Baker Academic

Monday, May 29, 2017

What Would Jesus Resist?

The accumulation of wealth. Preoccupation with security. The use of power to secure more wealth at the expense of those who suffer already. Jesus would—and did—resist these things. And (relatedly) Jesus resisted evil. Jesus saw himself in open war against the spiritual world. The battlegrounds included systemic corruption, physical illness, and demonic possession. Jesus' view of Rome was probably colored along these lines too.

So what? Do any of these historical claims provide the modern person with marching orders? I am usually one to be cautious on this point. After all, the voice of any prophet requires context to make sense. Voices from antiquity do not often translate easily into modern contexts. Applying Jesus' teachings to modern politics—even when his message was overtly political—is usually a recipe for frustration. So much nuance is needed that once the historian homes in on a point, it is obscured by all of the necessary qualifications.

But then there is the rare case of obvious evil. In such cases, I think it's irresponsible to obscure Jesus' teachings with academic caveats. This brings us, again, to Donald Tr*mp.

Just after November 9th, one of my students sent me this comic. It's become a repeated triptych along my mental landscape. Artist Corey Thomas means to convey something of the African American experience post-11/9. But this strip captures something about American religious borders too.
images from
Notice the use of borders in this strip. (1) As is common to comic strips, we see blocked borders between the first illustration (one of shock and worry) and the second (one of jubilation). (2) The hallway and doorframe borders illustrate the proximity between the black POV and white counterparts; (3) The final illustration shows the cubical dividing the protagonist from his white, evangelical (perhaps allied) coworker.

Somehow—and this is true for most folks I know whether conservative or liberal—the election of Donald Tr*mp was a highly disorienting experience. For many of my neighbors, 11/9 exposed precarious fault lines. The old categories of conservative vs. liberal just didn't work anymore. Those borders were tiresome and reductionist. But at least they were familiar. I've starting calling these new camps "nationalist" vs. "resistance" narratives. I'm not the only one who has been looking for new language. For example, the alt-right has adopted the terms "cuck" and "cuckservative" to redefine the new landscape. To be clear: the nationalist narrative is framed by white nationalism. This comic strip is correct: whatever else 11/9 was about, it was about race.

Not every Tr*mp voter is an overt racist. The real trouble is with the white, evangelical majority that allowed the alt-right narrative to thrive by looking the other direction. My guess is that most white evangelicals know the narrative is evil. If so, the accusation of racism isn't overblown. Unfortunately, most white evangelicals think that racism is something you feel rather than something you support unwittingly. But (and this can't be denied) there are enough overt racists in America to warrant an overtly racist political movement. The fact that we allowed white supremacy be rebranded as "alt-right" is part of the problem. Tr*mp was willing to stand on this platform.

So my take is somewhat different than Corey Thomas' view that "after prayerful consideration they decided that their God anointed the naked racist to be their leader." I differ because I sincerely doubt that there was much prayer involved in electing Tr*mp. I do not fault Thomas, however, for assuming that 81% of white evangelicals knowingly perpetrated a national sin.

I sent this comic strip to a Jewish friend. My friend is deeply invested in Christian well-being and knows more about Christianity than most Christians. He truly loves his Christian neighbors but he is worried about us. When I sent him this comic, he confessed that Thomas had captured something of his own disorientation. He said, "I feel the same way about my Christian neighbors."

Then there is my colleague who confessed that she couldn't be around men after 11/9. Even with men she loves and respects, there was something about the election of Tr*mp that made her male colleagues difficult to navigate.

Three borders: race, religion, and gender. Somehow our national sin, our collective evil, has made our old fault lines even more precarious. So which fault line poses the greatest threat? The answer is determined by which border is nearest to your front door. For some it's islamophobia, or xenophobia more generally. For some it's the mortal peril faced by millions of citizens of the greatest generation and baby boomers who will be failed by America's medical and pharmaceutical industries. As for me, I survey the landscape and see a world preparing for war. I see America failing at a crucial moment in environmental history. So I am most worried about my children. Tr*mp did not create these fault lines. He has, however, made them far more dangerous.

These are complex problems created by a world of geopolitical power-grabbing, capitalistic greed, generational hate, and an apathetic general public that Jesus never imagined. I doubt that Jesus could have conceived of a future when humanity would destroy the earth without God's help. What Jesus did understand—what he was uniquely prepared to preach about—was collective evil. Jesus knew well that collective sin required collective repentance.

I titled this article "What Would Jesus Resist?" It assumes that Jesus did resist that which he judged to be evil and that he would again. So, yes, I think Jesus would resist the global danger that is Tr*mp. I cannot read Luke 6 and think that Jesus has nothing to say about our national sin. Moreover, I think that impeaching Tr*mp may be part of a national repentance. But it will only be a the first step.


  1. I am not American, so I comment as an outsider, but I really appreciated this thoughtful discussion and I agree with your concerns. Thanks.

  2. "So my take is somewhat different than Corey Thomas' view that 'after prayerful consideration they decided that their God anointed the naked racist to be their leader.' I differ because I sincerely doubt that there was much prayer involved in electing Tr*mp. I do not fault Thomas, however, for assuming that 81% of white evangelicals knowingly perpetrated a national sin."

    I would have to say I resonate with the artist here. Drawing from my experience at a number of white evangelical churches, a vote for Donald Trump was certainly in line with the spiritual formation taking place at those places in general, whether because those churches incubated a sense of therapeutic deism largely detached from the world outside the individual soul (Jesus was apolitical; our faith doesn't have anything to do with our politics) or because of the failure of leaders to speak with any kind of directness about politics (even if they would disparage Tr*mp in private). When talk about politics did occur in the election season, nothing was ever really talked about; no one left offended, everyone left affirmed.

    But also, at the end of the day, the intentions are far less important than the grave outcome.

  3. I am extremely far from being a Trump supporter, but as far as the claims of him being a "Naked" racist goes...