Students of religion and politics have had a mountain of material to consider recently. One particularly notable theme is the use of Christian/biblical language by the Trump administration and its supporters.
One noteworthy example emerged in the spring of 2017 when allusions to Donald Trump as a messianic figure began to circulate both mainstream and social media. For many, this appeared strange and provocative language. Within Christian tradition, the Hebrew word ‘messiah’ (מָשִׁיחַ – mashiach) , which literally means ‘anointed’ or ‘anointed one’ (rendered in Greek as χριστός – christos), has primarily come to denote the specific figure of Jesus Christ, with its allied associations of sonship, moral perfection and divinity. Consequently, any attempts to attribute messianic status to Donald Trump could be viewed as inappropriate and even blasphemous. Nevertheless, certain religious groups have continued to refer to him in this way. This is particularly interesting as it occurs against a backdrop of an increase in use of religious (Judeo-Christian) language to articulate and justify policy decisions (see earlier post – Weaponising Romans 13), suggesting a closer convergence between religious and political spheres than we have seen in recent history.
Although, many of the Christian leaders who support Trump specifically avoid using the term ‘messiah’ when speaking of him, they frequently refer to him as being anointed by God to lead the nation. This is exemplified by evangelist Paula White‘s comments recorded in 2017:
One of the oldest methods of using biblical texts is ‘proof-texting’. This is when a specific text is used to legitimate or ‘prove’ a particular argument or position. The early Church fathers were fond of it and it can be frequently found in the writings of the Bible. It is therefore not surprising that most of the references to biblical texts today take this form. Particularly important texts are even referred to as ‘clobber texts’ (originally associated in relation to the homosexual debate) as they are known to deliver the knockout blow in a debate, thereby rendering the opposing side speechless. Follow any theological argument, whether that be abortion, sexual orientation, or female ministry (and countless others) and you will quickly begin to recognise each side’s favourite ‘clobber texts’.
As someone who makes a living from studying and lecturing on the Bible, I have to admit to finding proof-texting often rather irritating and unsatisfactory – whether that is Matthew’s use of them (although I do recognise they also have other functions), Justin Martyr’s or from a participant in the latest Facebook/Twitter argument. I do, however, accept that this practice has a long heritage and, like it or not, has a place within the community of faith. It is the trend towards clobber-texting that I find very concerning. Whereas proof-texting seeks to advance a scripture that neatly encapsulates a particular viewpoint (albeit in an often simplified shorthand form), clobber texts are often grabbed texts that are used to support an existing ideological view (in other words to argue that that viewpoint is ‘biblical’) and they are employed to shut down the debate. Anyone encountering an argument between two Christian positions will be familiar with this tactic.
This summer has been darkened by the catastrophic events surrounding the thousands of refugees attempting to find asylum in Europe. The release of images of the tiny body of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi lying face down on the shoreline has galvanised opinion and, more than that, helped to put a human face on the events.
Many Christian groups have been responding for some time to this crisis and recently their voices are coming to the fore. A lot of my friends and associates on social media have also been adding their voice and, as one might expect, biblical texts are being widely quoted. But what is the biblical perspective?
Is it possible to make a truly biblical response to the images that we see? Continue reading