Hi there! Welcome to my Lenten co-series where I identify people that I personally have difficulty loving, explain sort of why this is a struggle for me, and then swallow my pride and offer up a genuine prayer on their behalf.
It’s not easy, and seldom pretty, but I’m noticing a marked (even if slight) shift in my heart. I’m not saying I’ll be having warm fuzzy feelings for John Piper or Kanye West anytime soon. But my thoughts about them as people are slowly becoming ones of care and concern, and less of condemnation.
Now, before you start praising me for how holy and Christlike I am, just know that today’s lucky contestant is one that I have extreme difficulty loving. Even as I write this, I’m not entirely convinced that I want to. A part of me wants to stop, because honestly it sort of seems like this guy doesn’t need my prayers so much as he needs to learn a lesson.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Without further ado… Donald Trump.
Oh boy. (Okay. C’mon, Rock. You can do this.)
In case you didn’t know it, Donald Trump (or “The Donald” as he’s affectionately known by… uh, I dunno, people… probably) is a business mogul and reality TV personality who has recently increased his fame (or perhaps notoriety) by becoming the GOP frontrunner in the 2016 presidential election.1 To be sure, there is a laundry list of reasons why Trump is someone that is difficult to like, much less love. But for me, it didn’t really start until he began his presidential campaign back in June of 2015.
Now, I want to be absolutely clear about something. My disdain for Trump is not a political thing. Yeah, I think he’d make a really crappy president. But, even if I though he’d be a really effective president, I’d probably still have trouble loving him. And yes, I wouldn’t have such strong feelings against him if he wasn’t running for president. But that has less to do with his politics, and a lot to do with the fact that I don’t watch reality TV and he just wasn’t really on my radar until then. I am decidedly apolitical, so I’ll just say it one more time. I don’t like Donald Trump, and it is not for political reasons.
The reason that I tend to abhor Trump is actually for religio-spiritual reasons. You see, even though Trump’s views, claims, and behavior are so un-christlike as to be heinous, he has managed to appropriate the language of American evangelical Christianity to wildly successful effect. From his association with Trinity Broadcasting Network gurus, to his convocational speech at Liberty University — complete with “two Corinthians” and university president Jerry Falwell Jr. comparing Trump to Jesus — all the way to The Donald’s vow to increase the political power of Christians in America, Trump has made quick work of endearing himself to the faithfully fundamentalist masses.
Despite rubbing shoulders with the most conservative factions of the faithful, Trump’s behavior throughout his life has been anything but holy. His misogyny is notorious, his lack of solidarity with the poor is common knowledge, his racism is more than mildly disturbing, and his inability to keep from diminishing people to their physical flaws again and again is almost passé at this point. It should go without saying that Trump’s version of Christianity is nominal… at best. But that’s probably being too generous. Like, irresponsibly so. Despite insisting that he has a faith, claiming, “I am Presbyterian. And I go to church and I love God and I love my church,” Trump apparently doesn’t feel like he needs much in the way of forgiveness. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”
So, yeah. From start to finish, Donald Trump has managed to embed himself deep within the fold of Christian fundamentalism while all the while speaking and behaving in a way that is diametrically opposed to the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
And yet, if I am going to be completely honest, what I hate most about Donald Trump is not that he has somehow made American Christianity into something loathsome. Not at all! Rather, the ugliest part of Trump is that he is really a lot like a mirror simply reflecting the ugliness of American Christianity back on us. And, as far as mirrors go, I suspect he’s rather clean, meaning that the image of Christianity that we see in him is incredibly accurate. Like it or not, the most disturbing part of Trump’s success in the evangelical sub-culture is that it elucidates how incredibly screwed up that sub-culture has become.
And, if I’m going to be completely transparent here, one of the things that I have come to realize I dislike most in Donald Trump is how I can actually see a bit of myself in him. I suspect that this is true of most of us, if we are willing to admit it. Trump is profoundly arrogant. But then, so am I. Trump’s goals are self-serving. Yet, how many of mine truly aren’t? Trump’s success is fueled by playing on the anger and fears of the American people. But that is a really powerful manipulation strategy… and perhaps I have done the same more often than I’d like to admit (or even more often than I realize).
As much as I hate Donald Trump out there in the world doing his thing, I am slowly beginning to see that much of that hate is also aimed at “The Donald” inside of me.
So here is my Lenten prayer for Donald Trump:
Please, in Your abundant generosity, have mercy on Donald Trump. In a very real way, I suspect he knows not what he’s doing… not really. May he come to realize the true meaning of the religious language that he appropriates for his own personal gain. May he see personhood in other people, such as women, minorities, and the marginalized. And may his heart be broken for the people of this world. Not broken just to teach him a lesson, but broken so that it can be filled up with warmth and care for people.
I pray that you would strengthen his relationship with his children wherever it is weak, and even redefine it where it is needed. Help him to reconcile any residual bad feelings that may still exist between he and his ex-wives. As much as I would prefer that he not be our next president, I ask even more that you open the hearts of American Christians so that we may see the hideousness of our sin as it is reflected and put on display through Donald’s actions.
And help me, God. Help me love Donald Trump,
evenespecially when I can’t see past my own hatred. Be with both of us now.
1: At least he is as of right now (as I'm writing this blog post)