By Stephen Ferguson
Do Jesus and the Donald share a Weltanschauung?
Is Donald Trump more like Jesus Christ than any other previous President in the history of the United States?
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting there are any obvious similarities between this thrice-married 71-year-old billionaire from New York and the celibate 33-year-old itinerant preacher from Galilee.
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I am also not suggesting Trump displays any special knowledge of Christian beliefs or values, as we would ordinarily understand them. On one occasion, when asked for his favourite verse in the Bible and how it informed his thinking or character, the then-Republican candidate flustered for an answer before finally reciting the Old Testament punishment “an eye for an eye”. Pope Francis, someone many people today do consider the most Christ-like person on earth, famously suggested Trump wasn’t even a Christian, saying, “Anyone, whoever he is, who only wants to build walls and not bridges is not a Christian.” Finally, there is the so-called “dog whistling” incident where Trump recounted his so-called Presbyterian heritage in order to attack then-opponent Dr. Ben Carson, a Seventh-day Adventist.
When I say Donald Trump is Christ-like, I really only mean it in one narrowly defined sense. However, this one thing goes to the very core of Christ’s mission, providing the thematic nexus between who Jesus was, what Jesus did, and how Jesus taught. This aspect is both a belief and a behaviour, which when combined becomes a “Weltanschauung” – a worldview and way of life. In a word, this Weltanschauung is nepotism.
America’s most nepotistic President
By “nepotism”, I mean the literal dictionary definition, “favouring shown to relatives or friends.” Is there any other head of state, outside of the despotic regimes found in some parts of the world, who has embraced this worldview to the level of President Trump?
I would venture Trump probably deserves the title, “America’s most nepotistic President”. Sure, there were the Clinton, Bush and Adams dynasties and Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Nancy Reagan were involved in their husband’s political power-plays in a way that just doesn’t seem to interest Melania Trump. Nevertheless, as I don’t pretend to be any sort of expert in American Presidential history, I am happy to be corrected if there are some other potential winners of this title.
As Hillary Clinton once said during an election debate, and meant as a compliment, “I respect his children… His children are incredibly able and devoted, and I think that says a lot about Donald.” While Hillary was only referring to then-candidate Trump, a reality TV star and real estate mogul, the now President Trump has embraced and validated that sage observation and made it central to how he runs the White House.
President Trump surrounds himself with close family and friends. His two sons Eric and Donald Jr. continue to run the family business empire. His daughter Ivanka has become something of a de facto First Lady, if not second Vice President, recently causing international controversy by sitting in for her father at the table of world leaders at a G20 meeting. Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner is also one of the President’s closest advisors, with extraordinarily important roles, such as being tasked with brokering a near-impossible Palestinian-Israeli peace deal.
While all Presidents show a degree of nepotism, the level within the Trump administration seems unprecedented. US anti-nepotism laws don’t seem to have contemplated and frankly can’t cope with a Trump Administration.
What are we to make of all this then? Jeet Heer of the New Republic argues that Trump’s nepotism, especially with regard to his son-in-law Kushner, doesn’t indicate an ideology, but rather a type of personality cult.
Trump’s personality cult and Jesus Christ
Assuming the critics are right and Trump is busy creating a personality cult in the White House, what has that got to do with Jesus Christ? What if I told you Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of Christian History at Oxford University, argued Christianity is also a personality cult? What if I said I agreed? I can almost feel the righteous indignation, as the comments start to roll in to the sound of a thousand clacking keyboards and clanging smartphones. How dare I say such a thing!
Perhaps I should just clarify that in this context, I use the term “cult” in its original and technical sense, meaning an act of worship. It comes from the French culte and Latin cultus, and is related to our English word “culture”, meaning customary beliefs and social norms. Without doubt, Christianity is a religion that is premised on the worship of a person, Jesus of Nazareth: “They bowed down and worshipped Him” (Matt. 2:11).
We best see this Christian personality cult in Jesus’ own “I am” statements, such as: “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) The Gospel of John records Jesus using this personal phrase, “I am”, on ten separate occasions (John 6:35,48; 8:1; 8:58; 9:5; 10:9; 10:11; 11:25; 14:6 and 15:1).
Christianity is about relationship
A less pejorative way of saying all this is that Christianity is fundamentally relational in nature. Other religions put a significant emphasis on orthodoxy (knowing the right dogmas), orthopraxy (doing correct actions) or ritualism (doing the right rites and rituals). By contrast, Christians believe the ultimate revelation of God is found in a person, and He alone is the word, the way, the truth and the life (John 1:1-5,14-16; 14:6).
