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Forgiveness, reconciliation and reckoning

by Reverend Ignacio Castuera

Can a Christian say sincerely, “Thanks be to God for President Donald J. Trump”? Christians cannot only try to say it sincerely—they must find ways to say it with conviction.

The reason it is necessary to thank God for the president, even if one disagrees with his policies and his behavior, is that Jesus commanded his followers to love their enemies.

Loving the enemy is not an easy task. The first biblical writer to discuss loving the enemy was the apostle Paul as he wrote to the church in Rome.  It is interesting to note that the enemies are people inside the church who disagree with each other. It is difficult to love those we are close to, friends and family especially.

Saint Paul knew about the difficulties in loving those with whom we disagree, especially those we consider enemies. Saint Paul then decided to introduce an incentive, albeit a terrible one.

“If your enemy is hungry feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink, for by doing so you will heap burning coals over his head.”

Saint Paul could not have possibly imagined that centuries later Christians would deal with other Christians with whom they disagreed in ways that inverted the location of the coals, placing literally pyres under the feet and not symbolically over their heads. Giordano Bruno, Jan Huss and Servetus suffice as examples of the way Imperial Christianity betrayed Paul and disobeyed Jesus.

In the Galilean origins of Christianity Jesus was clear and definitive.

In a passage known as the Sermon on the Mount found in the Gospel of Matthew, one finds these very difficult words.

“You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your father who is in heaven for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brothers, what more are you doing then others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.” The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is not generally favored by the white evangelicals who supported Trump four years ago and again this year by 81 percent. Strange, the display of power and politicking by Trump when he held a copy of the Bible awkwardly in his hand—it was the revised standard version.

There is another way to make it easier to thank God for Donald J. Trump. It has to do with perception, which is a very complex process. There is what we see, and there is what causes us to see what we see. My mother used to say “caras vemos corazones no conocemos,” or “we see the faces but cannot see the hearts.” The great philosopher Alfred North Whitehead talks about perception in the mode of presentational immediacy and perception in the mode of causal efficacy. These correspond roughly to my mother’s caras and corazones respectively.

Donald J. Trump‘s presentational immediacy is what we perceive most of the time: his bluster, his imperiousness, his 20,000 lies per month. Or if we like him, he’s the straight talker, the honest, unvarnished president making America great again. There are clearly at least two presentations of immediacy of Donald J. Trump, but only one way to see the causal efficacy of those perceptions.

Mary Trump, the president’s niece, merely confirmed what many of us who have had some psychological training strongly suspected. Donald J. Trump is a traumatized man who deserves our compassion, our love and forgiveness, our understanding—but not our vote for four more years.

The Caine Mutiny (read CAIN as in Cain and Abel) was a very good book and an even greater movie. Unfortunately, because the Bible has slowly but surely disappeared from our culture, few would recognize the biblical allusions.

Captain Queeg could easily stand in for President Donald J. Trump. He takes over a ship which he perceives to be in terrible shape. It needs discipline, the swamp must be drained.

In the process of creating a new reality aboard the ship, Captain Queeg creates enemies out of his brother officers, “Abel.” During a storm, the officers take over and are therefore accused of mutiny.

The film is available for view free of charge via the internet and should be watched. The most important moment in the story is when the lawyer for the defense of the mutineers arrives drunk at the celebration party held by the Caine mutiny officers. The role, played by the Spanish actor Jose Ferrer is great, and the scene, which can be found by itself on YouTube, takes only four minutes. In that scene the awareness comes to the officers that they all were guilty. Similarly, we all played roles that made it more difficult for the last four years to be successfully survived. In the Bible this is called sin. All have sinned, all of us did sin.

John B. Cobb Jr., the brilliant theologian, retired and living at Pilgrim Place, went to a meeting of the interfaith communities united for justice and peace in January of 2017 to argue that there were many things to affirm in the election of Donald J. Trump.

A major confrontation with Russia was avoided. Hillary Clinton wanted that confrontation. Better relationships with China developed, especially with the end of the transpacific trade agreements. He also would have supported the relationship with North Korea’s Kim. 

Better to exchange love letters than nuclear missiles. So many things that could be affirmed, too many for this short article.

This does not mean that I agree with things said by Trump. I was born in Mexico, I am neither a rapist nor a drug dealer, I’m a retired pastor, a student of theology, a student of John B. Cobb Jr., the oldest junior in the world at 96. But one must not deny that some good things did happen. I for one, thank God that unemployment figures and the news about the vaccines came after the election and not before. Trump garnished more than 74 million votes, the most ever by a Republican candidate. Some people believe he did great things and made America great again.

It was COVID-19 that was finally the undoing of the Trump era. “Rage,” the book, clearly reveals the supreme failures of Trump’s dealing with the virus. As of this writing, more than a quarter of a million Americans have died. Compare that with seven total deaths in Taiwan and one will be convinced of the inefficiency with which the Trump administration dealt with the pandemic. The physician leading the battle against the coronavirus in Taiwan is a graduate of John’s Hopkins University who wonders why America did not implement the things they taught him. Instead of calling it the “Kung flu” the president should have been learning from the Taiwanese, and the New Zealanders and others who did much better. Bringing Dr. Atlas in to counter Dr. Fauci, created more havoc, more doubt, more death.

No matter which side you are on, the election was not a major victory and is truly a very painful defeat we need to deal with across all divisions. We need to address the hard work of reconciliation, national unity and forgiveness. We can start with the biblical message and follow it with some of the words of Abraham Lincoln in his second inauguration: “With malice toward none with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us drive on to finish the work we are in.”

Let us start by getting to know each other’s political choices. I love to play tennis and I was astonished by the emotional reaction of one of my Vietnamese fellow players who really believes that the Democrats are socialists, and that he will see a repeat of what he experienced in Vietnam.

I acknowledge that I live in a silo. I had not watched Fox news until after the election. I rejoiced in Biden’s victory and started singing a variation of Jose Feliciano Feliz Navidad: Feliz Navidad y Trump ya se va. I’m ashamed now and I want to talk to other Trump supporters. The branch of a tree fell on our house before the election and neighbors were very helpful. I saw several MAGA hats around, but neighborliness prevailed. We need to understand followers of Trump.

My old testament professor at the school of theology, which sadly moved to Willamette University last year, was Dr. Rolf Knierim. He shared with us the family secret that his father had arrived one evening and proudly announced that he had joined the Nazi party. His mother was appalled and asked, “how could you do that?”  Rolf’s father said, “Herr Hitler said he would make sure we get the Alsace-Lorraine back.” He was not anti-Semitic, he hadn’t read Mein Kampf, and he disagreed with many of the policies of the Third Reich.  

A few years later, the Knierims helped the Jewish doctor of the village escape. In turn, they later helped Rolf to attend the University of Heidelberg. He became a biblical scholar who came to train many of us and lived in our midst until his tragic death in an automobile accident at the age of 90. How many of Trump’s followers would have similar stories? What does Make America Great again mean for them? Is it really Make America White again? We need to understand, we need to complete the work, we need to leave our silos and become agents of love reconciliation and peace.

Rev. Dr. Ignacio Castuera is a United Methodist minister currently serving Trinity United Methodist Church in Pomona, California.

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