Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Open Letter to Franklin Graham: Is Donald Trump's leadership consistent with biblical standards?

Franklin Graham is an ardent supporter of Donald Trump who will be giving the message at Trump’s inauguration.  During a recent Trump rally Graham told the crowd that God (not the Russians) intervened in the recent election in order to get Trump elected. As Mark Price writes in the Charlotte Observer (12/19/16)”

Evangelist Franklin Graham doesn’t believe it was the Russians who intervened in this year’s controversial presidential election.
It was God, he declared during President-elect Donald Trump’s final public rally before the Electoral College vote Monday.
“I don't have any scientific information. I don't have a stack of emails to read to you,” Graham told the crowd in Mobile, Ala., according to the Washington Examiner. “But I have an opinion: I believe it was God. God showed up. He answered the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people across this land who had been praying for this country.” Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article121721213.html#storylink=cpy

Graham’s apparent certainty that God answered the prayers of those who voted for Trump prompted me to ask some serious theological questions: How do we know God’s will? With help from my wife, who is an Evangelical Christian, I wrote this open letter to Franklin Graham to invite a dialogue about the role of prayer in political life, and also what constitutes truly biblical leaders/advisors.

Dear Franklin Graham,

According to an article in the Washington Examiner, you told a crowd at a Trump rally that God “showed  up” and answered the prayers of those who voted for Trump. This troubled us.
Like you, my wife and I both fervently believe that God answers prayers. We know the power of prayer from personal experience. We also feel it is important for Christians to speak out for justice and peace, as the Bible commands.
We are writing this because we want to open up a dialogue with you and other Christians who have different theological and political beliefs. I am a Quaker peace activist and my wife Jill is an Evangelical Christian missionary. She and I don’t agree on everything, but we are committed to our marriage and that means we are committed to listening and learning from each other. This is something that we feel our deeply divided nation needs to do right now: to be open-hearted and open-minded while holding to a deep trust in the God of the Bible.
You affirmed your belief that God “answered the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people across this land who had been praying for this country.”
Yet, how do we know whether what we pray for is God’s will, and why God has responded to our prayers in a certain way?
The Bible teaches us that God sometimes gives us what we pray for even when what we pray for is destructive and un-Godly. For example, when the Israelites prayed for a king, the prophet Samuel warned them that this was not what God intended for God’s people, and it would lead to terrible consequences (1 Samuel 9: 10-22). But the Israelites insisted on being like other nations, and they paid a huge price. After a number of bad kings, they were conquered by the Babylonians, sent into exile, and never had a kingdom again.
During the early years of our nation, many Christians supported slavery. They worked and prayed for candidates who were pro-slavery, and they mostly won. All of the Presidents before Lincoln were slaveholders. Does that mean that God answered the prayers of slave holders but not the prayers of abolitionists? Or does this mean that God gave us free will to make un-Godly choices. In this case, Americans paid a heavy price for believing, or pretending to believe, that slavery was consistent with God’s will. We had a bloody Civil War that almost destroyed our nation, with repercussions to this present day.
There is an old saying: “Be careful what you pray for. Your prayer might be answered.”
Many Christians prayed for the election of Trump, but is he the kind of leader that God ascribes to in the Bible. Could Trump be like the Presidents who supported slavery and led us on a path to destruction?
Trump is a billionaire who favors the rich and powerful. We know from the Bible that God listens to the cries of the poor—this is what every prophet preached. The Bible also gives us clear criteria for what a godly leader will do, and how he or she will behave. He or she will

