I watched the C-span video of President Trump standing in front of the boarded up “church of the presidents.” He was holding someone’s Bible. For a minute, he seems to be trying to figure out the best way to hold it aloft- clasping and shifting his grip. We pastors usually hold it up with two hands offering “the Word Of God for the people of God”, or we open it and read from it.
Holding the Bible like a prop, Trump spoke repeatedly of America’s greatness. I lament and decry that President Trump tear gassed peaceful protestors and borrowed a Bible so that he might speak of America’s greatness. He did so after: maligning those he labels as weak, speaking of dominating rioters, and suggesting the shooting of looters. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Germany during the rise of national socialism there. Bonhoeffer warned of the runaway patriotic fervor that gripped a hungry broken Germany. In a sermon entitled “Gideon,” Bonhoeffer preached, “In the church we have only one altar. And that is the altar of the most high, the Only One, the Lord to whom alone is due honor and adoration; the Creator, before whom all creatures must kneel, before whom the most powerful but is nothing but dust. We have no auxiliary altars for the adoration of the emperor. The worship of God, not the emperor, happens here at the altar of the church. Anyone who wants anything else may stay away; they cannot stay with us in the house of God. Anyone who requires an altar for themselves or anything else mocks God, and God is not mocked.”
If President Trump had opened the Bible, he might have discovered that Jesus’ main sermon begins: “blessed are those who grieve, who are humble, who are hungry, who show mercy, and who make peace.” Jesus goes on to call us to break the cycle of retaliatory violence by loving enemies, turning aside from insults, ceasing all name-calling, and dying to self. Jesus teaches us to renounce wealth, provide free healthcare, feed people, welcome strangers, reform prisons, and always forgive. Jesus rails against the kind of inconsequential faith that focuses on piddly pious acts like tithing the mint from the garden or singing with gusto, while neglecting what really matters: “justice, peace and faith” (Mathew 23:23) As President Trump calls for dominance and force, we might remember that Jesus said: “All those who use the sword will die by the sword?” (Matthew 26:52) Instead of dominating the crowd, who came with torches and clubs, Jesus offered his life. Indeed, Jesus calls all who follow Christ to lay down our lives, privilege, and our dominance.
It is clear that Jesus led a protest that made people so mad they decided to kill him. At a minimum Jesus engaged in the symbolic destruction of property, flipping over tables and scattering the coins of the money changers. Jesus addressed systemic injustice and economic exploitation by shutting down the Temple. (Mark 11:15-16). John 2:15 tells us that Jesus made a whip by binding some twine together and “chased them all out of the Temple”. Jesus’ only words in the protest speak of opening the temple to every nation and ending corruption. Within a week of instigating the protest Jesus was crucified. Sadly, religious congregations orchestrated Jesus’s crucifixion. The Empire crucified Christ for presenting a rival kin-dom of free healthcare, feeding people, good news for the poor, justice and peace. (Matthew 9:35 & 27:11) Doctor King, whose tomb the church now “decorates” was murdered for challenging systemic evil while alive. (Matthew 23:29-) The church must cease being the “arch defender of the status quo.”
Perhaps, only Jesus’ perfect love can forgive the officers who strike his face. Perhaps, only Jesus’ silent presence can heal a feud between Pontius Pilot and King Herod. Perhaps, only Jesus can teach us how to make peace and establish justice. But even as I lack a tidy ending to this article, I am sure that Jesus stands with the oppressed, the murdered, and the mistreated for the Bible tells us so.