I was rather taken by an article that appeared on my Facebook feed earlier today, titled: President Trump’s ““America first” policy is “a theological heresy for followers of Christ””. Given many of those endorsing the arguments set out in the article are known to be of a more liberal ilk than I am, and besides which many are known to be anti-Trumpers, I braced myself for disagreeing.
The article began: “The Presiding Bishop of the US-based Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, will join a march on the White House by Christian leaders this month as part of an ecumenical movement to “reclaim Jesus”. The march, on Thursday 24 May, will mark the launch of the Reclaiming Jesus Declaration, which begins with a stark warning: “We are living through perilous and polarising times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.” It continues: “It is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else – nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography – our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. We pray that our nation will see Jesus’ words in us. ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13:35).” The declaration sets out a number of concerns, including of President Donald Trump’s “America first” policy. The declaration describes it as “a theological heresy for followers of Christ,” and goes on to say: “while we share a patriotic love for our country, we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others as a political goal” and continued in similar vein, making several important points.
While I might take issue with some of the priorities set out by this group of ministers, essentially there was little I would take issue with other than the title and the statement that “America First” was theological heresy. When I shared the link on my Facebook page, with a rider that I had certain reservations, one friend asked what was it I disagreed with? My quick response was: “I was thinking more along the lines of nationalism and national identity versus globalism. I see Trump being at the spear head of reversing the latter trend (a good thing) and while he is vilified for keeping Mexicans and Muslims out I believe he has a case just as he did withdrawing from the Trans Pacific trade deal at the start of his presidency. His first job is to secure the country and that is what he is doing. I feel the Bishop and POTUS may be speaking at cross purposes though.” I concede “America First” may not be a biblical concept, especially if understood in the same way as those supporting the Bishop, but nationhood is and globalism (the direction America was going pre-Trump) isn’t (I think of the Tower of Babel and the one world government under the Antichrist).
Besides all the crazy things going on in the world at the moment there is the ideological battle between globalists and nationalists, and besides the Trump presidency we have seen the reversal of the globalist trend with Brexit and the rise in fortunes of nationalist leaning political parties across Europe. While I am anti-globalist, I take on board some of the concerns of those opposing Trump’s America First policy. I regret, incidentally, use of the term “America First” just as I do “Charity begins at home”. To be against foreigners, or fail to love our neighbour whoever he/she is indeed theological heresy. But my take on theology is that the leader of a nation should be looking after the people of that nation and protecting their interests and while that leader should not be harming those of other nations, this should be the main priority. In my opinion, Trump is doing this in a way his predecessor wasn’t and while I would not use the term “America First” I believe his priorities are right. And if you want to know my reasons for believing this read my e-book: “Donald J Trump – bad, mad or good?”
Update 15/05/18: My comment in a Facebook discussion about the desirability or otherwise for Christians (and not just those of the more liberal ilk that may be heretical for other reasons) to unite when it comes to protesting about what is happening today: “there are many valid concerns this group raises but what I can’t accept is that it appears to be part of an anti-Trump agenda and its failure to recognise that while I dislike the term America First there is a place for this which I would argue is theologically sound. The tragedy is they talk about polarization and knowing we are Christians by their love etc. and yet the reality is Christians are divided and they are as much cause of that division as us more conservative types who some will unfairly try to castigate“, later adding in response to someone questioning my use of the term conservative: “the problem with any media is defining terms which can add to and distract from the main argument. Funnily enough I first used the term rabid rightie and decided on reflection conservative might be more sober and appropriate. I was using the term more on the lines you ascribe to yourself although thinking more of those who think more like me concerning the Trump agenda – liking much of it but rejecting some of it. I did feel to add that if the protest is more aimed at Trump and his cronies, some like me consider some of Trumps detractors worse morally than he and if we were to join forces calling for higher and more theologically sound standards in public life it must not be to make digs against those groups we happen to dislike” and further: “probably conservative is the wrong word if it is as I can see such a stumbling block. I get it you can be conservative = theological orthodox and not conservative in the political sense (not that conservative is all that meaningful in my mix and match political outlook). I agree it is wrong to say the one should follow the other. However, I do NOT agree America First is a heresy in the way I have defined it (although it may be as the Bishop defines it) – as I set out in my article, specifically the examples I gave, but I recognise that some who support Trump and possibly Trump himself do not see it that way and are therefore theologically heretical just as some in this group is (from what I know about them) are (for other reasons). My concern is that we (Christians) who should be calling our leaders to a higher standard but cannot unite. While I am happy to be taken to task, what they are really getting at are some of Trump’s policies which I happen to think are right – so please say why you think I am a theological heretic, and while I agree with your Kingdom priorities and resistance to nationalistic usurping what is it that Trump has said specifically that is theologically heretical (it could even be on the latter I might agree since while Trump is a modern day Cyrus as opposed to a Pharoah, he is NOT a theologian and some of his spiritual advisors are not entirely sound, which is why we must pray for him and as for me I will continue to thank God for giving us this flawed man like Cyrus, Xeres and Nebuchanezar to bring about his purposes).”
Update 22/05/2018: Having just watched a powerful video that encapsulates the message (see here), I find my qualms remain. I want to respect, affirm etc. those who are my brothers and sisters in Christ, especially as, at least on the surface, there is little I disagree with. I get it that part of “reclaiming Jesus” is to reject racism and any other uncharitable behaviour toward others, especially them who are unlike us, and to call for justice to be practised when there is injustice. I get it they believe that they need to speak out because of the deep spiritual and moral crisis facing the world. Yet I regret there are other issues I find disturbing: the rise of globalism, wickedness in high places, turning away from God, persecution of Christians, capitulation to Islam, lukewarmness in the church, acceptance of abortion, LBGT confusion, failure to preach the gospel and replace it with a false one, syncretism and these are not mentioned. I like to think I have earned the right to dissent as I am doing a lot of what the speakers in this video urge me to do, e.g. siding with and supporting the poor and lowly. I share the regret expressed of polarisation among believers, and while I can’t speak for others, what I come away with, having watched the video, was the thought that polarisation rather than lessening is intensifying and more painful refining is to be expected for His Church. I should add that it is with heaviness of heart I make these observations. Bishop Curry who leads on this video is the same person who preached in today’s royal wedding between Harry and Meghan. What the Bishop preached, about love (human and divine) and based on a favourite Bible passage (Song of Solomon: love as strong as death), was heart warming even if it was theologically lightweight, yet I can still see much common ground even though, sadly, polarised opinions as to what our priorities ought to be remain.
Finally, I should make the point that while I think the America First policy of the current US administration is better than the America last policy of the previous one, the policy that us Christian leaders should be pushing is that of Jesus First. Following an American dream where we can make money and then be in a position to indulge our desires is a failed project before we start. Rather we should be looking to make a difference, to serve those who we can help, and make that our main priority to our dying day.