Living in an age in which Donald Trump could end up being the president of the United States of America has the ability to make one cynical, or at the least, grow in their cynicism. I am not immune to this. Cynicism is an easy alternative, an easy coping mechanism when faced with the prospect that either Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Hillary Clinton could be our next president. While Donald’s problem is himself, both Cruz and Clinton remind me of why Trump has become so attractive to many voters. Cruz claims God while wanting to carpet bomb ISIS and having ties to Goldman Sachs. Clinton, well, we all know about Clinton. She’s the quintessential politician who, while claiming to be principled, will do or say just about anything to get elected. Her flip flopping on issues is highly entertaining when you think about it. She claims she’ll go after Wall Street while being paid by them to give speeches to them. Is it any wonder then that Donald Trump is a legitimate candidate in the eyes of so many Americans? Lest I forget, I must tell you that I like Bernie Sanders, I think he’s the only one of all the candidates who actually has integrity. Unfortunately, I find him problematic as well. He has said that Ed Snowden ought to be prosecuted and has no problem with partial birth abortion. Also, if he does become president I doubt that he’ll stop the drone strikes that have given President Obama an infamous reputation. I probably sound too picky, sorry about that. The reality though, at least for me, is that believing in Jesus tends to get in the way of my supporting any political candidate. I just can’t reconcile the way of worldly politics with the way of Jesus. I’m not willing to support someone who claims to be a Christian but will vigorously build up our military and use it viciously. I’m also not willing to support someone who has stood for the rights of others while turning a blind eye to the most helpless and vulnerable amongst us. Voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil which is rather disheartening when you think about it, isn’t it?
What compounds this thinking of mine at this time is my watching of the Netflix show House of Cards. Now, I know what you may be thinking. It’s just a show, it’s just fantasy, things don’t really operate like that. Well, not according to Bill Clinton who claimed that the show is 99% true as well as many others who say that it’s truth is undeniable. Sure, there are naysayers, but if one looks closely at the naysayers they usually have skin in the game of this thing we call Washington. While we like to pontificate on the beauties of government, of our Founding Fathers, of that which is good about Washington, the reality is that there is a dark underbelly to it. So much so that it should cause any serious Christian to be ponder Satan’s words to Jesus, that all the kingdoms of the world have been given to him (Lk 4:6). Politics is the art of persuasion but it’s also the art of getting ahead, of triangulating and of using people to get what you want or what others want. I don’t see how we don’t connect this to the rebellion of humanity in the garden, but I digress.
This artfulness of deception particularly hit home for me this past summer when I was writing an article for Lutheran Forum on the parallels between the Tea Party movement and the LCMS. During my research I came to learn of a former LCMS pastor turned lobbyist named Bill Hecht. In the last 40 years Bill Hecht has been a big player on the Washington scene. He served as the head of the Tobacco Institute, worked in the Reagan campaign for president in 1980, and has since operated a lobbying firm representing clients such as the pro-apartheid South African government as well as Big Tobacco. He has a questionable history when one considers that he lobbied for a government that was pro-apartheid and also lobbied for a group that tried to convince the American people that the dangers of tobacco were being greatly exaggerated. Yeah, I’m not kidding here. He’s one of the major players in the creation of the Center for Religious Liberty that the LCMS has recently opened in DC. Having been immersed in the DC lifestyle for over 30 years he operates with the sort of mystique that could be likened to Don Corleone.
Lobbyist Bill Hecht (dressed in white, center) seated at the celebration of the opening of the LCMS’ Center for Religious Liberty. You’ll note that both 4th Vice President Scott Murray and President Matthew Harrison are sitting across from him.
On the surface, all seems good to Hecht and maybe it was and is but when you go deeper there are problems, there are deficiencies. One can almost sense a hardening of heart going from point A to point B. But that’s how worldly power often works, doesn’t it? King Saul looks pretty good in the beginning only to turn into a terrible king. David starts out as a faithful shepherd boy only to transform into a murderous adulterating king. Solomon ends up becoming just like Pharaoh enslaving his very people in building projects. All noble and well-intentioned men at the beginning who end up leaving much to be desired. It’s really not a long shot from King Ahab to those who work in Washington DC. Jesus was presented with such an option as well. Satan presents Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world if he would just bow down and worship him. The challenge with this temptation, as well as with the others, is that it was one representation of the Messianic hopes of Israel. Jesus could be the Davidic King who freed the people from Roman oppression, restored God’s nation and brought honor to Yahweh. As Walter Wink notes, in a sense these were all good things but they were not the best options for Jesus. Jesus could become a Davidic like king and restore the former glory of Israel but how long would that last? Jesus could also become the priest to cleanse the Temple of corruption but how long would that last? Jesus could also become the new Moses garnering a following right away but, again, how long would that last? In the end, Jesus does what is best by truly listening to God’s voice. This is where we Christians ought to take note. Doing so does not provide Jesus with the easiest or safest way, in fact it is quite hazardous and dangerous. In fact, it is quite costly for he loses everything including his life. Yet we also know that he rose again from the dead in spite of the powers and proved them to be ultimately powerless. We American Christians would do well to ponder this deeper reality, understanding its political implications.
We who claim Jesus as Lord now find ourselves in the midst of competing narratives that sound very good. “Make America Great Again” “Make America Whole Again” “A Future To Believe In” “A New American Century”. These are all good and positive statements. Beneath them, though, lies much malignancy. “Make America Great Again” is bolstered by a man who does not see the need for forgiveness. “Make America Whole Again” comes from the campaign of a woman associated with endless corruption. “A Future To Believe In” comes from a man who thinks it okay for a baby older than five months to be aborted. “A New American Century” comes from a man who will continue to build America’s military even though its already the strongest by a longshot. There are a lot more problematic beliefs and statements from those vying for the job of President. If we listened to them, to the pundits and to the strategists we might think that we are on the cusp of some apocalyptic meltdown. But again, if we are attuned to what we believe, we know that there is something deeper. This is why we ought to be suspicious of the anxiety of this age and the anxiety of this presidential race. It is God who orders the nations and allows them to rise and causes them to fall.
While it’s not the perfect example, whenever I listen to the rhetoric of our presidential candidates I often find myself being reminded of Jesus’ words to his disciples about the coming destruction of the Temple. Let me explain. At this time there are voices clamoring for our loyalty, clamoring for us to follow them, claiming that they will lead us into something better. “Follow me, I will fight for your religious liberty!” “Follow me, I will make America great again!” “Follow me, I will make America whole again!” “Follow me and we will bring about a political revolution!” There were many voices clamoring for the loyalty of Jesus’ disciples around the time of the destruction of the Temple as well. The problem was the Temple had become null and void, it was a representation of the former age. The New Age had been ushered in by the death and Resurrection of Jesus, the new Temple. Through the Cross the powers had fallen. Yet, due to various loyalties of family and nation the disciples of Jesus were still tempted to fight and to latch on to one of the revolutionaries. I find a similar tug of war today, to go after such leaders and believe they will make things better, that they are the answer. But is that not to make the power of the Resurrection and Jesus’ Lordship void? Times such as these ought to prompt us to pray even more fervently the words our Lord gave us, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.