Sure, knowledge found in the Bible, moral codes such as the Ten Commandments and rituals such the Lord’s Supper are all extremely important tools. They help us connect to Jesus, but they are not ends in and of themselves.
In Christianity, it isn’t what you know but who you know that matters. And we know Jesus. Merely invoking his name, which is really the nepotistic solicitation by a sponsor of one’s patron, is so powerful it is said to subjugate demons (Luke 10:17).
For all of the media’s jibes suggesting Trump isn’t very smart, the importance of relationships over correct knowledge, correct morality and correct conduct, is a profound truth Trump seems to understand on an almost genetic level. In this way, Trump gets Christianity in a way I suspect few of us do.
It is an aspect that explains how a man who purportedly doesn’t read books, who didn’t bother to prepare for Presidential debates, who seems basically immoral, and who doesn’t act “Presidential”, could nonetheless connect with the forgotten people of America, dispatching 16 rivals in the Republican primaries before defeating history’s most-prepared Democratic nominee in a general election. It is also something other world leaders have picked up on too, with “China and Saudi Arabia having seduced Trump into being their sweetheart”.
But isn’t nepotism a bad thing?
I know what you are thinking: “But isn’t nepotism a bad thing?” You are probably also thinking: “Shouldn’t reward be based on merit?” I’m sure Hillary would agree with you.
If Donald Trump runs his businesses and presidency through the prism of nepotism, how can that in any sense be something good? Perhaps it isn’t good when it comes to worldly businesses and earthly governments. Time will tell whether Trump’s nepotistic style of leadership will end in disaster or triumph.
However, divine nepotism is the underlying bedrock of Jesus Christ’s kingdom of heaven. It is the very heart of the Gospel’s message of grace.
Many of Jesus’ parables attempt to explain this undeserving and relational system, whether it be: the story of the prodigal son, who thought he’d be treated like a hired servant but was greeted with love and grace by his father (Luke 15:11-32); the vineyard workers, who all earned the same wage no matter how long they worked (Matt. 20:1-16); or the wedding feast, where everyone, no matter their social status or personal circumstances, was invited to attend (Matt. 22:1-14).
Divine nepotism in the Bible
This theme of divine nepotism is, in fact, found throughout the Bible. It starts with God’s promise that Israel would be a chosen nation, not based on merit, nor because they were the most numerous of peoples, but because the Lord kept His oaths and loved their ancestors (Deut. 7:7-8).
The theme probably reaches its zenith in the example of the thief on the cross. Did the thief who was saved have good works? No, he was a self-confessed criminal. Did the thief have time for right ritual, including baptism and communion? No, he literally had only moments to live. Did the thief even have time for right dogma? No, at least not in the sense he could undertake a detailed catechumenate or weeks of Bible studies. Nevertheless, the thief still had time for a right relationship – and that’s all that really mattered in the end.
Does divine nepotism mean God is unfair? When I’ve told the story about the thief on the cross to my non-Christian friends and colleagues, they have often expressed outrage at how unfair it seems. In their respective religions, you get what you deserve, whether it be through karma, purgatory or hellfire.
Well of course God isn’t fair! If God were fair, and gave us what we really deserved, we’d all be in very serious trouble. We are the beneficiaries of God’s divine nepotism precisely because our own works are as filthy rags (Is. 64:6). We have all sinned and fallen short; our very best is not even close to being good enough (Rom. 3:23).
But what about Flynn, Sessions and Priebus?
But you might rightly ask, if Trump is nepotistic and we take that nepotism as some sort of analogy for God, why then has the President been so quick to throw his closest advisors, General Michael Flynn, George Sessions and Reince Priebus, under the proverbial bus. Perhaps we need to further refine Trump’s nepotism. In particular, consider the poor treatment of Trump’s minions with the grace shown towards his own children, such as when Donald Jr. allegedly put damning Russian-related material in an email.
This is not to say the President was ok with Donald Jr. screwing up. I am sure he had some words of advice for his wayward son. Nonetheless, Trump seems to make allowances for his children – even potential Presidential pardons – that don’t seem on offer for his more expendable advisors. Importantly, despite their faults, President Trump continues to involve his children in running his political-business empire.
Bringing the analogy back to God, here is the thing: you are not merely one of God’s servants – you are part of God’s own family. In Christ we have been reconciled (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:22), meaning Jesus’ Father is now our Father (John 20:17) and we are His heirs (1 John 3:2).
