Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Not Preaching About Trump

It's been hard, it really has.

Every week, I preach.  Well, almost every week.  This last week, the young folk of the church took the lead on the message, and I just sat back and marveled at them.

But most Sundays, I preach.

In this political season, I am obligated to both preach about politics and not preach about politics.  I preach about it because, well, it's there.  It's part of life.  There's real danger to a soul's integrity in a political season, as the fires of partisanship burn bright.  We fall into easy binaries, primal Othering.  It is the season of the Adversary, and it can make us all a little crazy.  So you have to speak to politics, which only works...as everything only works...if grace is applied.  If I did not preach to that, I'd be failing in my vocation.

But I cannot allow myself to be a partisan in the pulpit. This has nothing to do with the law, or fear of the IRS.  I will not, on principle, be partisan.  That is not my task, when I get up to interpret our sacred texts.

But then there's Trump.  Trump...how to put this?  I have a doctorate in leadership dynamics and their impact on the health and well-being of faith communities, and that translates into understanding leadership generally.  From observation of his temperament, instincts, and leadership style, he presents an existential threat to the integrity of our constitutional republic.

I say this having taken the time to listen to him, unfiltered and in his entirety, in recognition that soundbites...like proof texting scripture...do not give us the full picture.  I have set aside the panic of my social media echo chamber, and the filter of professional talking heads, and gone unmediated into the experience.  I have given him fair hearing.

Most recently, I watched the entirety of the speech he gave at the Memorial Day Rolling Thunder rally, when hundreds of thousands of vets rumble through Washington on their motorcycles to honor the fallen and those who suffered as prisoners of war.

It was a strange event, to my eyes.  There he was, a politician who seemingly insulted every POW in America when he mocked the capture and torture of an American airman during the Vietnam war.  "I prefer people who don't get captured," he said.  It'd be a little like a guest preacher getting up in front of a congregation, pointing to a picture of Jesus on the cross, making a face, and snarking, "I prefer messiahs who don't get crucified."  They typically don't get invited back.

His manner of speaking was agonizing, a jumbled melange of confidence-man bluster, cajoling, self-promotion, and empty nothings.  His rhetoric was little more than a ramble, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as a sign of just how far things have fallen linguistically since Gettysburg.

For God's sake, it was Memorial Day, a day when we are meant to be honoring our fallen.  When you deliver a speech...or lead a worship...on Memorial Day, you take time to remember the dead.  You honor them.  You speak from that place of duty and sorrow.

You don't get up there on Memorial Day and talk, endlessly, about yourself, as he did in his first sentence and most of those that followed.  Or attack your political opponents, which he did in his second sentence.  You don't winkingly call for mob violence against protesters, as Trump did at the end of his Memorial Day speech.  You don't threaten and denigrate the freedom of the press, the very freedom that our soldiers gave their lives to protect.

Trump presents as a soul devoid of any interest beyond self-interest, as a creature of appetites, a man who made his reputation on the far right by actively promoting a debunked conspiracy theory about the citizenship of our current president.  Birthers, like Truthers, are simply delusional.

If Trump was elected president, his bullying, substanceless bluster would leave America friendless in the free world, and deservedly so.  The enemies of freedom are eager for his election.  Those who support him do not appear to care about this.  But I do.

I love this country, with her freedoms and her still-striving potential.   Trump would ruin us.

I can permit myself to say none of these things from the pulpit.  Here?  Here I can do it, as I express myself as a citizen and a Christian.  I will admit that used Trump as a cultural punch line a few times in sermons, early in the campaign when the reality we now find ourselves in seemed as improbable as being struck by lightning.  But now?  Now I don't mention him.

This is really, really hard.

Instead, I take a deep breath, and trust God's Word.

What does it have to say about our attitude towards others?  What does it say about a personal ethic of greed and the worship of wealth as the highest value?  What does it say about willfully trafficking in falsehoods?  What does it say about serial unfaithfulness?  What does it say about people who trample over those who know what they're doing?  What does it say about those who are easily provoked and lash out?

Even more significantly, I convey the teachings of my Teacher.  How are we to view the shine of wealth?  How are we to approach others?  How are we to approach the stranger in our midst?  What should our attitude be towards those with whom we find ourselves in conflict?

In none of this do I speak directly to Trump from the pulpit.

I don't need to.  If you pay any attention at all to the ethical teachings of Jesus and the moral ground of Torah, he is their antithesis.

If you pay attention.  Which, Lord willing, we will.