“Exile remains exile, and Babylon remains Babylon, but both are penetrated, are charged, by the promise of deliverance. For Old Testament Israel, deliverance is understood as return and rebuilding of Jerusalem. For New Testament Israel, deliverance is arrival at the destination of the long pilgrimage toward the New Jerusalem.”
- Father Richard John Neuhaus – “American Babylon” (2009)
Ever since Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President, I’ve argued as passionately as I could that he was not presidential material. I spent a lot of time outlining why, from policy differences where I could find them and by trying to determine his character traits based on the wealth of information that was readily available. To me, and many others, he was manifestly unfit for the high office he sought.
That was months ago. Since then, he has swept through a small army of Republican candidates like a hot knife through butter. That list included the candidate I was supporting, Marco Rubio. We’re now a month out from the general election and it appears that the Republican Party, and Donald Trump, are on the cusp of an unmitigated disaster. While I can’t predict it with certainty, I suspect that Donald Trump will lose to Hillary Clinton and the Republican Party may well lose the House and Senate. It’s the doomsday scenario that would give Hillary Clinton complete control of the agenda, including the nomination of Supreme Court justices, expanding the Democrats’ battle with the pro-life movement by repealing the Hyde Amendment and continuing America’s retreat from principle on the international stage.
Over the past few days I’ve been interacting with some of the people I know on Facebook. Most, but not all, are fellow Christians. Some aren’t pleased with me because of the positions I’ve taken vis a vis Mr. Trump. That’s fine. We’re all free moral agents.
I find the vast majority of their arguments in favor of a Trump candidacy unpersuasive, but there is one that I believe I need to consider. The argument they’ve forwarded is that Donald Trump is now a Christian and because of that he deserves a chance to be the President.
I’m sure there are a lot of people who are howling that the idea that Donald Trump is now an Evangelical Christian. The internet is buzzing from coast to coast. The gloating is palpable, even through the airwaves. I know a few people here locally who’ve been savaging Trump since the now famous audio tapes were released. I get it. The defeat of their nemesis is immanent and they’re gloating, like the Philistines taunting Samson in the temple of Dagon or the Pharisees mocking Jesus at his trial. It’s going to be happening for a while, particularly as more and more revelations about Donald Trump surface. Trump’s adversaries and critics aren’t done and there’s not much we can do about it.
Is Donald Trump’s conversion sincere? Most would say no, but I’m not one of them. I take it at face value, in the same way I accepted Bill Clinton’s public repentance after the Lewinsky affair. I’m sure that a lot of people don’t accept Bill Clinton’s turnaround. But, as Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural, “let us judge not, that we be not judged.”
Having said that, does it now follow that I should vote for Donald Trump?
I don’t believe it does.
First, conversion doesn’t erase all of Donald Trump’s character flaws in an instant. They were years in the making and I suspect rooting them out will also take years. Conversion to Christianity is just the beginning of what is, or should be, a life-long pilgrimage.
Second, and most important, I’m bothered that some Trump supporters, particularly Evangelical leaders, continue to push his candidacy. Why? Can’t they see that what they’re doing is lighting even more candles to entice the moth. If they truly care about Donald Trump and his soul they would do the things necessary to eliminate the temptation of political power and the obstacles the limelight have placed in his path. They need to ask themselves what is more important, temporal power or Donald Trump’s eternal destiny. They need to ask themselves, “Is my interest more in preserving my place of privilege and power than it is in Donald Trump’s soul?”
Donald Trump needs time and space, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to get it. I doubt that he’s read about the parable of the sower (Matthew 13), but many of his enablers have. They know full well that the early days after conversion to Christianity can be perilous. They know that the seeds of hope are sometimes sown into thorny ground, where “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”
If Donald Trump is to have any chance of making his “confession” real, he needs to be separated from the thorny ground of politics. I fear that his enablers aren’t going to let that happen. Do they care more about maintaining their lofty perches than they do about Donald Trump? The best that I can say is that I’m suspicious of their motives.
I’m going to follow with the accounts of three people that will, I believe, demonstrate conclusively that what I’ve said is true. The first is Paul, the man who is considered one of the New Testament giants. He’s called an apostle. The second is Charles Colson, Richard Nixon’s former White House counsel, and the third is me.
Almost every Christian knows the story of Paul. The account of his conversion from Judaism to Christianity on the Damascus Road is high drama, particularly when Saul, as he was known prior to his conversion, was zealously persecuting Christians. The New Testament accounts shortly after his conversion show that there was a great deal of fear within the Christian community about him. Was his conversion sincere? There were, understandably, doubters.
What did it take to convince them? Time. Paul spent three years in Arabia, learning, absorbing, and having Christian truth “revealed” to him. You can read about it at the end of the first chapter of Galatians. It was time well spent. Well over half of the New Testament letters were penned by Paul. His missionary journeys brought Christianity to the Gentile world. In one sense, he established what has become, in some circles, a tradition. Graduate studies in theology are generally completed in a three year period.
There may have been doubters when Paul was “born again.” Time and Paul’s sincerity convinced them that he was indeed a Christian.
Charles Colson was once considered Richard Nixon’s hatchet man. As Nixon’s White House counsel, he was a key player in the skullduggery that became known as Watergate. He was ruthless. It was said he would have run over his own mother if it meant protecting Richard Nixon. Like the rest of the Watergate conspirators, he got caught. Unlike many of the others, he went to prison. While in prison he was, as we Evangelicals say, “born again.”
Was his conversion sincere or was he just lobbying for a reduced sentence? There were many skeptics.
