Okay, the Donald doesn’t go to my church, the one I pastor. He goes to a church in New York City, Marble Collegiate Church, which is a church in my denomination, the Reformed Church of America. In a small denomination like ours, finding out Trump attends an RCA church was like finding out he has been slipping into the back of my church unnoticed.
I’ll be honest, my reaction to reading that Trump holds membership at a church in the RCA was visceral. When the church made a public statement distancing itself from Trump by saying that he is not active, I actually felt better. Donald Trump, from what I can tell from my limited exposure to The Apprentice and interviews, is not someone I would enjoy spending time with. He’s arrogant, abrasive, hyperbolic, and seems to lack compassion. With a high profile individual like Trump, with his name literally branded on some of the tallest buildings in the country, it wouldn’t take long for his name to overtake your church.
“Oh, you go to Trump’s church.”
“No,” I’d reply with the sidest side-eyes that ever side-eyed, “I go to Jesus’ church,” making sure to emphasize my spiritual superiority by Jesus-juking the possessive statement “Trump’s church.” “Trump just happens to show up for a little wine.”
This, admittedly, was my first reaction. See, I don’t want the Donald to go to my church. It embarrasses me that he might be associated with a denomination that I love. His attendance, in my mind, is like some sort of tarnish; a reason to classify our expression of faith as something it is not. To think that his politics of immigration might be associated with our theology of loving our neighbor upsets me. Or the possibility that his flippant remarks around the Eucharist might be confused for, and diminish our reverence for the sacrament. When I’m authentic, no, I don’t want Donald Trump to be a part of my church.
Which reveals that deep down, my heart is similar to Donald’s. I don’t want Donald in my church for the same reason Donald doesn’t want Mexicans in America: I don’t really love him and I’m not interested in trying.
Let me be clear. Love for Donald Trump isn’t about loving the candidate in a flag-waving, rally-cheering, he’s-getting-my-vote kind of way. I’m talking about loving the actual person. And when I say I don’t love him, it means I don’t love Donald Trump as I love myself. I have made Donald the other, willing and able to exclude him from fellowship because he doesn’t make me comfortable. I’m able to write him off because he thinks differently than I do. Even, willing to scoff at any claim he makes at being a Christian because he won’t name his favorite Bible verse or refers to the Lord’s Supper as a little cracker and wine.
If I am being honest, Donald’s nonchalant, nominal approach to faith is pretty common. There are a lot of people in churches across America who approach faith in a similar manner. There’s probably some in my church right now. And I gladly welcome them into my church in the hopes that one day they will have a Damascus Road experience and get it. I give them grace. But I won’t give it to Donald. Why?
I think it has something to do with the fact that Donald is so public, and that he’s a lightning rod. People love him or hate him. He speaks his mind and you know exactly where he stands. And, it seems, he isn’t going to be changing anytime soon (again, just how many people in my church does this describe? A lot, probably.). Or maybe, I don’t want Donald to be a part of my church because he is cartoonish. The hair, the over the top love of his name, having everything dipped in gold – it just seems like a grown up, cynical Richie Rich.
But, if I believe that grace is big, that everyone is deserving of it, that Jesus does not demand sinners to get right before they come into his presence, then I have to admit that that includes Donald Trump. Regardless of whether or not I want Donald Trump in my church, Donald is welcome in my church because I don’t get to stand at the door and let in only the people I like. Jesus stands at the door. Who he let’s in or keeps out is his divine prerogative.
All I’m asked to do is love my neighbor as myself.
Even if it’s Donald Trump.
Loving my neighbor one of the hardest things to do – especially when Jesus chooses my neighbor for me.