SILENT WITNESS NOT ENOUGH
Editor’s Note: This article first was published in Baptist News Global and is posted here by permission of the author.
By ROB SELLERS
President Donald Trump has publicly blamed mental illness for mass shootings and other gun violence. He is correct, to a point. I agree that there does exist an insanity, a moral pathology, that is endangering all of us – and many have already become victims. On the other hand, I do not understand the threat in the same way he does. Indeed, I believe Trump himself is the foundational problem for many of the dangers our nation now faces.
I do not offer this opinion with a political motivation. I write as a Christian and lifelong minister and seminary professor. My Christian faith dictates how I should live and requires that I do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. To be a silent witness to the troubling words and deeds of our nation’s leader would present a false testimony to my neighbors.
My intention is not to claim that Trump is mentally ill. In fact, the overwhelming majority of people who suffer from psychological disorders don’t say or do the mean-spirited things he does. I will not explain or excuse his behavior by associating it with illness. I am not a trained psychotherapist, but based generally upon my college minor in psychology more than 50 years ago and more specifically on my cross-cultural life experiences and career spent teaching Christian ethics, I feel justified in making a few observations and relevant connections for people of faith.
Like a growing number of other observers, I conclude that the president’s behavior is abnormal for one who occupies the highest office in the land. More importantly, that behavior strikes me as radically different from how Jesus spoke and acted. It is wholly inconsistent with the ethical path that Christians claim to follow – mirroring the life of the one who is the Way.
Speaking as a Christian, I refute the claims of people like Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign manager Brad Parscale, respectively, that Trump is “a man after God’s own heart,” that God “wanted him to be president” and that he is “a savior to our nation.”
Instead, I view the president’s character as wildly contrary to the portrait of God in Christ. I perceive him to be the polar opposite of the One to whom I am committed.
Looking at the life of Jesus, I see five traits (among others) that test my own life and that critique and challenge who Trump has proven to be. Jesus was humble, accepting, respectful, truthful and dependable.
The president is not humble.
His narcissism has taken America into dangerous, potentially lethal, relationships with global dictators in Russia and North Korea. Convinced that Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un think he is great, Trump has repeatedly discounted the evaluations of America’s intelligence agencies and developed bromances that overlook potential risks of underestimating the animosity these enemies of the United States feel toward our nation. Conversely, he has alienated America’s longtime friends and allies with his arrogant and rude behavior. World leaders of nations with historically close ties with our government – like Justin Trudeau of Canada, Angela Merkel of Germany, Emmanuel Macron of France and Theresa May of Great Britain – have felt slighted and offended, or alternately amused, by how the American president has treated them and the countries they represent.
Likewise, Trump’s conviction that he is a “stable genius” has prompted him to claim to know more than America’s generals, scientists, economists and academics. For arguably the first time in memory, the “leader of the free world” makes decisions publicly and unilaterally on impulse, often without the knowledge or support of top advisers.
The president is not accepting.
Trump’s blatant racism is hurting people both directly and indirectly. His claims that our country is being “invaded” by illegal immigrants and refugees from Mexico and Latin America have emboldened irrational people to shout xenophobic, hateful words and to condone or even commit random or premeditated acts of violence.
His assessment that Muslims should be blocked from entering our country has made it difficult for good people who identify with the second largest religion in the world to fulfill their dreams by moving to the United States, and it has put at risk those followers of the prophet Muhammad who already live here among us as our neighbors.
His derogatory remarks about African nations and clear preference for Anglo-European countries like Norway echo the perverted ideology of the Ku Klux Klan and white nationalism. His transparent xenophobia has stirred him to call black athletes who protest injustice “sons of bitches” and to excuse excessive violence toward people of color by the police, ICE and border patrol agents.
The president is not respectful.
His sexism and heterosexism have threatened the status of women and the LGBTQ community. His brazen remarks about grabbing women’s private parts and his “scoring” women based on what he considers to be attractive physical attributes demean one-half of the American population. He slurs well-known figures who criticize or intimidate him, resorting to middle school epithets like “pig” (Rosie O’Donnell), “loser” (Cher), “horseface” (Stormy Daniels), “overrated” (Meryl Streep) and “crooked” (Hillary Clinton). He employs stigmatizing regulations and pronouncements to devalue the sacrificial service of LGBTQ and transgender Americans in the military.
These evidences of almost clinical unkindness are startling when they come out of the mouth of America’s highest elected leader.
The president is not truthful.
His inability to recognize or speak the truth has divided our nation, exacerbating some divisions and cynically creating others. Approximately half of American citizens defend him and seem to accept his exaggerations, distortions and lies as fact, even when his statements starkly contradict clearly-documented evidence and even what he has said previously, sometimes only moments before. Meanwhile, the other half of the populace attacks him and seems to reject his every utterance as fiction, regardless of whether his comments are scripted or spontaneous.
While the assertion that Trump has made over 12,000 false or misleading statements thus far during his presidency is disputed by his base, it is undeniable that he has a very strong penchant for “alternative facts.”
The president is not dependable.
His denial of reality concerning the harm humans are doing to our environment is pathological. His rollback of EPA regulations, which are designed to protect our national parks and wildlife, honor the sacred lands of our native peoples and make progress in alternative fuels and clean energy sources, is putting our children and grandchildren in serious jeopardy. His refusal to accept global scientific consensus about climate change translates into policies and programs that threaten future generations and the planet.
To deny what is affirmed by the vast majority of environmentalists and the science that undergirds their warnings, to use a British phrase, is “mental.”
The title of Eric Minton’s recent opinion article published by Baptist News Global asserts that “The President is right: Mental illness is killing all of us.” It’s true. Insanity – moral disorder – imperils our people, our nation, our earth. Some of us are dying, literally, as a result of growing right-wing hatred and unregulated gun proliferation. Others of us are in grave danger of dying one day as the result of a nuclear accident or attack or from massive, irreversible climate disaster.
But more subtly, more insidiously, other treasures of inestimable value are being lost. Our sense of honor is dying. Our reason to feel proud is dying. Our national soul is dying.
The president is correct that together we are experiencing a frightening dis-ease. What he doesn’t seem to recognize is that he is the source of much of the chaos.
Rob Sellers is professor of theology and missions emeritus at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary. He is the immediate past chair of the board of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago.