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Essay

That Which Offends

By July 5, 2016 22 Comments
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Once again summer schedules and the calendar mean I am composing this blog five days before it will appear.  I won’t know what my colleagues posted in the meanwhile and wonder how many people will be reading a blog on the day after the Fourth of July in the U.S.  But here goes as I tee up on a recent event–an event that reminded me of Tony Campolo.

As many of you readers probably know, Campolo used to get people’s attention at Christian colleges by opening his public lectures by saying “Thousands of children die of hunger every day and you don’t give a s#*t.    And do you know why I know that?   Because right now far more of you are concerned that I said ‘s#*t’ than you are concerned about those thousands of children I also mentioned.”  I was reminded of this when James Dobson spoke to reporters after a meeting with Donald Trump in which the presumptive nominee (we will soon have to drop the “presumptive” part) supposedly made a commitment to Christ.   Dobson assured us Trump is just a “baby Christian” and part of the evidence for this was the bothersome fact that in his own remarks after the meeting, Trump used the word “hell” four or so times.   Dobson said that the fact that Trump still “doesn’t speak our language” was evidence of the infancy of his Christianity but that it would no doubt get cleaned up eventually.

Curious that there has not been much worry from the evangelicals voting for and now endorsing Trump about so many other pieces of his language.   Say “hell” in front of Dobson and company and the polite evangelical leaders wince.   But mock a disabled reporter, disparage whole people groups in bigoted hate speech, call everyone who disagrees with you a “loser,” go on Howard Stern’s radio show and talk dirty as a street rat about women and sex, and be the very epitome of racism in deriding a judge with a Mexican lineage and it’s fine.  Just don’t swear, um Himmels willen!

Is it too obvious to point out the sad hypocrisy here?   This is not to say that coarse language is not a concern–the Apostle Paul surely listed it as a vice along with other sins on his various lists of traits that ought not characterize Christ’s followers.   But I assume the Pharisees in Jesus’ day did not swear and yet what they did say about the poor and marginalized was evidence, Jesus himself once noted, of what came out from the overflow of their hearts.   The outside of the cup was shiny clean but the inside was full of gunk, and the latter was Jesus’ bigger concern.

I also find it curious that in the nearly eight years of his presidency and in the two years he ran for the office before that, Barack Obama has never cut loose with bad language–I have never heard so much as a “darn” or a “dang” from him.  He has been measured and careful and generous in his speech, and all along I also have had the feeling that in addition to being the leader of the free world, Obama knows he is the father of two teenaged daughters and he wants to set an example of what civil speech sounds like.  And yet the President’s Christian faith has never been believed by some Christians in this country and it surely has made no difference in how he has been attacked and characterized over the years.   Mr. Trump himself has benefited enormously in the eyes of many by doubting Obama’s faith and casting him as a closet Muslim who is in cahoots in some weird way with terrorists–indeed, Trump did this again after the recent shooting in Orlando.  But I guess that kind of thing does not offend evangelical leaders.  Indeed, I think they have quietly–and sometimes not-so-quietly–cheered such suggestions on over the years.

A few years ago I was the guest preacher at a church and shook hands with a man at the narthex door.  The man’s suit coat sported a cross-shaped lapel pin filled in with the American flag.   I find that deeply offensive for all kinds of reasons.   The wrapping of the cross with the flag and the linkage of evangelical Christianity with only one brand of politics in the United States is a very big problem–it borders on heresy at times. But we have become blind to this to the point that it’s only the occasional “damn” and “hell” that gives pause.   As Tony Campolo might point out, this merely highlights our upside-down sensibilities on so many things.

