, as some close to him have said that Trump has (recently) been born again. He supposedly did so in private, so it’s very hard to say if it’s true or not. He has maintained that he has always been a Christian, yet when he spoke at Liberty University early in the campaign, he said that his favorite book of the bible is “Two Corinthians.” I’m a Jew and even I know that it’s “Second Corinthians.” Have you ever heard an adult Christian call it “Two Corinthians?” I haven’t.

Two Thessalonians (walk into a bar) also says that antichrist “opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship.” Trump hasn’t done that, at least not to the letter. He hasn’t declared himself bigger than Jesus, after all. He has, however, consistently claimed that he is the only person who can save America, casting every problem as something that he alone can fix. Campaigns are all about convincing people that you’re uniquely qualified to do the job, but it’s typically expressed along the lines of “I have a plan and we can work together to make it happen.” His me-me-me rhetoric is probably just hyperbole, but tells us something about how he views the world and his place in it. And if you want to get semantic about it, calling him “anointed” is literally calling him messiah.

Again, I’m not saying he is an apocalyptic figure who will usher in the End Times. I don’t believe that. I think he has already ushered in unimaginably bad times, evidenced in spikes in crimes directed against people perceived to be Muslims and threats of violence and exclusion against minorities of all kinds, but I don’t think he’s the Beast from the Sea. After all, I’m Jewish. That’s not my apocalypse. I am alarmed, though, that he seems to have so effectively turned so many Christians so completely from the mission and marching orders of their lord and savior.

Christianity (rightly) reveres its martyrs, those so committed to Jesus’s teachings that they endured torture and death rather than turn from them. I know this is inflammatory, but it seems to me that by supporting President Trump, Christians are turning away from Jesus’s teachings at the merest hint of danger. I don’t want to see anyone martyred. I know that real present day Christians are actually being martyred in areas under ISIL control. I also know that no one from the countries in President Trump’s executive orders have committed terrorist acts in the US since at least 9/11, and that while no refugees have been convicted of any terrorist activity in the United States, US citizens – Christian citizens – have plotted terrorist attacks against them on US soil. I also know that the anti-ISIL strategy of the Obama administration has resulted in significant and tangible gains against that monstrous and evil organization, and that many experts believe that President Trump’s anti-Muslim executive orders are huge propaganda wins for ISIL. The people fighting ISIL on our behalf are the same people those orders say we can’t trust. They are Muslims, and they are fighting for their religious freedom. For the nation that has loudly proclaimed its tolerance and freedom of conscience for so long to say to them “It’s great that you’re putting your lives on the line to fight our mutual enemy and all, but your religion makes you dangerous, so don’t try to come here” is rank hypocrisy and gives credence to ISIL’s apocalyptic narrative of Islam vs. The West. Imagine a loudspeaker blaring “You fight their war for them and this is how they treat you? They won’t have you among them – there is no place for you there. Your place is here, with us.”

Donald Trump is not Christ-like in any way that means anything. On the fronts that Jesus himself deemed important, he is more accurately described as antichrist-like. He is full of hate and a known liar who seems to revel in cruelty and revenge. Is that the path you are supposed to follow? Is that deserving of your support?

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6 responses

10 03 2017
Invisible Mikey

Speaking not as an Evangelical but a radically inclusive Christian, I think you are expressing some confusion between the teachings of Jesus and the religion others founded after he died. Jesus had a message, which you expressed eloquently, and performed charitable ministry. Guys that had never met or even heard him speak founded a religion in his name nearly a lifetime later.

Over the centuries the religion has become intertwined with and influenced by culture. Evangelical Christianity in the USA today is mostly a “prosperity Gospel”, fully aligned with capitalism, which Jesus would never have been. That’s why this group allies with Trump. It’s as simple as, “If we follow, he will make us richer.”

11 03 2017
Groove Haircut

You’re certainly right about the difference between his teachings and what the institutions nominally intended to spread them have become. Prosperity gospel in particular blows my mind. I wrote this post entirely because I don’t understand how such a huge gap can exist between people’s self-professed Christianity and the things they support in the world. I don’t believe that the United States is a Judeo-Christian nation, but I really wonder what the people who do believe that think it should mean. It always seems to be about judging others as sinful and wrong, rather than the giving and loving aspects of Jesus. It’s a strange dichotomy. I understand why those in power like it that way, but I don’t understand why so many people who say they love Jesus follow along.

