A Comparative Look at the Core Beliefs of Jesus and Mr. Trump
Written by: 
Joe Morris Doss

At the Threshold is not in the business of judging the claims of people to be a Christian, and when someone running for office says they are a believer we take them at their word. However, we do accept a responsibility to place before our readers the clearly stated beliefs of a candidate for President of the United States so that they can be compared to the core and unchallenged Christian beliefs.

Forgiveness:

Jesus offers us forgiveness for our sins, “For,” as St. Paul proclaimed: “all have sinned and fallen short….”  

Donald Trump said last year that he has never asked God for forgiveness. When questioned by CNN’s Jake Tapper, Trump said ”I am good. I don’t do a lot of things that are bad.” Then, when challenged by conservative commentator Cal Thomas, Trump said, “I hope I don’t have to ask for much forgiveness,” and immediately turned to his real and personal concern about that issue: “I think I will be doing very well during the election with evangelicals and with Christians.”

The Cross:

Jesus, who was cursed, humiliated, and crucified by the powerful said, “…my strength is made perfect in weakness;” “Blessed are the meek…blessed are the poor in spirit.” St. Paul said, “…the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block…and foolishness…(to others).”

As President, Trump would function under the rubric: “Might Makes Right.” He has declared – often – that what counts is power, and that the way “the score” is kept in this society is “money.” Trump’s “gospel” is success, and precisely in the terms of what Paul names as the “world’s wisdom,” which is revealed in the cross as “foolishness.” In his book, any soldier who lets him or herself get captured, even if that person’s behavior proves heroic, is “a loser.” His confusion about strength and weakness extends to the church. Speaking to a gathering of pastors, he chided them, “You don’t use your power.” (“You’re…powerful. Because you have men and women, you probably have something like 75, 80 percent of the country believing. But you don’t you your power.”) What Trump admires is not meekness, or any sort of impoverishment, but only strength, worldly success, and power. (Raise your hand if you can imagine him embracing “spiritual poverty,” or grasping even a tiny bit what this strong and lasting Christian tradition means.)

The Truth:

Jesus: The truth will set you free.

Donald Trump uses falsehoods that he feels free to contradict with other falsehoods. For Donald Trump there is no “truth,” and no “facts.” As conservative commentator Michael Gerson put it, “It is not surprising that Trump inhabits his own factual universe in which truth is determined by usefulness and lies become credible through repetition.” Gerson listed some examples by use of statements he made and then flatly denied during the first debate: “When confronted with his claim that global warming was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, Trump replied, ‘I did not [say it].’ He did. When Trump’s claim that he could not release his tax returns because of an IRS audit was exposed as false, he still insisted on it. When charged with saying he could personally negotiate down the national debt, he said this was ‘wrong.’ The charge was right. When Trump’s transparently deceptive claim to be an early opponent of the Iraq War was debunked, he doubled down in a babbling defense, citing Sean Hannity as he ultimate arbiter.” In that debate Trump again repeated that which finally drove the NY Times to use the word “lie”: the claim that Clinton aides started the question of our first black President’s American birth (in 2008).

Enemies:

Jesus: love them; pray for them.

Trump: Demonize them. Dehumanize them. The person who disagrees with Mr. Trump, stands up to him, or oppose him, will be declared worthless, stripped of dignity, and made the object of derision. Each human being is, in his view, either “a winner” or “a loser,” and there is no more awful thing in his book than to be “a loser.” This attitude is central to his campaign, it is central to how he works (as those of us who found ourselves having to work with him almost always discovered), and it seems to be central to his belief system.

Discipleship:

Jesus: Followers are to be “the salt of the earth,” “…do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God.” Christians are to defend human dignity, welcome the stranger in our midst, stand for justice, offer the blessing and dispense the grace of God, behave as agents of reconciliation where there is brokenness and division.

Trump: ‘nuf said, I would think. Surely so, if attention is being paid at all to his campaign of “walling-off” and “rejecting” and “condemning” and “dividing” and, and, and…

Conclusion: Whether or not Mr. Trump is a Christian, the worldview he proclaims and represents is absolutely incompatible with the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

 


Powers and Principalities

Written by: Joe Morris Doss

Americans feel that we, as individual citizens, lack agency – a sense that we have too little say in what is going on and that we are relatively helpless to do anything about what bothers or concerns us. At the Threshold is offering a series that is intended to examine the causes of that frustration.

Perhaps there has been no time since the medieval era in which people are more given to believe in “powers and principalities.” This is a biblical term, but we modern folk are not likely to use it in reference to angels, demons, and things that go bump in the night. Nevertheless the powers and principalities that are “out there” today are as feared and admired with a sense of awe, as circumvented by manipulative enchantments and charms, and as worshipped as objects of faith, hope, and love, as in any age of yore. These powers and principalities seem as invisible, as ineffable, and as uncontrollable as any otherworldly creatures that ever may have been presumed to come into the human realm. It seems impossible to get a handle on them, and yet it feels that they run our lives far more than decisions that are made, either by ourselves or by human beings we can hold accountable. Here is the point for our purposes: People, institutions, and whole populations, feel robed of agency by what is experienced as “powers and principalities.”

We should start with the biblical use of the term. William Stringfellow, a 20th century attorney and lay theologian offers a concise but clear summary of the classic Christian understanding: “…that dominion which human beings receive from God over the rest of creation…is lost to them in the fall and, as it were, reversed, so that now the principalities exercise dominion over human beings and claim in their own names and for themselves idolatrous worship from human beings. People do not create the principalities nor do they control them; on the contrary, people exist in this world in bondage to the principalities. No one escapes enduring the claims for allegiance and service of the principalities.” (Essential Writings, Orbis Books, Modern Spiritual Masters Series)

If that doesn’t sound like modern life, let us examine his point in terms of our more familiar experiences. Do we not share a feeling that there are certain forces and dynamics over which we have no dominion even while they are working to determine what is to come? Bright and good willed people can be found throwing up their hands and saying that it doesn’t matter who gets elected to office, that events are going to take over anyway. There is the historical determinism of influential thinkers like Karl Marx, who promised us that forces of history are leading to foregone conclusions for human society. Darwin’s theory of evolution, still mysterious and misunderstood by most of the masses, has taught us that certain processes of mutation and selection are the driving forces for forms of life, including human life, that are fashioned in a struggle out of which the fittest survive – and that evolution is still, and will always be, at work. Freud, Jung, and Adler helped us see how “powers and principalities” work from within “the mind” and will never be fully within a person’s self-control. Scientist like Einstein demonstrated the truth that everything is relative; quantum mechanics has forced recognition that “common sense” observation, like the long standing axiom that “a thing cannot be in the different place at the same time,” has to yield to the reality that we can rely on no more than probabilities, and mathematically trained metaphysicians like Whitehead have informed us that there really is not even such a thing as a “thing,” since all that exists is in a process of constant change, and everything is relational instead of “individual” or strictly particular.

How much these theories have reached home to create a sense of what are the “powers and principalities” for our era can be seen in very practical terms when we consider institutions. No wonder we have become so frustrated with institutions, be they great corporations, governmental agencies, ecclesiastical organizations, nations, unions, universities – you name it. Institutions are all about their own survival. They are not about us, or anything of value beyond themselves. Finally, everything else is secondary to the preservation and glorification of the institution, and anyone having some relationship or connection to it must commit herself or himself to the cause of the institution – which, again, always comes down to its survival. As the song goes, the worker simply “…gives their soul to the company store.” As far as the institution is concerned, anyone and everything can be sacrificed in that great cause. The rationale for the institution can be couched in terms of the good it can do  and often does, and everyone within it or called to serve it by participation, perhaps simply by being a customer, can be assured that the institution is good for them in important ways. But finally it is dehumanizing because the way it actually functions is not for us, or even about us; its life and its mission is all too much for the cause of the institution, in and of itself.

Ideologies can, and are likely to, be principalities. We may take the prevailing American myth of a holy nation, religiously “justified” and called to empire. Where there is such profound and sustained confusion over a nation’s character and mission genuine religion will know it as blasphemy and idolatry.

Deep-seated social realities over which we have little dominion, like racism, can be one of the powers and principalities. Racism is not simply a personal and social problem, but a problem with the Gospel.

Such “powers that be” are active characters in the drama of history and in each of our personal lives. We can try to deny them, or acknowledge them, or resist them, or – and this not only is the easiest but the normative path – yield to them and play along as though they give us purpose and a station in the universe.

But if you are a Christian, you have discovered good news to set you free to work in partnership with God for the good of the created order and its completion the age Jesus introduced and is to come. You have the model of Jesus, who withstood the powers of his day, not only identified in terms of an occupation by the Roman Empire, but in all that had been formed and turned loose to make for a future that did not become the kingdom in which God’s will is “done on earth as in heaven.” You have the example of the early church which, with all of its human flaws, understood and set forth a pattern of resistance to the “powers and principalities” they had to face – understanding, for example, (and it cost many of them their lives) that to proclaim, “Jesus is Lord,” meant that Caesar was not.

To be sure, your faith is not a claim that the “powers and principalities” no longer have dominion over you, but that with faith and understanding you can enjoy awareness and the larger picture of your personal role and value in the process of history. You can belong in the universe, even one corrupted and corrupting. You can have confidence that God will take your contribution and transform it into the divine creativity. You can have faith in the strong evidence within the created order that the greatest power and principality, in heaven and on earth as it were, is the phenomenal universal force of an unlimited lover.

