Seeking the truth in love

Famously, we are living in the era of ‘post-truth’ a phrase that ought to be enough to send fear into even the most courageous of hearts. Post-truth – makes it sound like ‘the truth’ doesn’t exist anymore and it some sense it doesn’t. The technological era has enabled people, groups and organisations to share whatever opinion they like and brand it as ‘news’ or ‘truth’ and share it with millions of people, who gobble it up and regurgitate it at their will. And we then take that ‘truth’ and brand ourselves with it like some flag of allegiance.

Yesterday evening, about the time Donald Trump was being sworn in as President of the USA, I was preaching to 800 or so teenagers at a local school. The theme was ‘Come Follow Me’ which struck me as particularly ironic, and in that talk I said: 

“For example, my truth is that Donald Trump is a mysoginistic, racist liar.

And yet…

women and people of colour voted for him, their truth is very different to mine…

And excuse me for getting political but we are living in a time where it is becoming more and more important for us to distinguish between the voices who are shouting out to us. The loudest or most retweeted or most viewed is not necessarily the right one. Often the quietest ones are: the most important, and the most vulnerable, and perhaps the ones telling the most truth.

Choose carefully people.”

 

A well used quote notes:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

(It is popularly attributed to Edmund Burke although no one seems to be able to prove it was actually him)

and it is a good sentiment for a time like now, where something or someone, causes such divide and has the potential to grow into what we might call evil.

But the danger in that, in feeling fuelled to do something, is in how we respond. Right now, anyone in a position of leadership, with authority and influence, has a responsibility to stand up and be a voice of truth. Not just their own brand of truth, but in a desperate seeking to see through the opinion, the spin and rhetoric and seek the actual truth. We need to model a way of living that does not spread more hate and anger but seeks to love in difference, to bring grace where there is judgment and humility where there is arrogance. And equally as important, we need to help others find their way through this mist of words.

Trump is a dangerous man – completely aside from what you think of him or his politics – just look at the way he has been able to gather the support of millions of Americans who on paper should despise him, to be where he is now. He has gone from a potential laughing stock to arguably the most powerful man in the world.

But far more than that, and here’s where I worry most, it is in how he affects his opponents. His words and his behavior have incited people to fear and hatred. And not just those with a tendency to discriminate, but actually all of us, ordinary people, who might be trying to live in love, and yet we find ourselves equally fuelled with anger and vitriol, it’s just pointed in a different direction. So how are we any different?

I’ve spent months thinking about this, about how to take a stand against the injustice that has come through the rise of Trump and Brexit, but without adding to that increasing fire of anger and hate. I, with others, started the Movement of Love and yet I am still angry and frustrated.

But. At the end of the day all I can come back to is that Jesus died for Donald Trump as much as he did for me. I am no more special than Donald Trump and if I think I am then I have missed the whole point of The Gospel (and perhaps in the wrong job).

Let us not sink to the level of those who hate, we are better than that – you are better than that, I am better than that. We were made for more. I saw singer Martyn Joseph in concert last night and he noted that there are no less kind people in the world today than there were yesterday. And that’s the thing, we all have the potential to be lovers or haters, to do acts of kindness or acts of discrimination.

Let’s choose for ourselves to be loving and kind and to bring people with us on a journey of hope for a better future.

 

Biblical interpretation and the US Election

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Picture via Wylio: Vince Alongi https://www.flickr.com/people/vincealongi/

Look, here’s the thing, I don’t like Donald Trump. Sorry Lord, but it’s true, you’ve made some much nicer, more decent human beings, but hey what do I know? So I’m sorry for that but I don’t apologise for this piece of writing.

There has been sooooo much written about the US election, so I’ve avoided writing about it, the world doesn’t need another diatribe against Clinton or Trump. But the thing that has got me going now is the Christian ‘excuses’ all over social media, from single comments to lengthy essays citing ‘biblical principles’ as to why Trump is the right choice.

