On Saying “Jesus is Lord” in the Age of Trump

I’ve been told more than once that I shouldn’t say “Jesus is Lord” too hastily in the age of Trump.

Amidst the panic and concern over the Trump election, these folks usually tell me that this phrase is too easy for me to say.

After all, I am a white man. I sit in a place of privilege, protected from the onslaught against immigrants, refugees, minorities and women that has so typified the administration of Donald Trump. I am told to have more empathy and awareness. These people then tell me we need to be using our voices to make people aware and provide resistance against this administration. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t say “Jesus is Lord” too hastily in the age of Trump. Click To Tweet

What “Jesus is Lord” Means

I’m glad for this dialogue and agree with these thoughts. I’m glad for people who remind me of my privilege and my context. I have seen the power of just one “We are not afraid” sign in our front lawn and how it has encouraged our neighbors who are immigrants and/or refugees themselves or have family who are. We need to use our voices and presence to resist the ways the US government policies are unjust against those most vulnerable.

But I also think this dialogue reveals the need to examine what it might mean to confess “Jesus is Lord’ in the age of Trump (or any other government for that matter).

There is an implication that to say “Jesus is Lord” somehow relieves us of the urgency to speak or resist. When I say “Jesus is Lord,” some imply, it allows me, a white man, to take a deep breadth and relax and let this whole Trump thing work out. If this is the case, well then of course it is easier for me, who is not suffering, to say such a thing as “Jesus is Lord.’

Caesar is Not Lord

But I suggest it is really just the opposite. To say “Jesus is Lord” (as we’ve learned from people like N.T. Wright, etc.) is to say “Caesar is not.” To confess “Jesus is Lord” is therefore to resist the powers when they deny the sovereignty, reign, character and purposes of God (as revealed in revelation) whom we worship, serve and submit ourselves to as King. We know for a fact that this confession set Christians at odds with the Roman government in the first century, and the Roman government viewed it as a threat. Why, I ask, would it be any different today?

Not Sitting Back

In the same way, instead of allowing Christians to sit back, to say “Jesus is Lord” is to recognize He rules over our lives and the social spaces in which we live. This is the way things were before Christendom (when Christians assumed the government was Christian). This is the way things should be now. To say “Jesus is Lord” is to refuse to obey the powers that deny humanity to the refugee or the immigrant. Instead we sanctuary them in our churches and our homes.  This is what the Christian heroes of Germany and Western Europe did during the Nazi regime. They ‘smuggled’ Jews and they ‘hid’ Jews from the sorcery of Hitler. They risked life and limb to do this.

To say “Jesus is Lord” does not diminish the demands of Christ on our lives to stand with the hurting. It intensifies these demands. Why would saying “Jesus is Lord” be any different today? Instead of somehow allowing us to relax, saying ”Jesus is Lord” does the opposite. In fact, to say “Jesus is Lord” demands everything of you. Saying “Jesus is Lord” intensifies the demands of Christ on our lives to stand with the hurting. Click To Tweet

Jesus is Lord and White Privilege

I think somewhere along the line Christians fell into hearing the words “Jesus is Lord” as an endorsement of what is going on in and through government and history around them. This is unfortunate.

I think a tactic of white privilege (a condition perpetrated by Euro-Christendom in my opinion) is to conceptualize a Christian term, extract it from the everyday concrete demands of life, and then use it in a way that doesn’t change anything.

In the process, the Christian term (like salvation, justification, faith, etc.) now becomes amalgamated with white Christian culture. We could see, for instance, how salvation in Christ became about my personal abstracted justice relationship with God. My salvation in Christ therefore got extracted from everyday life. It became the means, at the very least, of making white privilege immune from the changes Christ is working to make the world whole.  J. Kameron Carter, Willie Jennings and more recently Reggie Williams have written extensively showing how various Christian theologies were constructed in this way (many times with white people being totally unaware). This is the way white privilege works.

I therefore wonder whether the admonition to a white man like me to be careful saying “Jesus is Lord” does not in fact play into the white privilege it warns against? It holds these very powerful, disruptive words—“Jesus is Lord”—in captivity to white privilege. It plays into the way ‘white privilege’ works!

I suggest instead we must disrupt the ways ‘white privilege’ works. Let us defy the way it works. Let us quit playing this game, and in the face of the current struggle, proclaim all the more concretely that “Jesus is Lord.”

Let us not glibly write it off as a nice colloquialism. Let us not play into a Christianity that has become all too absorbed into white privilege and upper class affluence. Let us take seriously in the days that lie ahead what it might mean to shelter immigrants, smuggle refugees, become sanctuary churches, take on conscientious objector status, be gun free zones.

If we do, maybe the church might becomes relevant again?

Maybe people might actually get out of the bad ‘white privilege’ habit that makes “Jesus is Lord” a nice sentiment, a nod to endorsing what is currently going on. Maybe the world begins to see that Jesus is actually Lord and He’s bringing in His Kingdom, US government or not. Maybe this is how the church might becomes relevant again? Click To Tweet

For those who care deeply about these issues and want to press in more, please join us for this free webinar next week with Missio Alliance Board member, David Bailey…

7 Things Every Church (or Christian) Can Do to Be a Reconciling Witness in Divided Times

— A framework on how to be a constructive reconciler in divided times
— How to increase your cultural intelligence and awareness
— Practical action steps in the ministry of reconciliation for you and your community

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