Thursday, January 26, 2017

Trump: "...we will be protected by God."

When I read the president's inauguration speech, I noted this paragraph toward the end:
There should be no fear. We are protected, and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God.
It struck a jarring note but frankly I didn't spend time trying to figure out why.  Then I read the lead article in the local Catholic newspaper, The Catholic Courier, which used this in both the headline and lead of an article by Mark Pattison of the Catholic News Service.

Now I realized how dangerous these words really are.  That realization was heightened when I read to the end of the article and saw the only comment that had yet been posted:  "Thanks be to God!! It's GREAT to have Him part of the American scene again."  Now I was sure that the logic and theology of the passage in the speech was seriously flawed and alarmed that the only comment to date seemed oblivious to its non-orthodox stance.

I immediately posted the following comment which was approved for posting in the next day.
 God protects all creation and always has. No nation or people has a special claim to protection that holds them immune to the consequences of what we humans do to each other and to creation. It is inconsistent with our faith tradition to think that God protects us and not others. I find it both ironic and disturbing to link God's protection with police power and military violence. Jesus preached a faithfulness to God which resulted in his murder by the police and military of his day. Whatever God's protection is must surely be of a different kind than the protection afforded by the world.
 Walter Breuggeman, a leading scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures, has recently written in Reality, Grief, Hope:  Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks about the ways in which 6th century BCE Israel misread its political, social and economic realities because of an absolute belief in being chosen by YHWH regardless of its faithfulness to the Sinai covenant, a covenant of law not birth (Abrahamic covenant.)
The Jerusalem destroyed in 587 B.C.E. was a product and carrier of the elemental conviction of Israel--and more specifically of the urban elite in the Jerusalem establishment--that it was indeed YHWH's chosen people and so enjoyed the full commitment of YHWH as patron and guarantor.  (5)  
None of the vagaries of history can disrupt this divine commitment.  Thus David and his entourage, the entire company of urban elites, are given guarantees that do not require engagement with the facts on the ground.  (10)
The prophets were not fortune tellers but rather voices raised against the behavior of the urban elites both civil and religious, in Jerusalem, who were oppressing the peasants of Israel siphoning off more and more money and crops to support their life style in Jerusalem.  These elites felt that the Mosaic promises from YHWH gave them unconditional protection no matter how abusive they were and no matter how extreme the resulting equality.

This notion of chosenness morphed into an ideology which prevented them from seeing what was happening all around them.  The prophets were basically saying that this inequality and abuse could not go on unfettered and with impunity.  Whether or not YHWH would punish them, opponents in their dangerous neighborhood would prey on the weakness that such corruption bred and conquer Israel with overwhelming violence.  Instead of waking up to what was happening, the leadership lived in denial holding on to this "promise" of being chosen.  Ultimately that failure to engage with reality resulting in the despair of captivity and removal.

Language like that in the President's speech raises the specter of "exceptionalism" with all its attendant problems.  If we add some God-given commitment of protection to the already overwhelming military power of the United States, we will be tempted to think that the United States can do whatever it wants or needs to do regardless of the impact on other people or nations.  This ideology will prevent us from dealing with the realities we face in the world and at home.  If we are prone to incredulity when we see others opposing us and ask in disbelief "Why do they hate us," we are already well on our way to to the denial and despair of which Breuggeman writes.

The irony for Christians should be compelling.  Jesus opposed the civil and religious authorities of his day because he came to live a life of faithfulness to the will of the Father who sent him.  That faithfulness brought him into conflict with the elites of his day who used their police and military power to dispose of this disturbing presence in their midst.  They had ears but did not listen.  Eyes but did not see.  They were certain that they expressed YHWH's promise and power and that whatever they did was by definition right and defensible.

Over and over again the Christian scriptures and the Psalms remind us that we are not saved by "war chariots" or "strong horses" but by faithfulness to the will of the Divine One:  love the Divine One with your whole heart and mind and love other humans (and all creation) with the same love that Jesus had for his friends, his enemies, and even strangers.  We will be protected in all the ways that really count in the Reign of the Divine One if we live our lives that way.

No comments: