On each end of the spectrum of American Christianity, you will find two distinct images of Jesus Christ. The extreme fundamentalist image portrays Christ as an egocentric ruler, raining punishment upon any human being that would dare to question his commands, or critique the motives of those claiming to serve his kingdom. King Christ commands to be served. And Christ’s minions serve him best when they brutalize anyone opposing this reign of violence. Grace is something that allows our own previous opposition to be ignored, as long as we attack anyone and everyone else that opposes our image of Christ.
On the other end of this spectrum, in extremely liberal camps, we have an image of Christ as a gentle healer, a guru that cannot possibly cause hurt feelings or stir up anything reminiscent of strife. The followers of this Guru Christ hesitate to call a spade a spade, or to speak out against any system or individual that clearly is, not just hurting, actually harming human beings. Guru Christ serves me. Grace allows me free reign to be completely self serving, and this service to self is somehow pleasing to God. Other people can serve themselves too, so we don’t need to concern ourselves with their plight.
Now, where does Donald Trump play into all of this?
Both ends of this spectrum, and most of us finding our image of Christ somewhere in between, share the same label: Evangelical Christian.
On the surface, we assume that we are legion, because so very many Americans identify themselves the same way we do. But, did any of us stop to think that, what others deem to be “Christian values” may vary wildly from what we believe these values to be? That <gasp> we need to exercise our discernment before we decide to rally around anyone or anything labeled “Christian”?
What if, calling yourself a Christian and attending church was not enough to make you a follower of Christ?! Well, then, which Christians are the real ones?!? How can we possibly know?!?!? What if other people start to make assumptions about me as a Christian, because Trump has embraced the same label?!?!?
If you haven’t realized it before now, the label Christian carries with it a certain privilege that the label Muslim or Atheist or any other religious label just does not have in America. Calling yourself a “Christian” affords you a level of credibility without having to prove you are indeed credible. And previously, carrying the label was enough. Because we don’t like to invite a critical spirit into our midst… That’s so very un-Christian.
What is a Christian?!?
It’s a label. Nothing more. It’s a construct used to inform our thinking with stereotypes, or schemas, many of which are handed down to us as children and relied upon into adulthood as effective aids to decision making. For example, all prejudice stems from: “we can trust other people that look like us”, which informs it’s opposite: “we cannot trust people that do not look like us.” Here’s one I used to operate on: “I am a Christian, so other Christians must love and follow Christ like I do”. These kinds of assumptions make the very process of thinking and decision making so much faster. And easier! Because we don’t have to discern when we can assume. Discernment takes work. And for those that desire to follow Christ, it takes an admission of our own vulnerability and human weakness in being able to discern what is right and good on our own.
The question you really need to ask yourself in light of Trump’s self- professed Christian Faith is:
Who is this Christ?
I think you’ll find that the image of Christ we are given in the Gospels makes it very difficult to effectively pin Christ down….
So if you want to be more than a Christian in the image of Trump, you are going to have to find this Christ for yourself. There is no other way I’m afraid. If you are satisfied with an image, don’t let me challenge your view…. But be prepared. Christ is excellent in His work of breaking the graven images in our worship. It’s kind of his Father’s biggest pet peeve, you know? (If you’ve ever read the book of Exodus, you know what I’m talking about)
Who cares if Trump calls himself a Christian? I don’t. When privilege accompanies the label of Christian, it has already failed to live up to representing the Christ I know and adore.