We deal with personal issues in the larger context of our particular community, nation, and the world. The violence of terrorists, the crisis of hunger, the tragedies of addictions, the mass movements of people, and the uncertainties of political leadership create unease and anxiety on the big stage of the world. As a response, there is a constant temptation to focus attention on personal well-being, family, and friends. These more immediate relationships provide most of our joy and meaning. Among family and friends we can make a difference.
But our small lives are lived in corners of the bigger stages – our communities, nation, and the world. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called us to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. He did not reduce the scope to our kinship groups and close acquaintances. Jesus also told us that more is required of the ones to whom more has been given. This teaching is a constant reminder that, because of our privileged position, many of us bear a larger responsibility in addressing issues of global injustice and suffering. These gospel sayings can be used to shape the way we view the issues of our day and bear witness to God’s love and grace.
“Put America First” and “Make America Great Again” are slogans that contest the teaching of Jesus. Under Donald Trump, they point to the consolidation of power and wealth in the USA to the exclusion of those on the margins in the global community. Trump stands for the abdication of the kind of global leadership that many of us have come to expect from the best presidents of America.
The rejection of the Paris Accord on Climate Change surely caught no one by surprise. Trump fulfilled a campaign promise and thereby entered into a strange alliance with Nicaragua and Syria as non-participants in this global action to preserve creation. There was no contrition that the USA was the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Neither was there recognition that coal fired generators are particularly harmful to the environment nor that more employees work on solar energy projects that in the coal industry in the USA. Likewise, there was no concern expressed about the rapid loss of biodiversity in the USA and the world (think about songbirds and butterflies). Many of us were outraged by Trump’s rejection of helping countries in tropical and semi-tropical areas to adapt to climate change. He characterized this assistance as giving money to competitors rather than of offering assistance to poor people threatened by rising oceans, intense storms, and prolonged droughts. Few people will have confidence that Trump and Scott Pruitt (chief of the Environmental Protection Agency) will provide leadership for a higher standard of creation care. Actions to date point in a different direction.
Over the last months, Americans have watched Trump insult their traditional allies including Angela Merkel (Germany), Sadiq Khan (mayor of London), and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (“the worst president of Canada”). Strangely, Vladimir Putin has escaped criticism and angry invectives. America’s strong tradition of a free and independent press is under attack by accusations of false news and the offering of “alternative truths.” Lies and half-truths seem to be acceptable. I had developed almost an addiction to news about Trump because it is so bizarre. It seems like a fictional drama.
Many Canadians are now reluctant to travel to the USA. Our neighbors to the South seem less hospitable and friendly. Some fundamental change is taking place in America that we do not understand. We also fear (not respect) Donald Trump. I expect that less Canadians will spend time in the USA.
I am perplexed that the so-called evangelical voters have not called America’s leadership to a higher standard. I think that they have retreated into the small world of families and friends. I hope that they will attend again to the teaching of the gospels. Before Jesus, the prophet Jeremiah engaged in symbolic acts of protest against her monarchy, the elite, the priests, and false prophets of his time. Like many others, I pray that Christian leaders in America will find ways to protest and to demand that the mantle of leadership pass to people that are wise, just, and compassionate. Congregations will need to become places where people can learn again to openly discuss issues and embrace a faith community that allows for respectful differences in engaging with the world. Those of us outside of America should be praying for Christian leaders that offer a prophetic critique of Donald Trump and a new vision of righteousness.