Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Yesterday Christian leaders gathered in New York at Donald Trump's behest. Aside from bizarre elements (e.g., Trump wondering whether he could bring us back to the day when attending Sunday School was "automatic"), the attraction of many Christian leaders and laity to Trump based on their understandable longing for safety in a dangerous world, particularly when the price of that safety is the abandonment of certain Christian values and principles, stands as a stark reminder that golden calves come in many forms.
Shortly after the Orlando massacre, I noted that Trump retweeted someone's undoubtedly heartfelt message imploring the candidate to "please make us safe." This simple retweet, to me, captures one (of many) disturbing element(s) of Trump's candidacy. He is inhabiting the biblical role of Aaron, playing on the people's fears and anxieties and offering a golden calf for their worship -- in this case, the idol is our own safety.
Though the dangers take new forms, we have lived in a dangerous world since the Fall. Political candidates can and should offer new ideas to address those dangers, but unrealistic promises that safety is achievable should be met with skepticism. A candidate's promise of safety rises to the idolatrous level, in my view, when the prescribed means of guaranteeing safety require us to reject the God-inspired lens through which we are called to view the world. Trump's statements and policy proposals regarding Muslims and Mexican immigrants, for example, are in significant tension with the Gospel's demand for solidarity and recognition of human dignity.
I do not mean to suggest that debates about stricter immigration policies or the consideration of religion's role in terrorism are categorically beyond the pale. The more obvious problem comes from stigmatizing groups -- as Trump frequently does -- instead of engaging ideas -- as Trump appears to avoid whenever possible.
On this front, John Inazu's important book, "Confident Pluralism," is instructive, especially chapter six. Building on insights from Erving Goffman and Lee Bollinger, John explains why confident pluralism "rejects stigmatizing others through our speech," but does require us "to distinguish between stigmatizing and causing offense."
Trump suggests that safety is achievable if we reject "political correctness" and demonstrate the courage to do what needs to be done to root out the dangerous "others" in our midst. It is an illusory promise of safety through a quite real imposition of stigma, and we should reject both the means and the ends. God calls us to faithfulness, not to safety.