Opinion

Donald Trump versus The Sermon on the Mount

America won't become great again by walling itself in, says retired Anglican Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn George Browning

By Bishop George Browning

January 31 2017Is Trump to be admired, feared or pitied? Will he achieve what he claims he is setting out to achieve or will his actions increasingly make such ambitions impossible?  I speak of course of ambitions for security and prosperity – "making America great again".  Can America become "great again" by walling itself in? It is so ironic that the West, which invented globalisation for its economic advantage, under Trump now wants to shut the doors. Is the fear genuinely about security, or is it that the rest of the world wants to share in the same prosperity through migration of people as well as goods? Clearly globalisation is fine as long as the flow is in one direction.

In the Church we have a three year cycle which focuses in turn on each of the Gospels. This year is the year of Matthew and at the moment we are looking at the Sermon on the Mount.   Trump could not be more at odds with Jesus in this famous summary of Christian teaching. In these chapters (Matthew 5–7) Jesus makes it abundantly clear that the kind of strong man brutality on display by Trump is in fact weakness and that respect and honour shown in meekness and gentleness is in fact the strength that delivers the essential ingredients of human wellbeing and prosperity.

No one seriously doubts the world faces a security problem, but does poking it in the eye make it better or worse? It does not take a massive IQ to understand it makes it worse. Following September 11, did the Iraq war make that region and the rest of the world more or less secure?  Since the invasion on 20 March 2003, the world has been a demonstrably less safe place. Will excluding citizens from countries such as Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Iraq and Iran make the world safer? Of course not. It is beyond dispute that the greatest resourcing of world terrorism since 9/11 can be traced back to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the former being one of the US’s most important economic allies.

Trump wants a special relationship with Putin, why? Would it not make far more sense to break with convention and forge a much closer tie with its long time Middle East foe – Iran? If terrorism’s roots are in the Middle East why not seek a closer relationship with the Middle East’s alternate power?  Instead of poking those who seek to do harm in the eye, why not seek to forge a new relationship.

In terms of poking in the eye:

Would Trump’s penchant for insult and obscene "locker room" talk help or hinder the fight against radicalisation in an atmosphere where the supposed sexual excesses of the West are claimed to be a provocation to followers of Islam?

Would Trump’s claim that Bush did not properly "finish the job" and that he might well go back to Iraq and "take" all their oil heighten or reduce recruitment to ISIS: this radicalised and perverted version of Islam that feeds on the proposition that the West rapes the people and resources of the Islamic world?

Would the outcome of Trump’s executive order that has prevented Iraqis, who risked their lives in helping the Americans in Iraq, from entering the US, help or hinder a perception of the US that it now abandons without shame anyone or anything that is no longer of any use to it?

And what about Australia, where is our voice, what have we to say? While Germany, Britain, and Canada have made it clear that the US is going down the wrong path "Turn around, go back, you are going the wrong way": the Australian Prime Minister remains mute while Morrison, Bernardi and Christensen, the usual suspects with confessed Christian affiliations, seem euphoric about the direction Trump is taking.

Silence from the Australian Church is also quite deafening. The Christian community in Australia needs to be reminded that silence is acquiescence. Trump is taking the world down a very dangerous path, a path that is the very antithesis of the Christian path, of the Christian heritage about which America boasts.

This coming Sunday the Old Testament reading is from Isaiah 58. It is a passage about the dangers of self-serving religious observance.  It states clearly that any claim to religious righteousness that has no basis in justice, equity, and the care of the down-trodden is vacuous nonsense, despised by the divine.

May I quote a small section which follows a strong condemnation of self-serving religious piety:

"Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house..." (Isaiah 58:6-7).

Has popular Christianity in the Unites States of America, sadly with tentacles deep within the Australian Christian community, become nothing more than self-serving vacuous nonsense? It must not be allowed to be. Hope lies in voices of reason amongst the wider populace, voices that are rooted in a moral code. These voices can and will ultimately triumph over the voice of a president, if that voice continues to take the country down a path of self-destruction. Surely the Christian community has not vacated this space? I don’t think so.

It is important for the Christian community in Australia to understand that protests and demonstrations which have been widespread over the US in these last few weeks have frequently been led by Christian communities in partnership with members of the Islamic community. Comfort given to Trump by prominent politicians sympathetic to the Australian Christian Lobby whose leader attended the Trump inauguration, should be discarded for what they are: unless they are transparently grounded in justice for the poor and oppressed and characterised by the virtues on display in the Sermon on the Mount.