I hated Bill Clinton.
I’m not bragging. I’m confessing.
Had you asked me at the time if I hated Bill Clinton, like any good Christian I would have said, “No.” But I hated him.
I got a sick stomach every time I watched the man speak…but that wasn’t the hatred. Well, not the hatred for him. That was the disgust at being lied to so blatantly.
No, the hatred is evident in retrospect when I recognized that I only “prayed for” the man three times:
(1) 1992-“God please don’t let that man win.”
(2) 1996- “God please don’t let him be re-elected.”
(3) 1999- “Please Lord don’t let the senate acquit him.”
God, have mercy on me. My hatred was wrong.
And thankfully, God is merciful. So, I learned mercy from the liturgy every Sunday during the two terms of President Barak Obama. We prayed faithfully for “Barak, our president,” week in and week out.
“Barak,” a man, flawed, broken…marred, yet still a man in the image of God; man with a family and a history; a person with hopes, fears, desires…limited in vision and ability and placed under tremendous responsibility and pressure. I learned under the disciplines of the weekly liturgy to love a man I did not like.
He was, without doubt, my enemy. He stood for so many wrong things…even evil things. I had seen speeches he gave to pro-life groups that turned out to be brazen lies. He had divided the nation. He had ridiculed believers. He touted perversion. But I could not hate him and really pray for him Sunday after Sunday. To hate him, to joke about him, to ridicule him, that would make my prayer a lie. And praying a lie–like kicking against the goad–is a hard thing to do consistently.
In prayer for him I found hope that he might change…something I found impossible to believe about Bill in the 90’s. And, I found love to keep praying for him even when he didn’t change. In prayer for Barak, our president, I learned to speak truth to and about power in all its human corruption, without denying or ignoring the image of God in the man Barak, who Jesus loved. In prayer I even began to learn that political satire (one of my favorite pass-times) is a difficult and dangerous art, quite useful for attacking policies and quite wicked when attacking persons.
Ultimately, praying for Barak, our president, forced me to listen to him. It taught me to reject rumors and slander, because in order to speak prophetically to and about corrupt power, we must be careful to always speak truth. Accusation and slander are the tools of the Devil. The church is prophetic only when she speaks truth in love…a reality which lead me to sometimes defend the president, not excusing the wrongs he had done, but denouncing the lies and the propaganda against him.
So now I find myself in a similar place. Feeling the need to defend a man I don’t particularly like and for whom I did not vote. (For the record I didn’t vote for his main opponent either.) But he is a man who I love because he is a man made in the image of God for whom Christ died. The liturgy again is teaching me to pray “for Donald, our president.” We pray every week for Donald, the man, in spite of how hard he may work to make himself Trump, the brand. And, I learn to love Donald the man, in spite of the efforts of his enemies to make him into Trump, the Devil.
Sadly, so many Christians who I once thought were learning the lessons of love through the liturgy…so many who prayed sincerely for Barak, our president, in spite of disagreement with his policies…now exhibit a hatred for our current president.
It’s as if because they feel betrayed by what they see (in many cases rightly so) as compromise and corruption by fellow Christians set on propping up of the Trump presidency with a pretense of decency, they accept every accusation without hesitation. In other words, they uncritically embrace slander because they hate Donald.
Furthermore, lately I have watched more and more Christians not only embrace slander passively, but actually engage in it…dragging up every old grievance and failure from the sordid past of Donald Trump and claiming (like some mindless leftist zombie) that his latest policy makes him the American Hitler. Enraged, and self-righteous in their indignation, they do this with palpable glee. Without the slightest hesitation they pass on every accusation from the opposition and reject every story that may be to Donald’s credit, without investigation. This is not prophetic. This is not speaking truth to power. This is a lesser idolatry.
Sadly, there are those who commit the greater idolatry. Some made a messiah of President Obama, and now some make a messiah of President Trump. That seems to be the semi-permanent state of American politics.
However, we often commit a lesser idolatry when we demonize our enemy, and this lesser idolatry may be more dangerous because it is more subtle.
Those who make messiahs of men will eventually be disappointed, but those who make a man a devil seldom are.
Still, we will be judged with the judgement we make. When we make our enemy into a devil, we make ourselves one too.
Accusation and slander are always the tools of a Devil.