A Christian Witness in Partisan Times

Last week I had our church secretary send out a letter from Harold Delhagen, the leader of the Synod of the Northeast of the Presbyterian Church USA. Harold wrote an open letter to members of Presbyterian churches in our region, reflecting on President Trump’s disdainful and condescending manner of speaking about people from certain countries that he considers inferior and from where he would prefer people not immigrate to the US. I wrote a short cover letter in which I asked people to pray for the president, our nation, and ourselves as we seek to bear witness to Christian character in the face of the President’s dismissal of people he seems to believe are below him. My observation was that is not a Christian attitude or position.

I received an anonymous letter in the mail today which mistakes my attempt to provide Christian guidance and theological reflection for what the writer of the letter called “serving as a shill for the left.” (By the way, the writer used the Irish spelling of my last name in addressing the letter — “Prendergast,” which is always fun to see! My ancestors somehow lost that spelling when they crossed the ocean.)

Anyway, the letter reminds me of a time when I was living in Iowa and I preached a pro-life sermon in which I expressed my gratitude that the state legislature of Iowa had taken a stand against the death penalty. My sermon was organized around the pro-life teachings of the Bible. All one of the elderly gentlemen in the congregation could hear was a partisan argument, and said to me as he left the sanctuary, “Well, I see you’re taking your sermon material from the Des Moines Register!”

I am not, as the anonymous writer of the letter stated, “a mouthpiece for the Democratic party.” I seek to provide a Christian analysis of the political and social issues of the day. And, truth be told, my comments about the president are nowhere near as harsh as those of the good old conservative columnists, George Will and David Brooks, both of whom write political columns. I seek to encourage spiritual reflection on the world around us.

Neither were my remarks as critical as the pronouncements of Old Testament prophets, Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea and company, all of whom were unstinting critics of the kings of Israel. In the old days (I’m talking roughly Renaissance era) there was a tradition of literature that was expressed in a document called the “Mirror for Magistrates.” This was a collection of cautionary tales for earthly rulers who were encouraged to look in the mirror and see their faults, and be warned to improve their lives.

It may be the Mr. Trump is not so much racist as he is an arrogant, privileged elitist who is so unaware of and insensitive to ordinary people that he just doesn’t know any better than to speak with contempt of people that our Christian Scriptures remind us are our brothers and sisters, fellow humans made in God’s image, and who are worthy of our respect. I pray that, even at the old age he has reached, Mr. Trump might learn some humility and wisdom.

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