Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Our Dark Messiahs

This last week, I preached a sermon on messianic identity, and the charlatans, narcissists, and madmen who often claim to be God.  It was a scripture-grounded riff on a book I'd recently read about the life of Vernon Howell, who is far better known as David Koresh, the psychotic leader of the doomed Branch Davidian cult.

We human beings need meaning and purpose in life, and often mistake the overbright confidence of the huckster and the sociopath for said meaning and purpose.  I will, as is every pastors duty, make a regular point of reminding my little flock that this is a peril we all face, a trap that can close around every human person.

The first words to me from the first parishioner to leave the sanctuary were "You know, I kept waiting for you to say 'Donald Trump.'"  Which meant, of course, that they'd exactly gotten the point of the sermon.  That I don't bring politics directly into my preaching doesn't mean there aren't clear and immediate applications to our national life, and the conceptual through line between David Koresh and Donald Trump is alarmingly direct.

How, one might ask?  Isn't that a little hyperbolic?

Well, no.  No, it isn't.

I've wrestled mightily over the last few years with the connection between American Christianity and Trumpism, simply because it all seems so insane.  Trump is, in his life and in his values, precisely and exactly the opposite of Jesus. 

As evangelicals have wrapped themselves in rational contortions to justify their support for Trump, they've consistently referenced two flawed biblical figures.  The first, King David, who was both God's chosen and prone to being overthrown by beauty and the moonlight.  The second, Cyrus of Persia, who served God's purposes even though he wasn't part of the covenant people.

This is precisely and exactly the reason that the Branch Davidians lined up behind Vernon Howell, who changed his name to "David Koresh," with Koresh being another way of saying "Cyrus."  He was their "broken messiah."  Lord, was he broken.

"Look," evangelical Christians say.  "God can work through broken, morally compromised people.  Trump may be morally compromised, but who are we to say that he's not an agent of God's intent?"

I've written elsewhere against this line of reasoning, which misrepresents both David's deeply repentant relationship with God and the wise, gracious openness of Cyrus.  These were fundamentally moral leaders.

David Koresh was not.  Neither is Donald Trump.

There's a darker resonance, though, one that rose to mind as I prayed and meditated over my preaching.

When evangelical Christians say "Trump is like David," or "Trump is like Cyrus," they aren't just explaining away his immorality and obvious anti-Christian nature.  They're making a messianic claim about Trump.  They are implicitly claiming that David, like meschiach, the Hebrew word meaning "anointed," which Biblical Greek translates as "Christ."

It is to him that they now owe unwavering fealty, and it is he who defines truth.

This is a deeply dangerous assumption for the soul of the faith.