·            Be concerned with ending poverty since his was the goal of early Christians (Act 4).
·            Be humble and seek God’s guidance. Trump said at the Republican Convention that he alone can fix our problems. Traditionally, Presidential candidates have been more humble and asked for help from God and the American people (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/07/trump-rnc-speech-alone-fix-it/492557).
·            Be a peacemaker, help to unify the country, and encourage diplomatic solutions to conflicts. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Proverb 16:17).
·            Be slow to anger. “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit takes the city” (Proverbs 16:32).
·            Surround him or herself with righteous advisors. “Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right” (Proverb 16:13).
·            Be fair and just. “Better a little with righteousness than great revenue with injustice” (Proverbs 16:18).  Trump boasts of his wealth, but was he always just in acquiring it? Many are concerned about his defrauding students at his now defunct Trump University and the many who have sued him for failure to fulfill contracts. There are also many concerns about his conflicts of interests as he enters the Presidency.
·            Seek to end war since Jesus was the Prince of Peace and blesses peacemakers (Matt 5:9).
·            Bring free healing to all who need it since Jesus healed Romans, Samaritans, and other non-Jews and never asked for payment (Matt 10:8).
·            Show compassion for the immigrant, the marginalized. In Hebrews 13 Paul tells us to treat the stranger as if they are angels in disguise. Leviticus 19 tells us to treat foreigners as if they are native born.
·            Bring freedom to the captive—i.e. a reduction in the prison population (Matt 4:19).
·            Offer comfort to the oppressed (Matt 4:19). Trump doesn’t support raising the minimum wage; he has also said that American workers are paid too much.
·            Make not only people, but the natural world rejoice (Psalm 98:8). To use contemporary terms, he will be “good for the environment.”
·            Be a moral example, unlike King Herod Antipas who divorced his first wife and married his half-brother’s wife and was condemned by John the Baptist for his gross immorality (Matt 14:1-19).
·            Honor women, as Jesus did throughout his ministry.

