President Trump is a foil for most progressive Christians. He epitomizes every criticism of the evangelical churches we make. I want to talk about Donald Trump in two senses. Who he was before the popular television game show The Apprentice. And the man we have come to know since then. In each case, I want the title question remembered. “Is Donald Trump welcome in your church?”
Donald Trump Prior To Reality TV
Donald Trump illustrates the values of the 1980’s and 90’s. He wrote a best selling book The Art of the Deal. And he was reputed to be a multi-millionaire before the status of “billionaire” was given. He was photogenic, a fashion plate, and known for a high lifestyle.
Donald Trump is known for his massive ego. A coworker expressed this well when he said after watching an anniversary special for Saturday Night Live, “he sat there acknowledging the applause for Garrett Morris.” It was true. He did. Such public errors are easily made though. The Donald was known for other things as well.
Bankruptcy and the failure to pay contractors, lawyers, and workers got my attention more than his sexual scandals. Federal courts ruled against him over bias in his renting practices. But Hollywood did not seem to care. He made cameo appearances in Home Alone 2 and Zoolander. And the general public didn’t take much notice of those things either.
Reality TV has one important aspect about it that escapes the notice of many people. It isn’t real. The programs are scripted, directed, and designed to satisfy the psychological desires of the audience. Who hasn’t worked with a jerk that should be fired? Schadenfreude made The Apprentice popular. When celebrities were added to the mix, it was even worse.
When Trump turned to politics in a decisive way, he chose the racist idea of “birtherism” to champion. Was Barack Obama qualified by birth to be President? Naturalized citizens of The United States cannot serve in the presidency. Trump claimed to check the President’s birth certificate in Hawaii. Birthers displayed the nastiest impulses of human beings. Grover Norquist wanted nothing to do with them. This was the launching point of the former friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton to become President. Ugliness of speech and attitude prevailed.
And Now The Background To Question
Would you want to have this man in your church? Why or Why not? I use the formula my high school teachers employed to get around a simple yes or no answer. It would be easy to answer that Jesus would want us to be welcoming to anyone. Or that we shouldn’t judge. But, let’s look at why we may not want him in our church.
The New Testament is suspicious of wealth. “Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of Heaven…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God!’” (Mark 1023-24) Or we could consider St. James’ warning, “For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes comes in, and if you take notice of the one in fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please,’ while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there,’ or ‘Sit at my feet.’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?’” (2:2-4)
Christian suspicion of wealth is important to remember, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wondered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” (1 Timothy 6:10).
And Now The Answer
Donald Trump, like many wealthy and famous people, strives for money and fame. There is never enough for such a person. He epitomizes everything wrong with the pursuit of wealth, fame, and power for their own sake. Many who idolize wealthy celebrities, turn from the faith seeking the approval of such people.
A congregation I once served had a crushing mortgage. They looked to nearby subdivisions to recruit wealthier people to the church. The reasoning was that such people would help pay for everything. It didn’t work out that way. Looking at giving patterns shows that people obsessed with wealth and status are only interested in giving to programs that enhance their wealth or give them recognition for their generosity.
Why We Would Want Donald Trump In Our Church
Churches have been suffering from decline for a long time. Individual congregations are tempted to recruit people with money to keep the institution going. It is hard to do ministry without some kind of financial investment being involved. Stewardship of money and resources are an important part of discipleship.
The other reason we may want to have a person of wealth and fame in our churches is influence. I got the importance of influence in the local area from my home church. A local politician was among our members and church elders. Our congregation annually hosted a breakfast for the County Commissioners to “thank them for their service.” It was the only breakfast of its kind held by the church. Influence was not about being a moral witness. They wanted to be important to influential people of the community.
It became a point of good citizenship during the 1950’s to attend church. National and community leaders believed participation in a local church promoted stable family life, temperance, and building prosperity. All of these intangible goods were and are desirable. But the Civil Rights movement exposed the underlying biases involved. And the clash of desires for and to influence politically demonstrated the pitfalls of the desire.
Should The Donald Be A Member Of Our Church?
Even though I started off describing Donald Trump, you can see this post isn’t about him. He is a popular example. My concern is how in the churches we begin to obsess about the past, the materialistic needs of the present, and the intangible goods mentioned above. Christians in many parts of the world have traditions where a local congregation finds a wealthy patron. It is as old as the faith itself. “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” (Luke 7:4b-5) And this story follows a chapter where Jesus offers blessing to the poor and warnings to the rich.
The gospels warn us about our attitudes toward wealth. The church makes undue distinctions among people because of it. We should be concerned that our desires do not lead us into making “church members” when we need “Christian disciples.”
This post in not about whether any wealthy and famous person should be admitted as church members. My concern is why we would want them to be. We have a good idea about what motivates them. What motivates us?