Op/Ed By George Payne –
In a recent television appearance, the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed his dismay over Christians who support President Trump. The most Rev. Justin Welby said, “There’s two things going through my mind: Do I say what I think, or do I say what should say? And I’m going to say what I think. No, I don’t understand it. I really, genuinely do not understand where that is coming from.”
Although I certainly sympathize with Welby’s confusion, I do wonder who exactly he concedes is a Christian in Trump’s network of supporters. After all, it is a very old and disputed question indeed: Who is a Christian?
Standard dictionaries will refer to Greek etymology. To be a Christian is to be a follower of Christos, or the “anointed one.” The more familiar Latin word Christianus came into parlance around 1500.
In fact, the term Christian was actually a derogatory Roman slur levied against those who seemed to practice bizarre rituals and profess a revolutionary creed. What is clear from a sober reading of history, is that the figure called Christ by those who came after him, never bestowed this title on himself.
If anything he considered himself to be a divinely inspired conduit of the holy spirit-a Rabbi on a mission to confront powers and principalities that still exist in the world today. Who exactly Jesus thought he was is one of the most exciting and challenging psychological inquiries in the field of New Testament scholarship, Biblical history, and Christology.
So, with that said, let’s grant that Jesus was a historical figure with followers who saw him as the “anointed one.” The second standard definition in any dictionary will say that a Christian is a decent and respectable person. But, if all the term means is one who becomes a decent and respectable person through the voluntary decision to follow Jesus as a moral exemplar, it is not a very exclusive or insightful definition. Is not the Dali Lama a decent, respectable person? Nor does having Jesus-like traits make someone morally unique. Love, kindness and humility are all virtues espoused by Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Taoists, Jews (Jesus was a Jew, and not a Christian), and millions of other pious individuals across the span of time.
It appears to me that this term- so flippantly and stupidly flung about in the media today- has little practical meaning apart from being an objective description of how someone acts.
A radical example is Adolf Hitler, a demonic politician who represented a brand of Christian theology known as Nazism. In article 20 of the program of the German Worker’s Party (later named the National Socialist German Worker’s Party, NSVAP) Hitler said: “We demand freedom for all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not endanger its existence or conflict with its customs and moral sentiments of the Germanic race. The party as such represents the standpoint of a positive Christianity, without owing itself to a particular confession.”
By “positive Christianity,” Hitler intended to claim the true and right Christianity for the Nazis. I dare say that most white evangelical Christians who believe that Trump is doing a good job (66 percent according to a recent Fox News poll) advocate their own version of “positive Christianity.” They are no less determined, if given the proper conditions, to completely deny the right for others to hold different ideas and beliefs. Their way is the right way. And didn’t you know that Jesus believed in the values of self- sufficiency, competitive markets, military imperialism, private property, the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, the right to bear arms, pro-life clinics, the intellectual superiority of males, and the unquestioned hegemony of law and order?
Perhaps the real question that needs to be asked in a poll is this: Does being a white evangelical Christian make one more prone to racism, xenophobia, narrow thinking and tyranny?
Now back to the Archbishop. In Henry David Thoreau’s classic book Walden, the American essayist and philosopher wrote, “What avails it that you are Christian, if you are not purer than the heathen.”
With Thoreau’s words spurring me on, if I had the chance to respond to Welby, I would say something along these lines. A real Christian makes sure that their actions speak louder than their words. A real Christian could care less about being called a Christian. All they desire is to embrace creative suffering. Their life is the way of the cross. They are ready to die for others without raising their fists in anger or fear. They love without pretension. They are willing to plunge into ultimate darkness. They will go to hell in order to rescue the dammed.
I would tell the Archbishop that he need not be perplexed. A real Christian would never support Trump; they would love him without judgement, and work like mad to model the path of righteousness and humility.
(George Cassidy Payne is a writer, domestic violence counselor, and SUNY adjunct professor of philosophy. He graduated with a masters in theology from Colgate Rochester Crozer School of Divinity (2006). George lives and works in Rochester, NY.)