Pastor Note #74 — Trust and Unity in American Civil Society and Politics

Trust and Unity in American Society and Politics

A Fine Crescent Moon; photo by GAC

The great debate over these intelligence memos is a painful demonstration of a sickness that is afflicting our society.  We are experiencing a crisis of trust.  A civil society in which people have ceased to trust each other and our foundational institutions is a deep and dangerous sickness for a democratic society.

These memos illustrate the problem.  It is as if there were a high wall.  On one side is us, the general public.  On the other, the actions of the FBI and the FISA courts and other necessarily secret institutions are taking place.  There is no debate about the necessity of secrecy for the activities on the other side of the wall.  Some things need to be done in secret.  We put what we hope will be effective safeguards in place to ensure that the secret activities are kept within the bound of due process of law.  But we are left to trust that that process of oversight is properly exercised.  Then we place a further layer we hope will provide oversight – congressional intelligence committees.  They stand on the top of the wall and look in at the secret activities for us.

Enter the Republican and Democrat memos.  We now have two groups issuing conflicting claims about what’s going on over on the secret side of the wall.  We can’t see the other side of the wall.  We have only what those two groups claim they see.  Trust encounters a crisis.  Some of us – all of us?—have concerns that those oversight groups who are issuing memos are allowing party loyalties to overpower loyalty to country and to public trust.

The fact that initially one group – the majority group – the Intelligence Committee Republicans – wanted to deprive us of the other group’s – the Democrat’s – perspective undermines pubic trust in the process.  The Republicans have now relented – under pressure?—and have apparently grudgingly decided to allow us – the public – to have both groups’ perspectives on the secret events.

Yet, here is a further crisis of trust.  That Democrat perspective will only come to us via the filter of President Trump.  We will be allowed to see the Democrats’ interpretation of the secret activities only if Mr. Trump deigns to allow us to see it.  And as of today, Mr. Trump has said we will not be allow to see it.  But, he says he may reconsider that decision.  Do we trust Mr. Trump to do that without personal motives, especially as the secret activities in question involve investigations that could implicate him or his campaign in inappropriate and possibly illegal activity?

Mr. Trump is not the cause of the general crisis of trust in our society.  He is, however, a great contributor to it.  Just this past week he has given us some remarkable examples of his consistent pattern of undermining public trust.  He absurdly asserted that his State of the Union speech had the highest television ratings in the history of State of the Union speeches.  This is not a matter of opinion.  It is a measurable and actually measured number.  It was not the highest rated and that by a considerable amount.  The first question is, “Who really cares about the TV ratings of this speech?”  I don’t think more of him or less based on his TV ratings.  His speech was not a better speech or a worse speech based on how many people watched it on TV.

Yet, he made a demonstrably false statement, one that he must have known was objectively false when he made it.  In other words, he lied to us.  He knowingly undermined the public trust in him over a matter of absolutely no consequence at a time when we very much need our president to be working to rebuild public trust in our civic institutions and in the presidency.

Next, in a speech in Ohio, Mr. Trump took exception to the fact that the Democrats in congress did not applaud his speech.  All right.  That makes him sound petulant, but I can live with it.  Unfortunately, he didn’t stop there.  He went on to joke (we are told it was a joke) about the Democrats being “treasonous” for having failed to clap during his speech.  Then, he finished by asserting that the Democrats do not seem to love America and so by implication ought not be trusted—all this because they didn’t applaud his speech.

These statements are knife thrusts at the heart of public trust in our institutions.  They can have no other effect than to plant belief among the people that nearly half of our national legislature does not love their country and want to betray it.  And he has done this over the truly inconsequential matter of whether the Democrats in congress applauded this speech.

These actions by Mr. Trump are not isolated events but are part of a consistent pattern.  In a time of a crisis of public trust, we do not need our president stoking the distrust further, especially over such inconsequential matters.  We need him to be building trust and unity.  He is failing us.

I believe Mr. Trump is not a fit instrument for the advancement of the kingdom of God.  That belief apparently puts me outside the community of Evangelicals, a community that had been my home for most of my adult life.  Mr. Trump’s personal behavior, general deportment, and pattern of moral conduct demonstrate a deeply flaw character.  Evangelicals at one time believed that character in public leaders mattered.

But more than a mere matter of personal conduct, Mr. Trump’s character flaws and personal insecurities lead him to advocate public policies that are the antithesis of the heart of God as seen in scripture.  In a nutshell, the preponderance of Mr. Trump’s policy initiatives has embodied one of his favorite rhetorical patterns, namely, his expressed preference for “winners” over “losers.”  A favorite put-down for Mr. Trump is to label someone a “Loser.”  The dominant feature of his policies has been to advance the cause of the strong and powerful in our society – the “Winners” – and to further marginalize and degrade the well-being of the vulnerable and weak in our society – the “Losers.”  Such a policy paradigm turns the biblical social imperative on its head.

I am increasingly persuaded that Satan is using Mr. Trump to do profound harm to the Church of Jesus Christ in America and that the more closely Christian leaders align themselves with Mr. Trump’s policies and the more they offer support and affirmation for them, the greater will be the destruction of the witness of the gospel in America, because the gospel will be associated with the celebration of power at the expense of integrity and the advancement of the powerful at the expense of the powerless.  Such a “gospel” is no good news.  It is ugly, repellant, and anti-Christ.

photo by GAC

And so, because of all of this, I do affirm passionately that we need to be praying for Mr. Trump:

  • That he might be converted to Christ and that the process of sanctification might begin in him with remarkable speed,
  • That God will, in the meantime, hem him in and restrain the destructive tendencies in his character,
  • That God will raise up for Mr. Trump, and that he will then surround himself with, wise, just, and responsible counselors.

I believe we need to be urgently pleading with God to raise up courageous, selfless, wise leaders in congress who will work together without any hint of party loyalty for the welfare of our nation.  I believe we need to be praying fervently that a large number of moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats will disavow party loyalty and form a movement of national unity to disempower those on the far right and on the far left, to rebuild public trust, and to lead us forward.

It would be a beautiful thing if Mr. Trump would be part of that movement.  But I believe he would need to undergo a radical transformation of personality and character.  Such a transformation would only come about through a supernatural intervention from God.  The Holy Spirit is well able to accomplish such a thing and has done so in the past – the apostle Paul, for example.  I believe that too should be a central focus of our prayers for Mr. Trump.

©2018 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.


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