Sunday, February 05, 2017

"With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility"

That was a long, long time ago....

I don't even necessarily disagree with Trump:
Trump: I do respect him, but I respect a lot of people. That doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with him. He’s a leader of his country. I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not. And if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight — and Islamic terrorism all over the world — that’s a good thing.

O’Reilly: But he’s a killer though. Putin’s a killer.

Trump: There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?
Who I disagree with, is the President.

It is tempting, as a pastor, to stand in a pulpit and rain fire and brimstone down on your congregation. When I was having trouble with my congregation (a two-way street, I assure you), a friend of long standing in the ministry (and longer standing as a friend) sent me a tape of a pastoral rant where the preacher denounces, in detail and high umbrage, every member of his congregation.  I laughed until I cried, because it was so true, because it was so much what I wanted to do.

But he and I knew we couldn't; no pastor can.  The pulpit is a place of privilege, and it is not owned by the pastor.  It is controlled by her or him, but not owned.  It is owned, in the Protestant tradition, by the congregation.  Yes, that's fundamentally different in the Catholic tradition, but the restraint still applies:  you can't be a shepherd to your flock by telling them in no uncertain terms that they are wolves in sheep's clothing.  Wolves they may be; but wolves attack when provoked.  And provoking them doesn't turn them away from being wolves.

That's the least lesson about it; the greater lesson is that your position of privilege is one of responsibility, not unleashed authority.  As a lay member I can stand up in a congregational meeting (disrupting worship services would be a grave mistake) and denounce the congregation in unequivocal terms.  I can go before the governing council of the church and name names and curse families, if I choose.  I might even get away with it; I've known church members who do.

But as the pastor, the leader of the congregation, the person chosen to shepherd them?  I don't have the privilege of speaking my mind.  In that role I have great responsibility, and that gives me great power; but I can't use that power to flail at others.  The more I do so, the more I reveal how small I am, how unfit I am for the privilege of leadership.  If I think my congregation is corrupt and full of sin, it is my responsibility to correct it, to guide it, to cleanse it.  It is not my job to say:  "What, you think you're so innocent?"  Because they are never so evil as to relieve me of my responsibility to them.  If I think they are, I have one choice:  resign.  If I don't, then I accept them as they are, and I accept my responsibility toward them.

Donald Trump private citizen can tweet opinions like that until his fingers bleed.  Donald Trump POTUS dare not ever say such a thing.  For the simple reason that he is in charge, now.  For the simple reason that, when you point a finger, three more are pointing back at you.  He wants to be innocent of the charge of being a killer himself, yet what decisions will he make in the next four years that lead, directly, to the deaths of others?  He wants to defend his position by pointing to the hypocrisy of others:  but those "others" are him, now.  He is the President.  He is in charge.  He is responsible.  First he said our government was populated with Nazis; now he says it is populated with assassins.

The buck stops with him, whether he likes it or not.

1 comment:

  1. This post and the Editor's letter from The Point here have been churning around in my head. I have been bothered by the "not my president" theme running around on some of the left. At the end of the day he is our president, just as Obama was the president of everyone even if some on the right rejected him too. The Editors letter makes a good case that Trump is more American than we may feel comfortable admitting, or in other words, we have met the enemy and they are us. Donald Trump is a product of America, not just the right but cultural elements that cut across the political spectrum. We can decry the violence of yesterday at the Super Bowl, but laud violence of Game of Thrones as some artistic success. So whether I like it or not, he is my president.

    What is hinted at in the letter, but more carefully thought out here is the reverse side. What happens when the president or the pastor rejects being the president or pastor of a portion of the electorate or congregation respectively? While it certainly has been de facto true (excluded were people of color, non-heterosexual orientation, to greater or lesser extents), there has always been at least serious lip service to governing the whole nation. The closest we have come before is the second Bush administration, which often acted only in the interest of those that elected it. But even with them there were limits. GWB stood up to defend Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11 as members of our society. There was not an explicit rejection of any group. Trump however is giving indications of rejecting to be president of wide swaths of the electorate. Those rejected even include groups that voted for him. The congregation he chooses to lead looks to be roughly evangelicals, the wealthiest sliver of America, and big business. The rest of the electorate is denounced from the pulpit in sermons of 140 character and executive orders.

    We haven't been here before and it's hard to see how it ultimately plays out. Some administrative initiatives have already collapsed due to the lack of any foundation of support, the first foray to sell federal land has already been withdrawn in the face of opposition by hunters and fisherman. Education privatization and immigration bans have aroused rigorous opposition. Senators and Representatives are running from their constituents and with education there hasn't even yet been any change, just a nomination of a secretary. In our circle of friends and family there is already marching and calling, and the stirrings of what comes next to defend our concerns. So he is our pastor, but he rejects us as his congregation. Or what happens under our system of government when you reject responsibility?