Fault Lines and Faith

88629599-A458-49EB-B5B9-A413BEE5FD59

Aerial photo of the San Andreas Fault in the Carrizo Plain,  http://www.geologyin.com.

Last week, we were inundated with media reports about President Donald J. Trump’s performance in his private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. From the outset, voices cried out in protest that the President of the United States would even consider a meeting with the Russian dictator. Now we are working through what the U.S. president said or did not say during the meeting. In a sense, we are standing on the fault lines of our nation.

There is no shortage of criticism on the opinion that President Trump took sides. In fact, he took Vladimir Putin’s word over the findings of several American intelligence agencies that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. Alina Polyakova, an expert on Russia at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., said this in a conference call with reporters.“It was telling that the U.S. president did not mention Ukraine or Crimea once. The U.S. president also didn’t mention U.S. sanctions and basically let the Russian president set the agenda on Syria and other items as well.”

Condemnation of this meeting was swift, sweeping and widespread. The Chicago Tribune reported a plethora of reactions: “Bizarre. Shameful. Disgraceful. And that’s just from the Republicans.” Disgraceful, embarrassing, incompetent, disturbing, unpatriotic . . . There are so many negative descriptors in the narrative about this meeting. People of faith stand on the fault line wondering if and how we should respond. 

Now, the shock has somewhat abated. People, Democrat and Republican, are making their way back to the comfort of normalcy. To be sure, some Democrats are wringing their hands a bit more than they did before the Trump/Putin meeting, but at the end of the day, everyone will settle down on top of whatever fault line is nearest to them. I cannot help but think of the words of Edwin Muir from his poem, The Transfiguration, “But the world rolled back into its place, and we are here. And all that radiant kingdom lies forlorn, As if it had never stirred.”

So after all the upheaval caused by the Helsinki meet-up, and after all the amped-up rhetoric of condemnation of the American president’s performance, it seems as if “the world rolled back into its place,” as if nothing has stirred. And yet, some people of faith feel an unease on this fault line, a vague sense that all is not as it should be, and wondering what all of this has to do with us. Most of us are do-ers, so inaction is difficult even when no clear action is before us. For good or ill, we are here in “the living of these days,” and there are indeed some clear actions we must take.

One set of effectual actions, as suggested by my friend, Ken Sehested, is to be prepared, to listen to media reports from a variety of sources, but to remember that we draw our bearings from “a larger horizon.” Ken writes this in a meditation entitled “We Must Be Prepared: A Brief Meditation for the Living of these Days.”

We must be prepared. Things are likely to get worse before they get better. We must listen to the news, from a variety of sources. But we must not draw our bearings from that news. Ours is a larger horizon.

It seems to me that all of our responses — whether being fully informed, shaping our opinions and convictions, advocating with members of Congress, or praying for our nation and our leaders — must emerge from that place called “a larger horizon.” 

And about the living of these days? These are the days we have, the good of them and the not so good. Certainly, we can feel hopeless when we hear disturbing headlines about any number of fault line issues. The narrative from the U.S. President clashes with the best direction from his own staff. The story of the private Helsinki meeting changes from hour to hour. Lawmakers are calling for recordings of the meeting. There is a palpable lack of trust within the Trump administration. 

In these days, we do feel threatened by fault lines, feeling them shifting underneath our feet. But along with the fault lines, we also have a living faith that guides us to create positive change, compels us to continue standing up for the marginalized people among us, strengthens us to labor for the good of our communities and our nation, and ennobles us to speak out for truth and justice.

God People, Trump, Morality and the First and Greatest Commandment

352F795F-C66F-45DB-838E-B2CEDFF6EA39Take a trip with me into the Bible Belt for a visit to the town of Luverne, Alabama, population 2,700. In the First Baptist Church on Main Street, we can hear a sermon on one of the Ten Commandments, one sermon in a ten part series. The people in the pews are good people, “salt of the earth” Christians who seek to live exemplary and moral Christian lives.

Good to see you this morning,” the pastor said, shaking hands as the worshippers took their usual places in the wooden pews. He walked up to the pulpit and opened his King James Bible.

“Today we’re going to be looking at the Seventh Commandment,” he began. “Exodus 20:14, the Seventh Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ ”

And from there the pastor’s dilemma is whether or not to mention the adultery of the president of the United States, the man that these Baptists believe is their savior.

Surveys and polls abound, but one particular survey indicates that Trump’s support among Southern Baptists is over 80 percent. These are the 80 percent people who showed up on Sunday morning to hear what their pastor had to say about committing adultery. 

On this day, in this sermon, the U.S. president will get a pass. After all, the people insist, he alone has saved them from sure and certain annihilation by hordes of illegal immigrants, MS-13 gang members, Muslims, terrorists, abortion supporters, liberals, and black people who most certainly would have taken over their country and killed all the white Christians.

Does that sound a bit too dramatic to be real? Tragically, it’s not an exaggeration. It is exactly what these people believe.

The Washington Post article sums it up:

The First Baptist Church’s pastor “looked out at all the faces of people who felt threatened and despised in a changing America, who thought Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were sent by Satan to destroy them, and that Donald Trump was sent by God to protect them, and who could always count on [pastor] Clay Crum to remind them of what they all believed to be the true meaning of Jesus Christ — that he died to forgive all of their sins, to save them from death and secure their salvation in a place that was 15,000 miles wide, full of gardens, appliances, and a floor of stars.”

And there you have it . . . a snapshot of the erroneous beliefs that have divided the American people. The remedy? Who knows what might unite a people of such disparate convictions and skewed ideas? It is a question worth pondering and asking for God’s wisdom in finding the answer. One thing I do know: divisions, xenophobia, racism and general hatred between the people who carry the labels “liberal” and “conservative” is not pleasing to God. In fact, God might counsel us to focus less on “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and instead to live into “the first and greatest  commandment” and the second one too:

Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

This is the first and greatest commandment. 

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

— Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)