It is safe to say that the election of Donald Trump sent shockwaves through the entire United States. He campaigned to build a wall between the United States and Mexico (that Mexico will pay for), to limit immigration from Muslim countries, and has vowed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act – legislation that has allowed millions of people in the US to have medical insurance. As Christians, though, how do we respond, especially if we strongly disagree with him? M.Div. student Patrick Freund, weighs in – anchoring his response to Trump’s rhetoric to our Christian baptismal vows. Direct, eloquent, and pastoral. Read, comment, and share.
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
“Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism: live among God’s faithful people; hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper; proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed; serve all people following the example of Jesus; and strive for justice and peace in all the earth?”
–From the order for Affirmation of Baptism
On election day, I drove to O’Hare International Airport to pick up a couple of friends whom I had not seen in a year and who were staying with my wife and me for a week. They are both Bosnian nationals residing in Austria. We spent the rest of the night sitting on the living room couch watching the poll returns and wondering if we were dreaming. For our friends, Alice and Jeff, it felt like deja vu. Austria, too, has gone through a long, strenuous, and divisive national election this year: first a runoff election, then a secondary election, and finally a revote of the secondary election. In the end, Alexander Van der Bellen, an independent supported by the Green Party, inched ahead of Norbert Hofer of the FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria) earning 53.79% of the vote. The FPÖ is a nationalist party that ran much of its campaign by building fears against refugees and other asylum seekers, predominantly Syrians, who have found it increasingly difficult to cross the northern border into Germany since it became re-controlled a year and a half ago. Additionally, the FPÖ has long been known as a party that in my words has tried to “keep Austria Austrian.” Their current slogan is “We make Austria strong.”
Our Bosnian friends were very young when war broke out in their country, and the kindness and welcome they received helped shape them into the kind and generous people that they are today. Alice moved to Germany with her mother where she went to school, learned German, and made friends. Her youth in Germany is what allowed her to later pursue a master’s degree in Austria, obtain a job there, and eventually bring her fiancé and mother from Bosnia as well. During the war, Jeff stayed in Bosnia. He has memories of walking to school and hearing the fighting; bombs exploding on the other side of town. He also remembers receiving Christmas gifts from American children. For both of them, visiting the United states has long been a dream that finally came true this past year.
In thinking about the incoming presidential administration, Alice and Jeff’s stories are important to me because they illustrate a commitment to welcoming the outsider, and loving the neighbor. The parallels that I see between the Austrian elections and the American elections are important, because Van der Bellen’s narrow win is not a victory for inclusivity and openness. If today, Hillary Clinton was being sworn in to the office of president, today too would not represent a victory of inclusivity and openness. A large portion of the population in both countries is fearful of that “other;” fearful of people like my friend Alice and her family who comes in search of peace and security.
Today, Donald J. Trump will swear to “preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States” to the best of his ability, and in doing so, will become the 45th president of the United States of America. Today I will remember the covenant that God made with me at baptism. Through baptism, all believers are called to be priests in this world, living among God’s faithful people; hearing the word of God and sharing in the Lord’s Supper; proclaiming the good news of God in Christ through word and deed; serving all people following the example of Jesus; and striving for justice and peace in all the earth and start claiming our siblings as siblings and treat them as such. It a time to forget us and them, and start being “we.”
Us and them, however, is a hard habit to break. From the beginning, Donald Trump ran an “us and them,” campaign, drawing divisions between every group of people he could find. Still, I refuse to say that Donald Trump is not my president, despite the fact that I did not vote for him. I will call him my president, because for eight years I have watched and heard detractors from President Obama degrade him and refuse to work with him. As long as I can remember politically, the administrations have come and gone from the White House, as the distinctions between “us and them,” Democrat and Republican, rich and poor, white and black, have grown and become a deeper and deeper chasm. As a U.S. citizen, but even more so as a Christian, it is my obligation to support him when his actions and policies strive for justice and peace, or when he works for the betterment of all at the expense of or to the exclusion of none. I also have the obligation to resist when his policies and actions disenfranchise, and cause strife. His primary call is from the people of this nation. Our primary call as Christians is from God made known to use in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Knowing where our call comes from, this is the time live into baptism; serving our neighbor not because we are commanded to do so (though we are) but because we have been so loved by God that we cannot help but to love other people, and love them so much that we cannot help but hurt when they hurt, and there is a lot of hurt in the world around us. There is hurt in the families of the at least 746 people murdered in Chicago in 2016. There is hurt in thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing their homes to come to a strange place. There is hurt in discrimination that comes along with identifying any way other than cis-gender. There is hurt in divorce, and defaulting on a loan, and losing a job, and losing a family member. Everybody is hurting, and that means that 2017 is also a year to be challenged by empathy. A year to feel empathy for the “drug dealer,” and the “factory worker,” and the “felon,” the Democrat as well as the Republican, the Trumpeter and the Burner for Bernie. We need to be challenged by our empathy, because if the president, the courts, the police, and the legislators won’t protect the rights and the freedoms of all people, we need to be the ones to step in and stand with our neighbors.
I am not a community organizer. I am not yet a pastor. I am a straight, white, cis-gender male, college educated, middle class, in my twenties who over the past two and a half years has come to discover that I benefit from all these labels. I cannot believe that this world is as God would have it so long as some people are discriminated against because of an innate and inherent trait, part of their identity that makes them who they are. In such a short essay, there is no way to discuss the many injustices that are facing us today. Volumes can be – and have been written – concerning racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ageism, abuse of indigenous peoples, xenophobia, abuse of the land, air, and water… And many more will be written. 2017 is not a time to despair. An inauguration is not a time for gnashing of teeth. In this 500th year of reformation, it is a time for Christians to pray that we may be troubled by our sins, forgiven through our baptism, and challenged by our love to use our God given gifts and talents to be co-workers in this creation.
For this reason, we don’t say, “God bless America.”
We remember Jesus when he said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy…. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Our primary identity is as beloved children of the crucified and risen One. We have been named and claimed: it’s time to work.
 Pseudonyms in use for the sake of privacy.
Patrick Freund is a third-year M.Div. student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.