We are in the midst of yet another dark chapter in American history, which is replete with various crimes against humanity including genocide, murder, chattel slavery, warfare for profit, and being the only nation to ever drop nuclear weapons on another country– the second bomb being a weapons test and not strategically “necessary”. Donald Trump ran for president using a pair of campaign slogans that many people saw immediately as dangerous, racist, and xenophobic, as well as having striking parallels to Nazi rhetoric. The slogans are Make America Great Again (aka Make America White Again) and America First! And like in Nazi Germany in the 20th century, there were people within mainstream Christianity that sanctioned these movements towards white supremacy which prompted Karl Barth to write the Barmen Declaration denouncing the German church aligned with Hitler. In America prominent fundamentalist such as Jerry Falwell Jr and Franklin Graham have jumped aboard the so-called “Trump Train” much to the horror of people who take Jesus seriously and to historians who can see the clear parallels.
Even a perfunctory examination of these slogans and the resultant tactics, policies, and rhetoric that has come as a result of Trump’s election shows that “Trumpism” and other forms of race based nationalism, result in putrid, rotten fruit. America has historically never lived up to its rhetoric as “beacon on the hill” or a place of “freedom”. As previously mentioned, our history is tainted with all manner of sins on a systemic level and now America is doubling down on systemic sinfulness because Trump’s victory has emboldened blatantly racist people and exposed the sweeping nature of latent bigotry in America as well. Historically then “Make America Great Again” is absurd. America has never been truly great in terms of equality, human rights, peace making, and actual democracy.
America First! is theologically speaking bankrupt, and devoid of good spiritual fruit. Nothing in the teachings of Jesus points to this type of nativism and exclusion. In fact, Jesus showed precisely the opposite behavior. While he wanted Jews to nonviolently resist the systemically oppressive Roman Empire, who utilized state sponsored terrorism and showed favoritism to religious and social elites as a means of controlling the broader peasant population, he also healed a centurion’s slave (which was likely a coercive sexual relationship, as was common in the Roman empire among those who enslaved others). Jesus also derided religious elitism and legalism. He denounced so called law and order by healing on the Sabbath, by touching so-called unclean persons, and especially when he cleansed the temple of the money changers, to name only a few instances. That particular act of political dissent, which was hardly civil, is what got him executed as an enemy of the Roman state despite pseudo-Christian Paula White saying Jesus couldn’t be messiah if he’d broken the law. She might want to read the Gospels again…
Saying America First! automatically creates an Us versus Them dichotomy. It says, “I as am American am more valuable than you who are not.” Not only that, it is clearly meant to highlight the spurious notion of white supremacy that white nationalist harbor. Trump’s racism is no secret. It has been thoroughly documented since the 1970s and 80s. His words and actions have been calculated, dog whistles to incite his racist base who then feed his obvious narcissism. None of this is in keeping with the teachings of the Prince of Peace, whose Sermon on the Mount is one of the world’s most profound spiritual teachings for how to live NOW and not in some idealized spiritual heaven outside our humanity. Jesus announced the Kindom of God and expects us to live into that while we are alive as I understand the Gospel message.
America First! leads to human rights abuses against immigrants seeking asylum, who often leave their homes as a direct result of America’s foreign policy. How any Christian can read Matthew 7:12 and then think it’s justifiable to separate children from their parents for any reason other than obvious child endangerment is a mystery to me. ” In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” That is Jesus’ version of the Golden Rule. I cannot imagine anyone who wants to traumatize their own children, so why are so many ostensibly Christian people standing behind Trump and his blatantly bigoted, authoritarian, and truly satanic policies?
Americans who claim to follow Jesus as Christians are at a crossroads once again. The largest denomination in the country , the Southern Baptist Convention, was founded by people who enslaved their African brothers and sisters as well as those who sanctioned it. There were voices against slavery in those days and some Christians chose to ignore them. Now, just as there were in Nazi Germany, there are Christian voices of dissent speaking truth to power about matters of systemic oppression, wealth hoarding, warfare, and much of what America’s politicians are doing at home and abroad. We cannot truly claim to follow Jesus while simultaneously holding onto views like #MAGA and #AmericaFirst. These are mutually exclusive ideas and they cannot be faithfully reconciled. As Christ said later in Matthew 7, trees will be known by their fruit. America’s fruit is too often rotten and Trump’s fruit is vile, foul, and putrid. I pray for the courage to stand firm in my Christian duty to resist such policies and politicians, while also knowing that those who enact them are loved unconditionally by the Creator.
Grace and peace be with you.
Dillon Naber Cruz