At the end of the day if we want to, we can pick and choose any bible passage we like to confirm our own thoughts and feelings. We can make it fit our own ideology, or political beliefs. And we all do it, even when we know better, maybe in choosing a scripture to send to a friend for help or support when they need it; or perhaps in writing a sermon and needing something to make our point. And, well we could say, ‘is there anything wrong with that?’ After all scripture is, according to 2 Tinothy:

… God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Tim 3:16-17

it’s also

alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’. Hebrews 4:12

And if we believe in the bible as God’s word, if we believe it is powerful and relevant for today, then we should read it, consult it, take it in, and be led by it, through God. But as we see in any given theological discussion we all do that differently. I for example, quite like Paul’s writings, I don’t think he was a misogynist, I see him actively working with women, and yet, others take some of his writings to say that women should not be in church leadership, or in authority over a man.

Someone might take the biblical command not to murder, for example, to apply more to unborn children and another person use it in relation to innocent casualties of war. I might take the command to love your neighbour to mean we should welcome refugees and those more needy than ourselves, whilst others might think more of their own literal neighbour, to home territories.

God did give us freewill. He gave us the ability to think for ourselves and that’s why we have different opinions and we can all make mistakes. We should all be aware of that, and acknowledge it, so if we use the bible as our guide in making decisions publicly, we have a responsibility to apply it fairly, prayerfully and in a Godly way to both sides of any equation – not just because it fits our preconceived ideas. So far most of what I have seen written by Christians, including someone I highly respect and look up to, has not done this. It has been one sided and picked biblical passages and principles to suit their own opinions.

It has been widely reported that the white evangelical vote was what got Trump (soon to be resident) into the White House. And I would say 90% of posts or pieces I have seen from this area, focus on one single issue – abortion and the saving of life.

So just for the record, did you know, there are no specific scriptures on abortion itself, only those on the sanctity of life. So if we choose abortion over any other issue of life, we ignore the roughly 17,000 Americans who are shot and killed each year (over 2000 of whom are children) in gun incidents; or the thousands who have been killed in conflicts around the world in the last year; or the 6 milion people who have been displaced in the Syrian conflict to cite just a few stats.

Do we really think that abortion alone is more important than matters of foreign policy or defence? Than immigration or asylum seekers? Abortion is just one issue that deals with human life – and for the record numbers of abortions in the US have actually been falling steadily since the 90s…

Bill Johnson said this:

‘But all of our rights stop when they violate the rights of another – in this case the unborn. I also found that one of the main biblical purposes of authority is to speak on behalf of those who have no voice. The unborn qualify. They wait silently for someone to stand up and speak.’

What like the rights to a life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness maybe? The US declaration of Independence says this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…

 

Or wait, is that just for US citizens?

…oo0O0oo…

So, how about forgiveness – another biblical principle that has been written about. If we can forgive Donald Trump his dirty campaign, his continual slander of Clinton, his threats to throw her in prison and refute the result (how ironic), his derogatory remarks on women that were apparently made years ago and then apologised for, then we can also forgive Hilary Clinton her email error, which she too apologised for.

We are told to forgive as God’s forgives us, the only sin being unforgiveable is blaspheming the Holy Spirit (of which there is plenty of debate over what it means anyway.).

…oo0O0oo…

Or how about compassion then, another thing I’ve seen referred to in relation to the welfare state? It’s pretty easy to suggest that a welfare system can be a negative thing when you have a good job, a nice house and live in relative wealth. Here in the UK we’ve seen the results of austerity: the rise of those living in poverty, the necessity of foodbanks and in fact the ‘robbing of peoples self esteem’.

Another thing that has been talked about is the quality of leadership. So what does the bible say about that? Well, this from 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is pretty good I would suggest:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? …

 

Or this from Acts 6:3

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.

Hmmm…

…oo0O0oo…

And well of course, at the end of the day God has given us a choice. Is Trump God’s chosen leader? There are of course several stories of God’s chosen leaders in the bible, there are passages that talk of choosing a leader too, this in Acts for example:

And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. Acts 1:24-26

But before we get all carried away and proclaim Trump as chosen by God, we forget that these passages do refer to choosing from amongst a group of Godly and upright believers, rather than voting for President. And as we know, many Americans found the choice between Trump or Hilary Clinton a really tough one.

…oo0O0oo…

So, we are where we are. Donald Trump will be US President, will be possibly the most powerful man in the world and, opinions divided, decisions made and votes cast, shall we just try and love each other rather than gloating or arguing? She says… perhaps I have just added to all that, though that was not my intention, but rather to encourage us all to think, to read our bibles and pray more, to be led by God and not by man or by popular opinion. So let me just leave you with this from 1 Timothy 2:1-2:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.