By Keith Mannes
A church-guy in our town is flying a flag which depicts Donald Trump as Rambo. Seriously! It is an airbrushed cartoon, with Donald Trump’s head attached to the body of Rambo, with a rocket launcher in his hands. This is an elaborate fantasy — on oh-so-many levels.
How did that church-guy get to the place in his mind where he would relish a fantasy like that? Figuratively, Trump is launching rockets every day. Meanwhile, one of his main bases of support comes from Christians. Why do the 81% so easily dismiss, minimize, and side-step the many evils of this man? Why do they attend Trump’s bombastic rallies? How did the Rambo-Trump flag-flyer, and the church with him, get so mean?
Maybe he grew up like me. I was born and raised in the Christian Reformed Church. There is much to be thankful for in that. There was also some weird circuitry in the motherboard of our theology.
We had weird circuitry, for example, with King David. David was, as every preacher always glowingly pointed out, a man after God’s own heart. David, the gentle shepherd, sang worship songs with his Old Testament guitar. Then he killed lions with his bare hands. David also worshiped while dancing nearly naked, because he loved God so much. Then killed 200 Philistines and cut off their foreskins so that he could buy a wife. Somehow sermons about David always ended up talking about Jesus, and how David was a forerunner of Christ.
We loved Moses, because he had a speech impediment and had to overcome his own insecurities. He had to find courage, and the first sign of his emerging sense of justice was when he killed an Egyptian slave-driver. Later, Moses waved God’s staff and the Egyptian army was drowned in the Red Sea. I loved that – how the walls of water saved our people, and then the walls collapsed to kill our enemies.
We wandered in the desert for forty years. All kinds of suffering and sin happened to us. Like in Numbers 25 when those pagan Moabite women tempted our guys, and it was a sex-fest out there. Then Phineas the righteous hero stopped the plague by killing two people with his spear.
Oh — and Samson, and all those Philistines he killed with the jawbone of a donkey. At the moment of his repentance, he humbled himself before God and sacrificed his life and in the process killed thousands of pagan sinners. And then we talked about Jesus and grace.
You see where I’m going with these very quick examples: the weird circuitry says that God’s heroes stopped sin by slaughtering God’s enemies. Maybe you also noticed what I did there: The Egyptians and the Moabites were the enemies of “our people.” That’s what was preached.
With the slip of a few words, images, and brain synapses, we imaged ourselves, fervently, as ancient Israelites. So, when Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, that was us, marching around the city and killing every man, woman, child, and animal. When Jael pounded a tent peg into Sisera’s brain, that was our gutsy act of faith.
That’s how we get to the place where a devout, church-going, Bible-reading, prayer-offering, Jesus-talking man imagines the work of God is best done with Rambo-Trump as president. A flat, unnuanced, literal reading of the Bible tells him so. This is why Donald Trump was so quickly and easily embraced by Christians. People say, “Oh, I don’t like how Trump talks, and I know he’s an awful person, but he sure does good things.” These people would vote for Samson for president.
We desperately need to rewire the motherboard with Jesus. The era of Moses, Jael, David, and Samson is over. Those people have been replaced and surpassed by Jesus, the Good Samaritan of the world, who stoops down to tend the wounds of the weak and who carries them to safety. It is Jesus who stands in defense of a sinful woman about to be executed under Mosaic Law. It is Jesus who taught that anyone who speaks with cruelty to another person is in danger of the fires of hell. Jesus says love your enemies and pray for them.
In a nation where gun sales are at record highs and people are digging up the shrink-wrapped weaponry in their backyards because they have been stoked into frenzy by Trump’s racial fury, we do well to remember Jesus speaking, as if calming the waves of the sea, to the wild-eyed, sword-brandishing disciple in Gethsemane, saying, “Put your sword back in its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 27:52) Jesus said he could call down armies of angels if he needed or wanted armies to accomplish his mission. He rejected the idea that he was leading an earthly rebellion: “My Kingdom is not from this world.” (John 18:36). In contrast to Samson, when Jesus humbled himself and laid down his life, he saved sinners.
“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of this world” (II Corinthians 10:4). Rambo-Trump, selling a racist, hate-filled, dominant, violent Christianity, has proven himself to be anti-Christ.
Abandon, then, the weird, evil, motherboard of Trumpism. Rewire and refresh your mind and soul in the life, example, and teaching of the true Lord of the Kingdom. Leave the meanness. Pray and work against it, and together let us lean into the peace and goodness of Christ.
Keith Mannes is a CRC pastor who recently left his most recent congregation. You can read more about Keith’s journey and story here.