Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
If you thought that Donald Trump’s lewd comments caught on tape would cost him the endorsement of his evangelical supporters, you would mostly be wrong.
Most of them are still on board.
One of the strange commonplaces of politics and religion in America is that conservative evangelical pastors routinely endorse political candidates and mainline pastors do not. And the conservative evangelicals do not just endorse a candidate. They are not shy about telling us that God has raised up this one or that one on a holy mission. Since they are the only ones speaking, this creates an asymmetrical picture and makes it look as if all Christians are conservative evangelicals.
This is not because mainline pastors do not think that the Gospel has political implications. On the contrary, we are more likely to emphasize the politics of Jesus than the evangelicals.
We recognize that the Bible is a profoundly political book. The prophets proclaim God’s passion for justice as the foundation of the social order. And the message of Jesus is centered on “the good news of the Kingdom of God.” In the Lord’s Prayer, our first petition is, “Thy Kingdom come.” When the early church spoke of Jesus as “Lord,” and “Savior,” and “Son of God,” they knew that all of these terms were used to apply to the Emperor. And they knew that the Empire had killed Jesus because he was a political threat. When early Christians said that Jesus was “Lord,” they were also saying, “and Caesar is not.”
The Gospel is intensely political and we cannot read it with any measure of intellectual honestly and pretend otherwise. It is about proclaiming a vision of the Kingdom of God. It is about social and economic justice. But we must also remember that the Kingdom of God can never be identified with any single political group or cause, or country. Instead, it is always the standard by which every political plan is judged.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who certainly understood the political implications of the Gospel better than most, never endorsed a political candidate.
In the famous scene from John’s Gospel excerpted above, Pilate asks Jesus whether or not he is a king, and Jesus responds with one of the best known verses in the Bible. In the older, and more familiar, King James Version, it is translated as “My kingdom is not of this world.”
That is often taken to mean that Jesus is concerned with “heaven” rather than with any earthly kingdom. But if that were the case, then he would not have told his followers to pray for the kingdom of God to come on earth. Jesus was telling Pilate that his kingdom was not like other kingdoms. It was not built on violence and oppression; it was built on non-violent justice.
Unfortunately, that is not a concept easily reduced to a bumper sticker or a sound-bite, and it is not surprising that when mainline pastors do venture into the political arena we are often misunderstood.
After the release of the famous Donald Trump video, Bishop John Schol, who is the United Methodist Bishop of the Greater New Jersey area, posted the following statement on Facebook:
“Because of my role, I do not comment on political elections and candidates. But this is not a political commentary. It is a faith comment, a comment about the human condition. The recent revelation of Donald Trump’s view of women as sex objects goes against the Scriptures and who God created us as female and male. While we know there are men everywhere who think and talk about women in this way, these comments should never go unchecked whether in private conversation or public conversation. The world needs people everywhere to denounce such comments and call for just treatment of women everywhere. When these comments go unchecked, they give permission for the physical, sexual and emotional abuse of women. The world needs all of us to be better and do better.”He received many positive responses, but he also received a huge amount of pushback.
Some comments criticized him for making a political statement. Others criticized him for taking sides, or for focusing on words rather than actions. And still others thought he should balance his criticism of Trump by criticizing Hillary Clinton for . . . something.
First, a criticism of Mr. Trump should not be interpreted as an endorsement of Secretary Clinton.
Second, it’s not just about what Mr. Trump said on the video; it’s about what he said he did. He said that he committed sexual assaults on numerous women.
Finally, we need to move beyond our obsessive need for a false equivalency. The video is lewd. And if you want more lewd comments from Mr. Trump, you can listen to what he said about his daughter on Howard Stern’s radio program.
Some things are just wrong.
All by themselves.
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