In the end, he proved them wrong. Colson’s conversion was real. As I sit here, I’m looking at a couple of his books, “The God of Stones and Spiders” and “Against the Night,” which I’ve read. I’ve also read his classic, “Born Again,” which I’ve read but don’t have a copy of.
While in prison, he started what has become one of the most dynamic Christian ministries in the world, Prison Fellowship, which provides support to inmates and their families on the outside trying to hold their lives together.
I’ve read many of the essays he penned over the years for Christianity Today. They reveal a man of remarkable insight and faith.
In 1993 he won the prestigious Templeton Prize for religion which” honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.”
Charles Colson died in 2012. I have absolutely no doubt I’ll see him in heaven some day!
I present myself as a third witness, not because I consider myself part of the pantheon, but because the process of my conversion demonstrates the same pattern.
People who knew me in the mid-sixties saw an amoral, ruthless man. In those days, I wouldn’t have hesitated to hurt, or even murder, if I felt I could get away with it or it was going to be to my advantage. That’s the man I was.
But, Christ changed me, from the inside out. I was “born again” in August of 1969.
People who knew me prior to my conversion were skeptical. I don’t blame them.
The last thing I needed was the limelight. Thankfully, I was assigned military duty in Panama. When I got there I discovered that while I went to work, I really never had any work to do. That freed me up to study the Bible, which I’d never done, to meditate on what my conversion meant, and pray. I was able to spend extended leave time with an Australian missionary, Bruce Haste, at his ministry base in the mountains. I still have fond memories of trekking up the mountains with Bruce and his trail ponies, visiting villages and delivering villagers from the scourge of superstition and witch doctors. I can still hear the voices of the Lutheran Hour and Billy Graham crusades flowing from the short wave as we rested at his home in the foothills prior to our next adventure.
I needed those eighteen months. They gave me the opportunity to start my pilgrimage as a grounded Christian who understood what his faith meant.
That’s what I believe Donald Trump needs. Unfortunately, that may not be what he’s going to get. The power brokers are being merciless. I believe they’re throwing him right back into the fire in a desperate attempt to protect their positions of power and privilege.
It’s a battle they’re going to lose. It’s a battle the Republican Party is going to lose and it’s a battle people of faith are going to lose. The barbarians are at the gates and they’ve almost knocked the hinges off.
What’s next? What does this mean for the Christian community?
In a word, it means captivity. In two words, it means Babylonian captivity.
What do I mean by that?
It’s interesting. Some current Trump supporters are saying that they’ll still vote for him. But, their anger is so kindled that they’re promising to vote out every Republican who has either disavowed or distanced themselves from Donald Trump. That opens the very real possibility of the Democratic Party re-taking the House and Senate. If I were a Democrat, I’d be salivating at the prospect. I can only imagine what they’re thinking. Reconciliation? Come on, now, you know that’s not true. How does it go? Revenge is a dish best served cold!
Before he died in 2009, Father Richard John Neuhaus penned a remarkable essay that foreshadowed where we are today. Toward the end of the essay, he cites the work of Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre:
“Abandoning the idea of moral truth, politics is no longer the deliberation of how we ought to order our life together but is now, in the words of Alasdair MacIntyre, warfare is carried on by other means. All politics is combat politics. There is no longer, some say, a common American culture, and we should stop pretending that there is. There are only subcultures. Choose your subculture, take up its grievances, contentions, and slogans, and prepare to do battle against the enemy. Liberated from the delusion that we and our opponents can together say “We Hold These Truths,” we are urged to recognize the futility of being locked in civil argument and accept the fact that there is no substitute for partisan victory.”
By the early evening on November 8th, I believe we’re going to see that a great battle has been lost. The Babylonian captivity will begin.
Laws will change, gradually. In time the composition of our courts will change. There won’t be brown shirts marching or Nuremberg-like rallies. There won’t be any evidence of gestapo tactics. It will be done with the precision of changes in law. Social mores will continue to shift, from our current speed of a ballistic missile to light speed. Targets beyond groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor will increase in numbers. People of faith will become the minority report. They will have no say in the decision making processes. For all intents and purposes, they will become the captives.
I’m painting a bleak picture. Believe me, I hope I’m wrong. But I don’t believe I am. Hillary Clinton is going to take control and she’s been waiting in the wings, like Madame Defarge at the foot of the guillotine, for a long time. She’s going to be releasing all that pent up energy on those she’s affectionately called her “enemies” for years. Once that happens, it won’t be long till those of us who are members of the household of faith will be “hanging our harps on the willow trees.”
The road ahead is going to be difficult. We’ll be passing by the “slough of despond” and the “pillar of salt.” We’ll be tempted to go along at the “hill of lucre.” It’s going to be a long, difficult journey.
But, I remain hopeful. At the beginning of this essay I offered the following snippet from Father Neuhaus’s masterwork, “American Babylon.” He said, “For New Testament Israel, deliverance is arrival at the destination of the long pilgrimage toward the New Jerusalem.” I believe it's critically important for people of faith to embrace those words.
The Christian church has, unfortunately, needed the chastisement that’s about to come. We’ve been stiff-necked and rebellious. Too many of our leaders have lusted for power and prominence rather than taking the Biblical road of servanthood. We’ve had a decades long affair with temporal power and we’re going to pay a heavy price for our rebellion.
Until that redemptive work is done, we’ll need to endure the taunts of those in power. We’ll have to stand firm in the face of their edicts.
But, if we’re patient and faithful, we will pull through. The grace we’re about to receive may seem to be painful, but it will be what we need.