11 03 2017
Invisible Mikey

Heh, heh. I’m old enough to no longer expect humans to behave in accordance with their stated beliefs. I try to evaluate based on behavior, and even that is full of contradictions. It’s fun and educational to study about religions, but as a construct they don’t efficiently eliminate or control genetic, biological urges, which include acting in self-interest i.e. greed.

10 03 2017
onereasonableperson

You seem to be saying that a country should act like an individual and, thus, by supporting a leader who advocates positions that are contrary to Biblical ideals, we’re being hypocritical to our faith.

I’m not sure I buy your thesis statement. Jesus says that, if someone punches us on the cheek, we should turn our cheek and let that someone punch that one as well. Were the US to act that way, we’d never go to war. Had the US turned their cheek after Pearl Harbor was bombed, the Nazis would probably be ruling the world right now.

Is that really what God calls us to do?

I’m pretty sure that nations are not called to act as individuals.

On a different note, I find myself confused by the support of the American Jewish community for the left, which has become increasingly anti-Israel. How do you reconcile that support?

11 03 2017
Groove Haircut

In the president, our country selects an individual who sets the tone of our foreign and domestic policy. There are certainly times when war is an appropriate response, especially when the goal is to protect the nation and to alleviate suffering. You’ll note that I spoke favorably of our efforts against ISIL. It is by definition impossible to be completely like Jesus, but it seems like those who consider themselves his followers should seek someone who fits the bill in as many ways as possible.

The ban on refugees is instructive. President Obama, a man whose Christian faith was constantly questioned, endeavored to use his authority to help refugees by welcoming them to the United States and providing aid upon their arrival, but only after they completed a two year vetting process. This was a policy of compassion tempered by appropriate concern for security.

President Trump, whose profession of Christian faith is taken at face value despite a demonstrated lack of basic knowledge, has issued a blanket ban on refugee resettlement, despite analysis by his own Department of Homeland Security that says that the ban does not make us more secure and in spite of the fact that no refugees who have been admitted have committed acts of terror in the United States. He has chosen to disregard the very real need of people fleeing persecution and violence in exchange for a false security. There is no compassion in that.

Further, in his discussion of how to prosecute wars, he has expressed an eagerness to employ war crimes as a matter of course, speaking often of his outright enthusiasm for torture and his belief that “to the victor go the spoils,” allowing us to pillage Iraqi oil in particular. While it is at times appropriate and even morally necessary to go to war, it should always be done in the firm understanding that while it may be the lesser evil, war and violence are still evil, and that we must constantly check our conduct in war to ensure that we don’t increase the evil through our own actions. President Trump does not seem to share that view, and I believe that Christians who support him need to question if they agree with him and whether their agreement comports with Jesus’s teachings.

As for Jewish support for the left, we have been leftists for a very long time, largely due to a focus on issues of social justice that still (sadly) seems to break along left/right lines. With regard to Israel, I don’t agree with your argument that the left has become “anti-Israel” at all. That assumes that being pro-Israel boils down to something like “supporting Netanyahu.” I believe completely that Israel must continue to exist. I do not believe that building illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories helps secure a peaceful future for Israel. Instead, they seem like deliberate provocations that create greater animosity and violence and make it far more difficult to convince the Palestinians that Israel is approaching the peace process in good faith. It’s worth noting that the largest strides toward peace between Israel and Palestine came under Democratic presidents.

12 03 2017
Kenneth Barnhart

I read your lengthy post. You point out clearly the inconsistency between Jesus’ teachings and the behaviors and beliefs of evangelical Christians. This is not suprising to me, for there are more than 1000 different Christian groups or sects in America. These groups formed due to differences in Christian interpretation. There are similar differences between Jewish and Muslim religious groups.

What an individual believes or what motivates his actions is open to speculation. I too suspect Trump is one without a strong understanding of Christian traditions and beliefs. He is however like all politicians. They need to get the votes of a majority to get elected. They will say and do things to persuade people into thinking they share similar beliefs and win their votes. What is said during an election and afterwards often are not consistent.

Trump’s election may be the greatest mistake in U.S. history. We were able to somehow survive Reagan who also hoodwinked religious voters. We will somehow also survive Trump. If we learn anything as a country, which is doubtful, we will gain an appreciation for our religious freedom, and the clear separation of church and state embodied in our constitution. Many do not realize that a good number of our nation’s founders were Diests.

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