Okay. I’m pretty disgusted.
No, not because Donald Trump is now officially the 45th president of the United States of America. I, like many people, saw that coming.
And no I’m not disgusted because of the president’s cabinet choices, his bizarre press briefings complete with “alternative facts,” or even his unbridled tweets. Unbridled is kind of his thing.
My disgust arises from the inaugural sermon, “When God Chooses a Leader,” delivered by conservative pastor Rev. Robert Jeffress on the morning of the ceremony.
Rev. Jeffress compared Trump to the biblical leader Nehemiah who helped rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its walls after the people of Judah had been exiled from the land of Israel.
In essence, Rev. Jeffress said that Nehemiah, much like Trump, was chosen by God to lead, and suffered slander from the “mainstream media,” an economic recession and terrorist attacks.
“You see, God is not against building walls,” Rev. Jeffress proclaimed as a not-so-subtle hint that God has endorsed Trump’s plan to build a wall along the Mexican border.
In addition to the language in his sermon being completely divisive, Rev. Jeffress’ exegesis could not be more erroneous, or misguided.
Nehemiah and Trump have no similarities at all. Let’s start with Nehemiah’s back story. Nehemiah came from a modest family. He wasn’t a king or a potentate. He wasn’t a priest or a prophet. Nehemiah was a cup bearer for a king, the equivalent of a government civil servant.
Trump was born to a wealthy real estate developer who bankrolled Trump’s professional development. It would be difficult to conceptualize how Trump could empathize with Nehemiah’s meager beginnings and modest profession.
Next, Nehemiah built the wall around Jerusalem to guard the city and its people from persecution by people who despised them for their religion. It would be like the people of Mother Bethel building a fence around their church this year to prevent another Dylan Roof from slaughtering more of their members.
Well, Trump isn’t building a wall to prevent the persecution of Americans. In fact, by his own admission, he is ordering the construction of the infamous wall to keep Mexicans and other people who are not like him out of America.
And what’s more, many of the individuals who helped Nehemiah build the wall were literally migrant workers. Literally.
The “mainstream media” of Nehemiah’s time were actually spreading falsehoods about Nehemiah’s work, his intentions and his statements. The mainstream media of Trump’s world simply takes his own words and actions, and let’s the world hear and see them.
I can go on and on about how different the two are, but the most stark difference between Trump and Nehemiah is in their tone. Nehemiah unified his people with sincere calls for peace, conciliatory language, compassion, and prayer. And Trump, well, has not.
My disgust isn’t even for the good Reverend. He is simply doing what conservative Evangelicals have been doing for the better part of two centuries–he made the scriptures work for his cause.
I’m disgusted that there has not been one serious theological response challenging the reverend’s exegesis or theology as it relates to Nehemiah.
For decades, progressives and progressive clergy have a loud conservative Evangelicals unfettered control over the interpretation of Scripture. They have allowed evangelicals to say whatever they’d like to say about the Scriptures, unchallenged.
And when far-fetched interpretations of the scripture go unchallenged, they become truth to seeking Christians, and representative of God’s word to non-Christians.
Rev. Jeffress’ misguided sermon is another example of how evangelicals and conservatives effectively control the Christian agenda in America.
It’s also another example of a missed opportunity for progressive clergy to stand on the truth of the scriptures and push back against troubling theology.
When will it end?