The Fourth of July is over.  It’s now a quick summer slide to Labor Day and what promises to be the most ugly political spectacle most of us will have ever witnessed.   There will be besetting sins on all sides, mistakes made on all sides, bad and nasty things said on all sides.  To be honest, I dread it.   Keeping clear-eyed as Christians on what really matters–and on what should truly make the Church distinct–are all going to be sorely tested.   Perhaps the best any of us can do is what another person named Dobson (the late Rev. Ed Dobson) did the year he tried to live like Jesus: read and re-read the Gospels every single day.  Maybe marinating ourselves with our Lord through his Word will be the best way to let the Spirit keep us oriented to that which is rightly offensive and that which is not.

 

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee is Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.

22 Comments

  • Daniel James Meeter says:

    Excellent, and thanks.

  • Rodger and Ruth Rice says:

    Thanks, Scott, for this insightful essay. You have helped us see more clearly. But, my, how murky things are. We are daily reading the Gospels (thanks for your example, Ed Dobson) and praying. Heaven help us.

  • Grace Shearer says:

    Thanks, Scott. I particularly appreciate your comment about President Obama. Keep up the good work.

  • Kathleen Miller says:

    Thanks. You have eloquently said what I’ve been thinking.

  • Gordon says:

    Well said Thanks Scott

  • James Dekker says:

    I have quit self-identifying as Evangelical long ago and the recent endorsements and playing the harlot with Trump only buried the epithet deeper in my past. Thanks, Scott.

  • Read the Op-Ed piece in today’s NY TImes by Peter Wehner (head of a conservative think tank) on why Trump’s worldview aligns not with that of Jesus but with that of Nietzsche.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/05/opinion/campaign-stops/the-theology-of-donald-trump.html

  • Mark Vermaire says:

    Thanks very much, Scott.

  • douglasbrouwer says:

    Wish Dobson (and others) would be looking for love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, as evidence of Trump’s growing faith. Thanks, Scott.

  • Tony Diekema says:

    Superbly written, Scott………….your very civil approach to a deadly problem among evangelicals is extraordinary. Thanks so much!
    Tony Diekema

  • Joyce Kronemeyer says:

    Extremely well written.

  • Ron Rozema says:

    So good to be reminded again of the perspective you articulate so well. Tempers discouragement. Thanks!

  • Bruce says:

    Thank you, Scott.

  • Sarina Moore says:

    I love another thing Ed Dobson used to say: “Getting to know Jesus will mess you up.”

    Thank you for this, Scott.

  • Scott, thanks so much for your articulate and timely words.

    I am a faculty member at a public university and, contrary to many opinions, it is not that difficult to be a Christian and an academic (at least in the sciences). However, it is difficult to get my peers to take evangelical Christianity seriously when events such as this occur. If Dobson, Falwell et al. want to support Trump for political reasons, then they should simply acknowledge that. Wrapping Trump in some combination of cross and flag to justify that support is both naive and hypocritical given Trump’s words and actions. Evangelical Christians have lost whatever remained of their “high ground” by suggesting that Trump is a Christian, young or not, or exemplifies Christian virtues. As Wehner points out in his op-ed piece in the NY Times, Trump’s values are the antithesis of a Christian.

    I also am in some dread of what will occur over the next few months leading up to the election. I also dread the inevitable questions from my colleagues about why Christians (and they don’t differentiate “evangelical” from other Christians) support Trump. I will do my best to answer these questions but my responses will be drowned out by these unhelpful comments of evangelical leaders.

  • Gwen Snoeyink says:

    It seems our nation has sunk to the point where it’s not possible to nominate and elect a Christian…..so we find ourselves with the choices of Clinton and Trump. As Christians, we are called to work to restore culture to the beauty of God’s holiness….inch by inch. While Obama does not use the crass language of Trump, he has, among other things, done immeasurable damage to the sanctity of marriage and the family, undermined God’s order in creating people with a given gender, and, by omission, has hamstrung our military so that they are unable to crush those who are drowning people in cages, burning people alive, decapitating people………. While it sounds noble to be against war …..and to let people chaotically immigrate without any submission to law, these do not promote order and beauty. Hillary will continue Obama’s rush to godlessness. She has proven to be driven by greed and power and has stated she will do everything in her power to maintain the “right to choose” which kills the very lives that God has ordained. I am very encouraged by the cross/ flag pin and find it odd that it is so disturbing to you. This pin is a symbol of the belief that the U.S. is the one place on earth where (we once) could practice our Christianity freely and use our Christian principles to bring blessing to our neighbors (Christian or not….God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. His principles bring blessing to those who believe in Him and those who do not.) We have seen the stripes of Obama and of Hillary. Trump is imperfect also, but he offers some hope for growth in godliness which I have no hope for in Clinton. That’s why this evangelical is voting for Trump.

