On Christmas Day our congregation worshiped by praying the Christmas liturgy followed by a service of Lessons and Carols adapted from the historic Service of Nine Lessons and Carols presented each Christmas Eve by the choir of Kings College, Cambridge, England. In our slightly shortened version, seven scripture lessons tell of the Incarnation in the birth of Jesus. A familiar Advent or Christmas carol is sung in response to each lesson. The entire service is a moving declaration of the foundation of the Christian faith – Jesus, the Christ, was born among us and recognized by those who heard the good news as Immanuel, God with us.
A few days after Christmas I saw a post on Facebook quoting the Rev. Franklin Graham as saying that Donald Trump’s win was the answer to the prayers of many: “Trump won because ‘God showed up.’” I found this troubling because what I have learned of Trump’s words and actions so far seems to be at odds with the God who is described in the liturgy and scripture lessons we had read in church just two days before. Thus I undertook a comparison.
Lessons One and Two are taken from the prophesies about the Messiah recorded in the book of Isaiah. The first tells of God’s intention for the reign of the Messiah: “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.” The second expands on the nature of the rule of Christ, giving special attention to the poor and meek: “with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth,” and concluding with examples of how natural adversaries will live together without doing harm to each other: “they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.”
Far from speaking of justice, peace, and equity, Trump regularly uses belligerent language regarding U.S. relations with other groups and nations. He has threatened a trade war with China and upset the delicate balance of diplomatic relations by conversing on the phone with the President of Taiwan. In March he indicated a willingness to consider using nuclear weapons against Daesh (a/k/a ISIS), and a few days before Christmas he wrote that “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” thereby signaling possible abandonment of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a return to a potentially catastrophic nuclear arms race. He does not seem to comprehend the immense danger to life on our planet that a nuclear attack and inevitable counter-attack would present.
In the Christmas liturgy which began the service, we read together Mary’s Song of Praise, also called The Magnificat, found in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. In it Mary sings of her joy in being blessed by God and describes what God is accomplishing through the birth and ministry of Jesus. “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
Trump seems to be far more interested in lifting up the rich than in providing for the hungry. A multi-billionaire himself, he has named seven picks for Cabinet and other top-level positions who are collectively worth an estimated eleven billion dollars. Historians note that, if all are confirmed, Trump’s will be the richest Cabinet in history. When asked why he didn’t include some people of more modest means, he replied, “Because I want people that made a fortune.” In a number of these cases “making” a fortune includes being born or marrying into great wealth rather than earning most of it by one’s own labor. Whether or not these nominees can relate in any way to the ordinary citizens whom they are to serve remains to be seen.
As for programs that provide basic sustenance to the needy, Trump’s statements have been muddled and contradictory, making it difficult to know exactly what he intends. Derek Thompson, writing in The Atlantic immediately after the election, noted that, if the promised six billion dollar tax cut, which would overwhelmingly benefit wealthy individuals and corporations, and repeal of the Affordable Care Act are both passed, it will be much harder to be poor in America. And though Trump has stated that he will protect Social Security and Medicare, his naming of Rep. Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services puts in charge a man whose top legislative goals have been a radical remaking of those very programs.
The final scripture reading in the Lessons and Carols is taken from the first chapter of the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. .... In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John is speaking of Jesus here. We affirmed that message as we sang in an anthem earlier in the season, “Jesus, the Light of the World.”
This leads to what is perhaps the most unsettling comparison of all. Steve Bannon, for months one of Trump’s closest advisers and CEO of his campaign, has been named to the position of Chief Strategist in the White House once Trump takes office. In an interview with Michael Wolff of The Hollywood Reporter soon after the election, Bannon asserted, “Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That's power. It only helps us when they” (comment by Wolff: I believe by “they” he means liberals and the media) “get it wrong. When they're blind to who we are and what we're doing.”
So there you have it. The God of Holy Scripture sent Jesus to be the Light of the World, Immanuel, God with us. And the Chief Strategist for the President-elect chooses darkness and the power of Satan. So I must ask Franklin Graham and all his followers, to what God did you pray? What God showed up to influence our election? This I know – it is not a God that I recognize or choose to worship.