Now I’m really nervous!

Now I’m really nervous!

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The photo above taken at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington on Thursday February 2nd. shows President Trump ribbing Mark Burnett who had introduced him. Burnett is the producer of the TV show, ‘The Apprentice’ in which Trump starred. Transcript:

“I actually got on the phone and fired him (his previous agent) because he said, you don’t want to do it, it’ll (The Apprentice) never work… we had tremendous success on The Apprentice. And when I ran for President, I had to leave the show…. And they hired a big, big movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to take my place. And we know how that turned out. The ratings went down the tubes. It’s been a total disaster and Mark will never, ever bet against Trump again. And I want to just pray for Arnold if we can, for those ratings, OK?”

Later in the same address – from the transcript.
“The world is in trouble, but we’re going to straighten it out. OK? That’s what I do. I fix things. We’re going to straighten it out.”

I find it bizarre that the most powerful man in the world should talk in this way on this auspicious occasion to the leaders of the USA’s political and religious life. But this is not what made me anxious. The following quote from the transcript did.

Donald Trump has been talking for months about what he sees as a need to un-muzzle the religious community. He wants churches and religious leaders, religious groups to openly support political candidates and parties.  As it stands if they do this their organisations will lose their tax-exempt status. The legislation that defines this is the Johnson Amendment. Transcript:

“That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”

A founding principle of the United States is the separation of Church and State. This issue was promoted by Puritans, Anna Baptists, Mennonites and Brethren. What is more, they advocated freedom for individuals to worship in any way that seemed right to them. These groups had all suffered persecution and discrimination because of linkage between church and state in their own countries. They were determined that in this new country individuals would be free to worship as their conscience dictated. The role of the state would be confined to civil governance.

With the growth of the fundamentalist, evangelical church in the south of the US has come a push to weaken this separation. This is most visible in issues of public education; for instance, opposition to the teaching of evolution and advocacy of prayers in school.

The fundamental, evangelical churches form only one part of the Christian Church in the US. However, they are the largest grouping. The social and political measures they propose which would weaken the divide between church and state are in the main at odds with other sections of the American church. However, backed by their numbers and wealth they make it sound like they speak for all the churches of America. That is not so.

What President Trump is asking for with the support of the fundamentalist evangelical churches is a giant step in breaking down the divide between the separation of church and state.

With the Johnson amendment out of the way church leaders and churches and other religious groups, can sponsor particular politician’s and openly support specific parties. Leaders of mega churches with their own television networks, and the smaller churches under their sway could preach/proclaim as part of their normal ministry, that supporting a certain party or candidate is a move towards the kingdom of God. They have already been quietly doing this and in the recent election their efforts were in part responsible for Trump’s victory.

Fundamentalist, evangelical churches all believe Jesus is coming back soon – at any moment! Quite apart from the day of judgment he will fix up decrepit and decaying world and usher in the glories of his perfect kingdom. The order of these developments are hotly debated but all agree on the splendour and purity of the new world. They either don’t believe that global warming is happening or simply don’t care. Also, the roots of judgemental views of other races and cultures and the dogged determination to support Israel come what may, are also found in prophetic beliefs of fundamentalists Christians, and, incidentally, of fundamentalist Jews.

Over a number of years we lived and worked in the US both north and south. I have no confidence that the US would be a better place if these Bible-believing, born-again, spirit -filled Christians were in charge. We have people in our Centre from Iran, where religious people have all the say. None of them ever want to see this system duplicated anywhere in the world no matter which religion is in charge.

In New Zealand we have division between church and state. We do have a large number of religious schools, the biggest in the country is Presbyterian. I don’t know of any of them who push for a creationist understanding of the universe – there probably are some. Currently, there is a debate about teaching scripture in school. Due to parent pressure, the practice has been stopped in the school nearest us. I think this debate is healthy and it doesn’t worry me if the teaching if Bible in Schools is dropped. In my ministry, I have encountered cases where children have been terrified by jealous Scripture in School teacher’s lurid accounts the second coming and hell. On the other hand, my observation is that attending a church school with all it’s compulsory religion is in the majority of cases an effective inoculation against ever belonging to a local church.

In Jesus’ day the issues between the religion and the state were many and constant. Injustice and exploitation abounded. He felt personally the pain in the world but in respect to fixing it he told his disciples to start where they were with themselves and those near them. It was as if in his mind the great powers with their pomp and ceremony were irrelevant. The kingdom he talked about would come through personal compassion, forgiveness and generosity on a one-to-one basis.

Trump is using the fundamentalist churches to get his own way. For their part, these churches are using Trump to get power.  It’s a kind of a trade-off. To me, it all smells and it is not the aroma of life.

Stan Stewart

PS: A hero of mine is the 39th President, Jimmy Carter, judged by many to be the most Christian of all the Presidents. He was a life- long member of the Southern Baptist Church, the largest denomination in the US and the largest in the fundamentalist, evangelical grouping. He left the church in 2000 because of their attitude toward women.

I love this quote:
“America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense human rights invented America.” 
Jimmy Carter

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