Living up to these biblical standards is a lofty goal, which few political figures fully attain, but Christians can and should evaluate their leaders based on biblical criteria like these.
Using these criteria, how would you rank Donald Trump as a Christian leader? In what ways does he show compassion for the poor, the marginalized, the foreigner? What plan does he have to provide affordable health care to everyone? How does he seek to end war and violence? How does he show concern for God’s creation? Is his personal behavior a model of Christian holiness and righteousness? Can you recommend to kids in your Sunday school class that they act like President Trump?
To us, it seems that Trump has not demonstrated the qualities of a biblical leader. We are deeply disturbed not only by what he promises to do, but by the implications of his cabinet choices. Like many in our nation, we are fearful about a Trump administration, especially how it will affect the poor, the foreigners, and God’s creation.
For example, he has chosen Steven Mnuchin as his secretary of the treasury, a Wall Street banker who ran Indymac. This bank was known as a “foreclosure machine” and was responsible for foreclosing on 36,000 low-income families, including many elderly people on reverse mortgages. As a housing justice advocate, my wife Jill Shook has had personal experience with low-income folks who lost their homes thanks to Steve Mnuchin’s bank. A longtime member of the Christian Community Development Association, Jill has circulated a petition calling for Mnuchin not to be confirmed by the Senate.
Jill mentions Mnuchin in her book Making Housing Happen: Faith-Based Affordable Housing Models. This book features Rose Gudiel who stood up to IndyMac when they tried to foreclose on her home. Courageous people, including the religious community, began an around-the-clock vigil preventing the sheriff from evicting her. Others protested at the home of Mnuchin, then president of IndyMac, who lives in a 26 million dollar mansion in Bel Air. Only then did the bank decide to renegotiate her loan.
We do not feel that Mnuchin has heard or taken to heart the cries of the poor. We do not feel he will support financial policies that will benefit them.
We are also concerned about the appointment of climate change denier Steve Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, which he has sued on several occasions. Pruitt has received significant financial support from oil companies and advocated on their behalf for many years. We take the threat of global warming seriously and have reduced the carbon footprint by over 90% through solar panels and other means, including a driving a Chevy Volt, an electric hybrid car that gets nearly 80 miles to the gallon. We take to heart our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation and are fearful for the future of our children and grandchildren if the Trump administration does not take seriously what the vast majority of scientists say about the threat of climate disruption caused by fossil fuels.
We are also deeply disturbed that Trump has chosen Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to head the secretary of defense. EXXON has had a history of deceit regarding climate disruption. Tillerson negotiated a 500-billion dollar oil deal with Putin that was blocked by Obama. Because of this deal, Tillerson was awarded the “Russian Order of Friendship” by Putin. Tillerson has put the profits of Exxon ahead of the future of our planet. Lee Wasserman, executive director of the Rockefeller Family Trust (Rockefeller was founder of Standard Oil, which morphed into Exxon), wrote an article denouncing Tillerson as secretary of state since he put “Exxon First, Earth Second.” (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-wasserman-rex-tillerson-exxonmobil-20170103-story.html)
We are also concerned about how Trump is approaching foreign policy. We know from the Bible that when God’s people chose an un-godly leaders, God often allowed foreign powers to undermine them. The prophets frequently warned the kings of Israel not to compromise with foreign rulers. For example, early in Isaiah's ministry, he warned King Ahaz against the dangers involved in an alliance with Assyria. We see many examples in which Israel put its faith in foreign alliances rather than in God, and these alliances did not end well.
We favor the United States having friendly relations with all nations, including Russia. During the 1980s, I was involved with a Quaker project that reached out in friendship to the Russians through a Soviet-American joint book project. During this period I was deeply impressed with how Reagan reached out to Gorbechev and helped to end the Cold War. Reagan seemed motivated by a sincere desire for peace and reconciliation while at the same time being realistic (“Trust but verify” was his motto). At the Reykjavík Summit he laid the groundwork for a deal with the Russians that led to a significant reduction in the nuclear arsenals of the US and USSR.
 Trump’s motives for reaching out to Putin do not seem clear. We are concerned that Trump has become so entangled in a dubious relationship with Putin it could lead to bad consequences. We already see evidence that the Russians have interfered in the election process—for the first time in our history—to help Trump get elected. This is not just our opinion, it is the view of the CIA, FBI and even some Republicans like Lindsey Graham and John McCain. It is deeply disturbing that Trump does not seem to be taking this foreign interference seriously. If Trump acts, or is seen, as Putin’s puppet, it does not bode well for the future of America, or of the world.
Even though we did not vote for Trump, we are holding him and our other leaders in prayer. We pray that their hearts and minds are opened to God’s wisdom and love so that they will become godly leaders, showing concern for justice and peace, for the poor and marginalized, and for God’s precious and beautiful creation.
God calls us not only to pray for our leaders, but also to expose them when they fail to do what Scripture commands.  Micah condemned “chiefs of the house of Israel….who eat the flesh of my people” and “build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong” (Mic 3:9Mic 3:3Mic 3:10). Isaiah denounced “the elders and princes of my people,” who profit from injustice and have “the spoil of the poor is in [their] houses” (Isa 3:14). He spoke against those who extend their land holdings at the expense of others (Isa 5:8).
Like the prophets of old, Jill and I will speak out for the poor and denounce those in power when they enact oppressive laws. We will praise our leaders when justice and peace prevail.
We trust that you like us want what is best for our nation, consistent with God’s will and intention, as expressed in Scripture.  When our new President follows biblical teachings and treats foreigners like the native born (Lev 19:24), helps the poor, reduces the prison population, provides free health care for all who need it,  we will work with him and support him. As followers of Jesus, we hope all Americans can work together to make our country not only great but good.
We trust that you like us want what is good and pleasing to God—to preach good news to the poor, sight to the blind, freedom to captives, comfort to the oppressed, and proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, when debts are forgiven and poverty is ended among God’s people (Luke 4:18-22).
When you give the message at the Inauguration, we hope it will help unite Americans around this good news. Psalm 146 reminds us to put our faith in the God of justice and compassion, not in worldly leaders. This is a message we feel needs to be taken seriously right now by our nation and the world.

Psalm 146

Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The Lord reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.

1 comment:

  1. Anthony and Jill, Thank you very much for sending this courteous, detailed, thoughtful letter to Franklin Graham.

    You spoke the truth in love, and justice and peace to power.

    Very powerful