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    In reply to Gwen S.: I find the lapel pin offensive because it represents a form of idolatry of the state and the very conflation of Christian faith with any given nation that your post reflects quite well. Barack Obama is a Christian. So is Jimmy Carter. But neither would agree with your idea that the national government needs to become a theocracy enforcing Christian principles on non-Christian citizens. People who are transgendered got that way through no fault of their own–you can see it as a sign of a fallen creation but that does not mean we do not love such people as Christians and it certainly does not mean we disenfranchise the basic rights of liberty to them on account of a disordered sexuality. When you are president, you are president of all the people: Muslims, Jews, Hindus, agnostics, gays . . . and so you don’t apportion justice or the rule of law in case you find their religion or their beliefs (or lack thereof) disagreeing with your own. That would be deeply undemocratic, deeply anti-American. Someone can count as a “Christian” without first having to pass a bunch of socio-cultural litmus tests to determine if they are the right “kind” of Christian really to count. Or to put it in a different light: The Apostle Paul wrote the Letter to the Romans to people living under a godless, idolatrous, horrendously immoral Roman regime. Indeed, the Roman Christians lived in the capital city of all that. Yet nowhere does Paul suggest they rebel against the government until a Christian Caesar took over or agitate to get laws passed that would disenfranchise all those who did not meet some standard of Christian conduct. In fact, Paul urges them to support the government through taxes and respect the authorities as God’s own servant to maintain order. If Paul could do that vis-a-vis Rome, I don’t understand why Christians in a free society like America cannot keep these various lines clear and separate.

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    Hello Gwen,

    I tend to agree with much of what you have said there, but I will disagree on a couple fronts. I think that Trump is worse than just “imperfect” by a long shot. Clearly no candidate is ever a perfect candidate. To dismiss concerns about Trump by saying he is merely imperfect I think really sells short how deficient he is a candidate.

    I also see no reason to have hope for growth in godliness. Frankly, Trump has shown himself to be too egotistical and unteachable to learn. Can you think of one single example of him taking criticism well? I think he represents everything that is base and degrading about our culture and he wears his immorality as a badge of honor. Don’t be fooled by his lip service and pandering to various power and influence-hungry Christian “leaders”. And I happen to think that Hillary Clinton has no more of a moral compass, but rather she just happens to have a filter.

    Not very encouraging from a simply human perspective, methinks. Thankfully we don’t look to politics and government for our meaning, mission, worth, or salvation.

  • James Dekker says:

    First Things posted this article today, which speaks to Donald Trump’s faith–a corruption of Norman Vincent Peale’s: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/08/donald-trump-man-of-faith

    I can’t wish Peale’s relationship to the RCA away, but this article makes some pretty stunning inferences which are reasonable and evidence-based. Tump’s affinity for insulting and attacking anyone who doesn’t agree with him is certainly a way to influence people, perhaps convince fearful people to vote for him, b/c he offers simplistic and impossible-to-achieve promises–many of which contradict any value Jesus taught and lived by. But has Trump ever won any true friends?

  • ottens2013 says:

    Trump is an easy target, and great fun to ridicule. Why not use the exquisite point of your dissecting pen to give equal time to Hillary, whose deceptions and malfeasance we cannot afford to ignore, neither as good citizens of our country nor concerned members of God’s church.

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