“President-elected Donald Trump.” The phrase still has not sunk in. As I continue to process the election, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the contradictions of Trump’s candidacy: the billionaire who stiffs mom-and-pop businesses becoming the voice of the common man and woman, the son of an immigrant and husband to two women born overseas doubling-down on anti-immigrant rhetoric, and, most of all, the “baby Christian” embraced by evangelicals. It’s hard to choose, but it’s that last one that puzzles me most.
About 4 out of 5 evangelical voters supported Trump. Certainly, the factors are many, and any generalization of the “evangelical vote” oversimplifies. Even so, common concerns seemed to include the Supreme Court (usually short for Roe v. Wade), same-sex marriage (with which Trump, apparently, is actually fine), and a sense that the U.S. is becoming less of a “Christian nation” or, that Christians are somehow being persecuted for their faith.
Here’s the thing, though. Jesus said nothing directly about abortion or same-sex marriage. Yes, both issues certainly pertain to our faith, but the central issues of the culture wars can seem out-of-line with Jesus’ ministry. What did Jesus talk a whole heck of a lot about? Money.
Nearly half of Jesus’ parables address money and possessions.
It’s Jesus who tells the rich man who thought he kept all the commandments perfectly, to go and sell all his possessions and give them to the poor.
Jesus said, as clearly as can be, you cannot serve God and money.
And yet, Donald Trump’s entire brand is built on glitz, gaudiness, and greed. Unrepentantly, he’s a great lover of money. Trump’s infatuation with mammon cannot be squared with gospel.
In a new book, Walter Brueggemann writes, it is “simply astonishing that the church has willingly engaged in a misreading of the biblical text in order to avoid the centrality of money and possessions in its testimony” (xxi).
This isn’t to say all wealth is bad. Or that the wealthy necessarily have it easy. Henri Nouwen warns, in ”A Spirituality of Fundraising,” of prejudice against the rich. The rich, Nouwen says, “are also poor, but in other ways.” As always, it’s a question of relationships and priorities—our relationship with money and wealth, and our relationship with God and our neighbors. Money will always seek to become an idol, to draw us ever-closer, but Jesus calls us instead to follow him.
Jacques Ellul suggests there’s always a competition between “man and money” (as he puts it). For Ellul, money/mammon takes on near god status, its power seeks to be all-consuming and is necessarily corrupting. But, in that competition, “we must always side with humanity against the power of money.” Because, “this power wants to destroy us.” Ellul argues this right ordering of relationships and money extends even to business dealings. “When we see [business contacts] as our neighbor, s/he is once again fully human, an individual, a person to whom we are responsible.”
Given early indications from Trump’s decisions related to his transition team, questions of wealth and possessions may take a back seat to those of misogyny, racism, violence, nepotism, war, cronyism, international relations, and environmental catastrophe.
In other words, there is much work to do. I’ll certainly be praying daily for my brother Donald. But, in the weeks to come, I’ll also redouble my efforts—of teaching, preaching, service, and scholarship— relating to questions of money’s power in the world, and especially, money’s place in Christian life.
CC photo by Gage Skidmore