Friday, January 27, 2017

Inauguration Words: “America First”

In Donald Trump’s world, there are winners and losers. From his words, he seems to lack as sense of mutuality. Thus, his slogan-like call for “America First” should not surprise anyone. But, what does this mean? What does it mean to him? What does it mean to the U.S.? And, how does God view the idea of “America First”?

This is my third installment in a series. These entries explore words from the President’s inauguration speech. Some of the words have deeper implications than he might have considered. My purpose is not to criticize Trump. My purpose is to provoke thoughtfulness.

Trump said, “From this day forward, it's going to be only America first. America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”

In Matthew 20:1-16, the parable about the laborers in the vineyard transmogrifies winners and losers into a communal gathering. Each person receives what they need. Is the parable about salvation? Yes. Is it only about salvation? Probably not. Faith connects with every aspect of life. If faith in Christ were only about salvation, then Christians could set aside faith matters in daily living. One could do as one pleases and trust that God has no ethical or behavioral expectations on a Christian’s life. Scripture does not support this hedonistic interpretation. Instead, the Bible is explicit; faith connects with action (James 2:14-17). God has expectations (Micah 6:8).

What about the laborers in the vineyard? Were the people who showed up to work all day losers because they did not earn a greater wage than those who arrived at the end of the day? What about this “America first” mantra? Salvation is for all, not the winners. Life is for everyone, not just Americans.

A few chapters after the parable about the laborers in Matthew, Jesus tells a Pharisee about the greatest commandment. In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus says, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Jesus’ comment, “hang all the law,” adds gravitas to a loving statement. He does not describe some namby-pamby love. This love is powerful. It transcends boundaries, even borders. Elsewhere he answers the question, “Who is my neighbor?” In the gospel, the neighbor is a foreigner! A Samaritan, of all people! Thus, I ask, how is a Mexican different than a Samaritan, if, in this analogy, Americans are the chosen ones of Israel?

“America first” misses the mutuality of the Christian faith. It falls far short of “love your neighbor as yourself.”


2 comments:

  1. Matt, I am finding your posts this week thought provoking. Our new president is off to a rocky start and I hope, as I know you do, that he finds his way. I just hope that he will begin to put as much thought into his words as you have. No matter our political beliefs much of his rhetoric this week has offend us as Christians and Americans. For the past century our nation has been a shining example of fairness, tolerance, and charity. This has nothing to do with politics but has simply been the American way. The work that KBC has done in Haiti is a perfect example of how we should all be reaching out to those less fortunate, wherever they are, to lend a lifting hand. All of that hard work and the hope KBC has given to young lives is hard to imagine in an "America first" world. Without the United States leading the way there will be a lot less hope out there. I just pray we haven't given up hope for carnage.

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    1. Thank you, Jerry. I appreciate your comment very much.

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