Top Dog

Screenshot 2017-06-03 09.28.17As I write, I am sitting in a sunny room in my mother-in-law’s home in Edinburgh, Scotland.  (Yes, it’s not often one can put “sunny” and “Scotland” in the same sentence.)  I confess to some reluctance to leaving the house today, for that would mean facing my Scottish relatives and friends who are aghast at the behavior of the President of the United States.

I have considered wearing a bag over my head when I go out, but that probably wouldn’t work.  As soon as I opened my mouth, my accent would betray me. I might as well own up to the fact that “my” President is a profound embarrassment not only to me, but to the world.  His most recent equivalent to an upraised middle finger is his announcement that the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accords.

Writing in the New York Times, David Brooks rightly points out the amoral basis upon which my President makes his decisions.

This week, two of Donald Trump’s top advisers, H. R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, wrote the following passage in The Wall Street Journal: “The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a cleareyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”

My President never learned to sing “Jesus loves the little children – all the children of the world . . .”  He fails to grasp the fundamental concept of “neighbor” that lies at the heart of Christian ethics.

That’s why, even if he were to accept the scientific evidence for climate change, he would still reject the Paris accords on the grounds that other countries might get the better deal – might gain some advantage in the endless struggle to get ahead of their competitors.  Never mind that, historically speaking, the United States is the world’s greatest carbon polluter.  What’s important is today’s deal – today’s opportunity to win.

For that’s what the world is through my president’s eyes – a field of perpetual and brutal competition.  On the personal level, it’s “Donald first.”  On the global level, it’s “America first.”

My President has put a new spin on the concept of “American exceptionalism.”  The term used to suggest that American had a unique mission to make the world a better place – to be a “city set upon a hill,” a beacon of hope to the downtrodden and beleaguered, a nation willing to take moral leadership in the global community.  Under Mr. Trump, America doesn’t even pretend to aspire to such moral high ground.  We’re just one more dog in in a dog-eat-dog world – and a snarling, vicious one at that.

As I lead worship every Lord’s Day I pray aloud for the President of the United States.  I pray that he will be guided by the Holy Spirit and graced with wisdom, forbearance, and insight.  I will continue to make that prayer, for I truly hope that he will repent and open himself to God’s leading.

If he does, the first question he will have to struggle with is, “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus has an answer for him, but to receive it, he must have ears to hear.

Boys on the Bus

screenshot-2016-10-11-09-37-23Plenty of writers more widely read that I have commented on the Donald Trump “bus video.”  If you decide not to read this blog, I don’t blame you.

On the tape Mr. Trump can be heard boasting about groping women and attempting to seduce them.  He can act this way, he tells his conversation partner, because his status as a TV star guarantees him impunity.

I’m not surprised by this video.  It strikes me as entirely consistent with my earlier assessment of Mr. Trump’s moral core.  His behavior on the recording is reprehensible, but not out of character.  Nor am I scandalized by the vulgar language on the tape.  In my college days I worked on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.  I heard much the same from the lips of roustabouts and roughnecks.  That kind of talk has always made me cringe, but it doesn’t shock.

What bothers me most about this tawdry business is Mr. Trump’s non-apology.  His response is to say that he is not proud of what’s on the tape, but it’s just “locker room talk” – mere words.  His clear implication is that, when they are sure they will not be overheard by women, all men speak that way.

Well, they don’t.  I don’t.  My sons don’t.  The men I work with don’t. The men I exercise with don’t.  And the men I am proud to call my friends don’t.

I’m a Calvinist.  I believe all men (and all women) are sinners.  That doesn’t mean that all men speak of women with contempt, disdain, and condescension, or that they joke about violating their own marriage vows.

I’m a sinner, just like my brother Donald, but I don’t like being tarred with his brush just because we’re both men.  On the lips of teenage boys “locker room talk” is a sign of immaturity.  Coming from a grown man of 59 years it’s a sign of arrested moral development.

There is, of course, Biblical precedence. King David famously impregnated another man’s wife and arranged for her husband to be killed in battle.  David was both an adulterer and a murderer, but David came to himself and repented before God.

Brother Donald is different. Although he describes himself as a “strong Christian,” it’s not likely we will see Mr. Trump in sackcloth and ashes.  His lack of repentance is the saddest aspect of this sad episode

I said much the same about Bill Clinton back in the day.  But, you might have noticed, Bill Clinton isn’t running for President.