I am in the process of writing a post entitled “
Five Six Seven Views Of God and the Corona Virus”. The Post keeps changing the more I read and think about it. In considering all the different ways that I have heard people express their view of God and the Corona Virus, there was one particular viewpoint that stood out to me. That is, the viewpoint that God can be used or invoked to further a political agenda. For the record, this is a viewpoint that I find particularly offensive.
This viewpoint was reinforced for me this week from events having to do with the Black Lives Matter movement. Dan, a friend from High School posted the following on Facebook [emphasis mine]:
I promised myself that I wouldn’t write about Trump anymore, but this is such a perfect example of the “Straw Man” fallacy I talked about last week that I couldn’t let it go. (Mike’s note: Dan had posted on Facebook last week about different types of logical fallacies. The “Straw Man” fallacy is one where someone “deliberately misrepresents another person’s argument, re-frames it as something extreme and ridiculous, and then attacks that “Straw Man” instead.”)
First of all, let’s make one thing clear. Trump lies. He lies with such frequency and consistency that if you take any statement he makes, either in person or on Twitter, and believe that the EXACT OPPOSITE is true, you will be right 90% of the time. And the 10% of the time when he does say something that is true, he is taking it out of context to twist the meaning.
So let’s get back to today’s “Straw Man” example.
You’ve probably heard about the controversy surrounding the removal of monuments. For the most part, it’s about whether statues should be erected (or remain erected) to honor people who were fighting to keep slavery legal. I don’t want to get into a lot of detail about this particular aspect of the story.
Then, the protests expanded to include other statues; notably, the one shown above, called the “Emancipation Memorial.” It was erected in 1876 to commemorate Lincoln’s freeing of the slaves. Looking at the picture, it’s not hard to see why many are objecting to the imagery there. (Defenders say, “But it was paid for by the freed slaves themselves!” Well, they had just been freed, so I doubt that they had much say in the design, and the intent was clearly to show Lincoln as a benevolent father figure.) But even if the merits of taking down the statue or leaving it alone are up for debate…
Let’s have a look at Trump’s comments, made at a recent press conference:
“I think many of the people that are knocking down these statues don’t even have any idea what the statue is, what it means, who it is. Now they’re looking at Jesus Christ. They’re looking at George Washington. They’re looking at Abraham Lincoln. Thomas Jefferson. Not gonna happen.”
Now, there is no evidence that anyone has suggested tearing down monuments to Washington or Jefferson, but you can see that he threw that little shred of truth in there about Lincoln, taken out of context.
The more important thing here is the comment about “Jesus Christ.” The claim was repeated at a church rally in Arizona; that “we’re seeing a call for statues of Jesus Christ to be torn down.”
This is far worse than just the “Straw Man” I talked about last week. It’s not just that Trump is lying to make his opponents seem “extreme and ridiculous.” He is using this blatant and bizarre lie for the specific and sole purpose of stirring up fear and anger among his Evangelical base toward the Black Lives Matter movement and anyone who would support them. This is incredibly dangerous, not least because many of his followers are just stupid enough to believe him.
Here are some of my initial thoughts about Dan’s post.
1. I find it incredibly offensive to use God for Political purposes. In the words of Bruce Cockburn (singing about Indigenous issues)
Went to a pow wow, red brother
Felt the people’s love/joy flow around
It left me crying just thinking about it
How they used my saviour’s name to keep you down
– Bruce Cockburn, Red Brother, Circles in the Stream 1977
In Canada, indigenous issues are very much at the forefront, and the church played a significant, you might even say leading role in supporting the political agenda against First Nations people.
2. No doubt you have heard or read about Trump using a Church and a Bible as a prop, and squelching constitutionally protected protest along the way. That previous occurrence, along with how he has co-opted a large swath of the evangelical movement, demonstrates the pattern of using God for political purposes. This latest event is just another example of how he does this.
3. In every lie there is a grain of truth. It is what makes the lie believable. In this particular case, one particular activist, Shaun King, stated:
Yes, I think the statues of the white European they claim is Jesus should also come down.
They are a form of white supremacy.
Always have been.
In the Bible, when the family of Jesus wanted to hide, and blend in, guess where they went?
Tear them down.
After receiving much backlash, along with numerous death threats, King defended his position. “If your religion requires Jesus to be a blonde haired, blue eyed Jesus, then your religion is not Christianity, but white supremacy.” “I am a practicing Christian. I am an ordained minister and was a Senior Pastor for many years. If my critiques of the white supremacy within the Christian world bother you to the point of wanting to kill me, you are the problem.” (Secondary quotes from Newsweek).
So why call Trump’s comments a lie? This is where the Straw Man fallacy comes in. He is taking the comments of one person, and using those comments to characterize the entire movement. “Now they’re looking at Jesus Christ.” He is using it to inflame his supporters. And I agree with Dan, what Trump is doing is wrong.
4. Dan has no axe to grind with Evangelical Christianity. He wrote to me that:
My father is a Christian with a very strong faith. My mother attends church regularly, and always taught us to be respectful of all faiths, whether we hold that faith ourselves or not… I mentioned Evangelicals specifically because they are the most vocal supporters of trump, but I find it distressing that more Christians don’t speak out more forcefully about what Trump is doing… any Christian who believes, or worse yet repeats, the lie about “tearing down statues of Jesus,” … is either a moron or a racist; possibly “both,” but not “neither.”
5. To use God for political purposes is immoral. I will leave you with the words of our own Chaplain Mike:
My fundamental problem with Donald Trump is not his “policies.” My problem is that he is the singularly most inappropriate, untruthful, incompetent, corrupt, and self-aggrandizing person ever to be considered for such high office. He and those who are using him to advance their agendas are destroying the foundational ideals and institutions of this nation.
As usual, your thoughts and comments are welcome.