Go forth proudly as the spiritual Ivanka’s, Eric’s and Donald Jr.’s of God!
The reason God can treat us this way (and this is where the Trump analogy well-and-truly diverges), is because God Himself became one of the condemned human race and lived a perfect life. God incarnate paid the price that justice demanded by dying on the cross, because the wages of sin are death (Rom. 6:23). In this way God was able to achieve the paradox of bestowing infinite grace whilst at the same time satisfying infinite justice.
I’ll say it plainly: you intrinsically matter, not because anything you have done, but wholly because of who you are. You are not merely the child of an earthly father with a billion dollars; you are the child of your heavenly Father with a billion planets. Your heavenly Father has prepared a place for you that will put Trump Tower, or even Mar-a-Lago with its delicious chocolate cake, to shame. So go forth proudly as the spiritual Invanka’s, Eric’s and Donald Jr.’s of God, inviting everyone you meet to be part of the First Family of the Universe!
- This article draws inspiration from a chapter of my book, “Is Jesus like a North Korean Dictator”, which I have also previously utilised in abridged formats in sermons and articles in my own country of Australia: see Stephen J. D. Ferguson, “Seventh-day Adventist, I don’t know about. I just don’t know…”: A Lawyer’s Defence of Adventist Belief and Practice (2016), <https://www.amazon.com/Seventh-day-Adventist-dont-know-about/dp/1520187483> ↑
- Jonathan Merritt, “Trump’s Bible Fail”, The Atlantic, April 15 2016. ↑
- And others don’t, including many Adventists, which is probably a point for Trump in the ongoing conflict between the President and the Pontiff. ↑
- Michael Vincent, “Pope Francis says Donald Trump is ‘not Christian’ because of immigration policies”, ABC News, Feb 19 2016. Of course the Trump campaign had an interesting retort of their own, noting Vatican City is itself surrounded by walls, which prevents people from entering without permission. ↑
- Janell Ross, “Donald Trump went after Ben Carson for being a 7th-day Adventist. Here’s the backstory”, The Washington Post, October 25 2015. ↑
- Oxford Dictionary (Oxford Uni Press: 2008), 442. ↑
- Allen Cooper, “Trump, Clinton end debate with compliments”, USA Today, Oct 10 2016. ↑
- Jackie Northam, “These Days, Business Travel By Trump’s Sons Is Costly And Complicated”, Parallels, March 6 2017. ↑
- “G20: Ivanka Trump sits in for Donald Trump at table of world leaders”, News.com.au, July 9 2017. ↑
- Michael Wilner, “Trump: Jared Kushner to Broker Middle East Peace”, Jerusalem Post, Jan 16 2017. ↑
- John Wagner, “Trump’s son-in-law, Jarred Kushner, to join White House”, Washington Post, January 9 2017. ↑
- Jeet Heer, “The Scary Power of Nepotism in Trump’s White House”, New Republic, 4 Apr 2017. ↑
- Diarmaid MacCulloch, A History of Christianity (London: Penguin, 2009), 1. ↑
- Robert Fisk, “Donald Trump, who doesn’t read books, is ignorant of history – and so is his pet chump Sean Spicer”, The Independent, 12 Apr 2017. ↑
- Jessie Hellmann, “Clinton Campaign: Trump didn’t prepare for debate”, The Hill, 27 Sep 2016. ↑
- Irin Carmon, “Donald Trump’s Worst Offense? Mocking Disabled Reporter, Poll Finds”, NBS News, Aug 11 2016. ↑
- Chris Graham, “’Modern day presidential’: Donald Trump defends use of social media in Twitter storm”, The Telegraph, Jul 2 2017. ↑
- Hillary Lewis, “Michael Moore Explains Why Trump Won”, The Hollywood Reporter, 11 Nov 2016. ↑
- Jackson Diehl, “China and Saudi Arabia having seduced Trump into being their sweetheart”, Washington Post, June 11 2017. ↑
- Matt Apuzzo, “Trump Jr. was Told in Email of Russian Effort to Aid Campaign”, New York Times, July 10, 2017. ↑
- “Why Hasn’t Trump Already Pardoned Kushner, Flynn, Page and Manafort?”, Newsweek, July 22, 2017. ↑
Stephen is a lawyer from Perth, Western Australia. His legal expertise is in planning, environment, immigration and administrative-government law. He is married to Amy, and has a one child, William. Stephen is a member of the Livingston Seventh-day Adventist Church.