Trump doesn’t lead in faith

Nick DeMarchis, Senior Writer

The news is the first thing that I look at in the morning. Sue me. And even after my early morning shower, I felt dirtied by the President’s comments on faith at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast. For now, I want to put aside my personal biases against the President to look at his remarks in as self-contained a fashion as I possibly can.

First, however, it is important to recognize context. The Prayer Breakfast is held annually in Washington to convene a diverse subset of the world’s leaders in faith. Previous guests have included Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Tony Blair and Bono (an odd mix, to be sure). Arthur C. Brooks was the keynote speaker this year, and as a Christian myself, his speech was one with which I identified strongly. Leaving aside his qualifications as a professor at the Harvard Kennedy and Business schools and a prominent center-right Catholic, he introduced himself as the author of a book entitled Love Your Enemies.” 

He led his case by citing scripture: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This line from Matthew’s gospel guides the core of his argument: that the only way to work through political polarization is to love and respect political enemies. Brooks adds a lesson from his father, saying that “true moral courage isn’t standing up to the people with whom you disagree. It’s standing up to the people with whom you agree — on behalf of those with whom you disagree.” And it makes sense; history reminds us how many people have had their voice silenced simply because they fail to conform to the majority. Suppression, hatred and bigotry have deep roots in American establishments and Christian establishments, along with many other cultures and creeds. So, Brooks challenged the audience – including the President, Vice President and Speaker – “to follow Jesus’ teaching and love your enemies. Ask God to remove political contempt from your heart. In your weakest moments, maybe even ask Him to help you fake it.”

And after Brooks yielded, his challenge was refused. After having appeared distracted (to my eyes, at least) through the duration of that keynote speech, the President of the United States said, “Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you.” Therein lies our nation’s problem. Rather than addressing the issue of political polarization and healing an increasingly divided nation, the President took time to widen the divide and distance himself from his “enemies.” Aside from the anecdotes that all point to a relatively dull takeaway that Jesus – and America – is good, one particularly disheartening moment came when the President spoke of the audience’s religiously diverse members. He said, “They like people, and sometimes they hate people.  I’m sorry . . . When they impeach you for nothing, then you’re supposed to like them? It’s not easy, folks.”

As Brooks argued, the whole point is that it isn’t easy to forgive and love your enemies; it is counter-cultural in the strongest sense of the word. While I may not be entitled to judge, I am frustrated by the wasted opportunity to use love to mend our nation’s wounds. The President’s disregard for that love and disagreement with rejecting contempt saddens me. That standoffish attitude on a national stage such as the Prayer Breakfast muddies the future of loving Christianity in our nation.

Speaking to the personal faith of the President poses a problem — I cannot (nor can anyone) know his heart and what he truly believes. For the record, he has publicly said things like, “[No book] beats the Bible,” and “I need [prayer] more than anybody in this room,” and these are likely the more humble among the President’s quotes.

While I cannot, in good faith, question what’s in his heart, the way that he displays that faith and encourages others to act is questionable at best, and counterproductive at worst. I agree with Brooks: one should love their enemies and those with whom you disagree, and always answer hateful contempt with love. Answering with love and being truthful always is the first step to healing our nation. Instead of reopening old political wounds, we need to step across aisles and into our neighbor’s world in order to love properly and work effectively as a nation.

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