The horrifying news in Charlottesville is no longer just about what happened; it’s now about what happened after what happened.
President Trump did not at first condemn the White Supremacist groups by name, choosing rather to acknowledge bigotry on “all sides”. On Monday, he specifically did condemn them, which was too late to feel sincere for many. On Tuesday, Trump returned to the “all sides” narrative, which in turn led to the trending hashtag, #ImpeachTrump.
So how should Christians respond? Should we insist that Trump is right, and that violent extremists exist on all sides, and that the media is race-baiting the nation into an uproar? Or should we join in the media assault on Trump?
I see Christians on “all sides” of this issue, so it’s important that we ask how God would respond. The following Scripture is one that deeply challenges me in every administration:
“Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor” (1 Pet. 2:17).
First of all, Peter was writing during the reign of Nero—the same Emperor who lit his gardens with flaming Christians and would one day crucify Peter upside-down. If Peter could honor Nero, then anyone can honor Trump. Second of all, Peter doesn’t say “obey”, but “honor” the emperor. “Honor” is a heart-word. This should inform the way we criticize our presidents.
I say all this—on the one hand—because Trump-bashing is fashionable, and Christians are called to stay above the fray. We’re a city on a hill, not a lamp in a briar patch.
But now, for the other side. The other side is that there comes a time when speaking up for one group equates to speaking out against another. Jesus spoke up for the poor by speaking out against the religious leaders. And yet even in speaking against these religious abusers, Jesus tells the people to honor them, for they “sit on Moses’ seat”.
There is a way of expressing criticism firmly, while yet maintaining honor in our hearts.
So this brings me back to Charlottesville, and my personal opinion on the matter. I think it’s fully possibly that there were provocateurs on both sides—I haven’t reviewed hours of footage to know. I do know I don’t trust the media. Nevertheless…
Nevertheless, I wish Trump would have handled things differently. I’ve expressed my honor-filled feedback of President Trump below, as if in a letter. I hope this offers a model for how Christians can criticize our presidents with honor, regardless of whether you agree with the content….
Dear President Trump,
I really do believe that you want what is best for America. I appreciate that you are willing to fight against career politicians who too frequently are bought by self-interested lobbyists. I respect that you want to fight for our jobs and protect our nation. I can also see that you have strong relationships with all of your children, which speaks well of you as a father.
In spite of these things, there is one area in particular that weighs heavily on my heart, and that is your leadership of our nation in regard to racial division. As a pastor, I find this cultural issue to be neither right nor left, black nor white, but core to the very Gospel I preach. When Jesus wanted to show us how to love our neighbor, he shared a parable about proactively and compassionately crossing ethnic lines in an ethnically divided culture. When He died on the Cross, the Bible tells us that He bled to tear down the wall of racial hostility that divided us. Racial reconciliation is what Jesus taught and it’s why Jesus died.
I’ve heard you talk about your faith before, so my hope is that you will take this emphasis to heart. What our nation needs in the area of race relations, and especially in the aftermath of Charlottesville, is a voice of healing, but unfortunately your response bred further division in a time of deep pain. As the Scriptures say, there “is a time for war and a time for peace”. There is a time for fighting the media war, but this was a time to lay down your weapons. It’s hard to show compassion with a sword in your hand.
As one of many faith leaders in this nation, I wish that you would lay aside Donald the Fighter for a moment, and please—I beg you, please, for every minority in this nation—please be that voice of healing in our nation. Show compassion for people of color and acknowledge the injustices that they suffer. Walk across the road, like the Good Samaritan who loved his Jewish neighbor. Go out of your way to speak compassionately into this racial divide because we need your tender leadership.
Sometimes we need Donald the Fighter, but not right now, not in this matter. Right now, we need the man behind the “Art of the Deal”, the one who brings disparate sides to the table of agreement. Right now, we need Donald the Peacemaker.