What you and I need and yearn for is the supporting power of the community of faithful we term “church.”

Ah, that is why At the Threshold calls for reform. It is a call for the church to become what it claims to be: the community of those given the gift of discernment regarding the negative forces of the “powers and principalities” of our time, and the faith that we have been set free.


The Sound of Glass Cracking in the Proverbial Ceiling
Written by: 
Joe Morris Doss

Put aside the matter of choosing for whom you personally will vote. The fact that each of us will have the opportunity to vote for a woman has to be recognized as a highly significant moment in American history, and it is my hope that all Americans – Republicans, independents, and Democrats alike – are, at least to that extend, proud of our democracy. Equality is hard to come by for some categories of persons, and throughout history, women – more than half of the human race – have suffered inequality that should now be viewed as shocking. The day is coming, and this nomination is a big step forward, when all forms of discrimination against women will be unacceptable.

I offer my viewpoint as a white male who knows something about authority and power that seems to come without necessarily being earned. I am a husband and a father, and therefore someone who realizes the need to empower women at a very personal level. I am a leader of the church, and therefore committed to the welfare of all of her members. I am a theologian and therefore someone who understands the religious and moral issues relevant in the quest for equality and justice. I am an attorney and therefore someone who is familiar with the Constitutional and legal issues at hand. But I offer you my personal perspective on discrimination against women especially as a pastor.

The first thing I have to say is really outrageous. That is, it is outrageous that it has to be said at all: Every human being is equally a child of God. Women are equal to men, and to one another, and women are due nothing less than that recognition and that standing. It simply is not enough to acknowledge that, it has to be constitutionally established and made effective within our legal, political, social, and religious spheres.

In fact, I have an outrageous question: If Mrs. Clinton is elected, should she be paid at the same level as her husband when he was President? Noting that most women holding the same job as a man do not receive equal pay, it is an outrageously meaningful question, and one that must be removed in the only way possible.

The next thing I have to say to you as a pastor is very important but seems too little considered. Those of us who participate in a system that discriminates are the people most in need of being freed from it. Martin Luther King spoke as a pastor to those who cannot see the harm to themselves in prejudice and actions of discrimination. From a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, he shed the light of reality on fellow clergymen who wanted to avoid the struggle of their day in obtaining equality for all human beings:

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality.” 

Finally, I want to say how obviously this nomination makes the case against discrimination within the institutional life of God’s church. The church is intended to be the pioneer for justice in society, but when it comes to women the church is being dragged kicking and screaming into the inevitable realization that it is its own worst enemy. The faith community in which I have a formal role as a bishop, together with most of the mainline protestant churches, has been and remains guilty enough, though decisions have been made to begin correction of our path. But when one sees the determined prejudice and discrimination against women in the very largest of our communities, ranging from the fundamentalist evangelical churches to the sacramental Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, one is staggered by the realization of how far the Christian church is from the way of our Lord. We must call each other to reform whatever is required in order to fully include women in all of the life of the church, including all leadership roles, into which they are baptized!

The model for Christians is Jesus himself, and despite the failures of his church down through the centuries of patriarchal domination, despite the way certain parts of his church still oppress women in his name, Jesus himself treated women exactly as he did with men. We see that he surrounded himself with women; He not only gathered them and associated with them, he made them part of his inner circle. We see how much trouble he got in because of his interaction with women. He was declared unclean and unworthy of leadership in that patriarchal society. We see that the first person he appeared to after the resurrection was a woman and it was this woman he chose as his first apostle to send with the news and spread it as The Good News.

Matters like racial bigotry and the oppression of women was, and for some Christians remain, examples of religious conscience. It is the religious conscience that has to change! The inequality of women and all offenses against justice must be prohibited in the church as well as in law. For where justice is violated we may find religious beliefs, but we will not find God.


By Joe Morris Doss

Joe Morris Doss

Joe Morris Doss

At the Threshold’s call for church reform tends to aim at the need within the institutional church to confront abuses like fundamentalism and discrimination, but there is also need to address those who stand outside of the church and argue against the faith. In particular there seems to be a growing industry that sells versions of the faith that are as simplistic as they are incorrect. The industry ranges from TV programs that sensationalize assertions and speculations, to conferences for self-congratulations of the utterly secularized, to books that debunk theology.

The general view being promulgated today is that faith is for the silly or the naïve. Part of what makes this frustrating for the informed believer is that what is being offered are merely restatements or reformulations of tired old theories, long since dismissed. I recently received a message from a close friend that offered an example of what that anti-faith industry is saying. It made me long for real and substantial doubt instead of the pablum being offered on the streets today. Read More…