Twenty-one years ago, the Columbine massacre gave Christians in America a symbol of standing up for God.
Cassie Bernall became famous in death after stories came out that one of the killers asked her if she believed in God. As the story went, she replied, “Yes,” and was promptly killed. While questions have come up as to whether that story is true, she became an example for Christians around the world of boldly standing up when everything is at stake. Books and songs were written about Cassie and her decision, including “This is Your Time,” by Michael W. Smith.
In Luke 12:9, Jesus warns that “whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God” (NRSV). This warning is echoed in Luke 9:26, as well as across the other two Synoptic Gospels (Matthew and Mark). These words and Cassie’s story served to inspire confidence that when the time inevitably came – and soon, as this was during the peak Left Behind years – we would have the faith and courage to take the same stand she did.
This was particularly impressionable for me as a 12-year-old kid terrified that I might someday actually face such a choice between life and death. Thankfully, to this point that has not come to pass. But I believe Christians face a far more demanding choice today.
While the thought of dying for my faith sounds terrifying, that was actually a core part of the evangelical obsessions with persecution I grew up with. Combine that with a disproportionate focus on heaven that completely neglects legitimate caring for this world and this current life, and you actually have a choice that many Christians weirdly hope for. After all, what better way to prove my faith than to die for it?
I’m not in any way suggesting it would be easy to stand in that moment and know you are choosing to give up your life. But I am saying that when you believe the next step is far more wonderful than this one, it actually makes the choice easier than taking such a stand in the world while continuing to live.
We’ve reached that point. We actually reached that point a long time ago, but I believe Donald Trump’s actions yesterday take this to an entirely new level. I believe we stand at a point in history where we must make the choice, and choosing not to publicly stand is the same as offering the negative response.
Another thing that was drilled into me as a child was never “taking the Lord’s name in vain.” I mean, it’s one of the 10 Commandments (Number 3!), so you know it’s a big deal. The problem is, we’ve made a joke of that commandment in our culture. You see, I was taught that it meant I couldn’t literally say the name of the Lord in a non-respectful way. So, that meant “Oh, my God” was basically the worst thing that could ever be said. Really.
Somehow, today I think the reality of that commandment goes just a bit deeper. Taking someone’s name in vain is to attach their name to something that undermines their character. It’s blasphemy, or character assassination. Spreading rumors about someone you don’t like in middle school to try to destroy their reputation is taking their name in vain.
For God, it’s a bit bigger. And it’s probably the biggest problem we have in American “Christian” culture. You see, any time someone does something that contradicts the nature or heart of God and does so while appealing to God’s name, that is taking the Lord’s name in vain. This is really challenging when you realize that many of the key political stances supported by the majority of “Christians” in America actually go against the words and actions of Jesus. Each time a “Christian” uses the Bible or appeals to God as a reason for mistreating, oppressing, persecuting, neglecting, refusing service to, or offering anything less than Jesus’ sacrificial love to their neighbor – which, according to Jesus and the story of the Good Samaritan, includes refugees, illegal immigrants, members of the LGBTQ+ community, Muslims, and even democrats – we are taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Yesterday, in the midst of the worst pandemic in 100 years, the worst unemployment in 90 years, and the biggest racial protests in 50 years, Donald Trump took the Lord’s name in vain. And he did it in about the biggest way you can.
It was by no means the first time he’s done such a thing. However, this has to be the biggest.
After publicly declaring war on his own citizens – literally threatening to “[mobilize] all available federal resources, civilian and military” – he prompted the National Guard and US Park Police to use force (including tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash bombs) to clear away a group of peaceful protestors near the White House. First, that’s a violation of the First Amendment rights American “Christians” claim to hold so dear.
He used military force to injure his own citizens in order to push them out of the way so he could lead his own mini-parade down the street to historic St. John’s Church. Did he do this to pray for God’s leadership through one of the most difficult times in our nation’s history?
He did this so that he could hold up a Bible in front of the church for a photo. He violated everything God stands for – love, mercy, justice, peace, support for the oppressed and vulnerable – so that he could make a mockery of God by posing with a Bible in front of the church.
I remember back when the Left Behind books were popular, reading about the antichrist parading into the temple and declaring himself God. Trump didn’t exactly declare himself God yesterday, although he has referred to himself as “the chosen one” and promoted comments that compare him to the second coming and the messiah in the past.
But while the country he pretends to lead burns around him, he dialed up some old-fashioned police brutality – exactly what the protests are all about – so he could make a nice show for his base of white evangelical “Christians” who put him in office in 2016.
This is your time.
Trump – along with his “Christian” supporters – has long mocked the name of God with his words, actions, and policies. All the while, he’s maintained seemingly impossibly high polling numbers from among American “Christians,” who claim to support him because of their faith in Jesus. Yet another example of taking the Lord’s name in vain.
His actions yesterday reach a whole new level of blasphemy. Jesus warns of the consequences of his followers denying him before others, but how much worse will it be for his followers to actively take his name in vain by proclaiming to stand for him with their lips while they very publicly deny him by their lives, actions, and political stances?
If any prior president – republican or democrat – had done what Trump did yesterday in a similar situation, the backlash from American “Christians” would have been swift and unforgiving. But that same group has shown an endless capacity to accept anything and everything Trump says and does, all the while praising Jesus for the mighty Donald Trump. Once again, taking the Lord’s name in vain.
This is your time. No more excuses. Jesus warned that we cannot serve both God and man, and yesterday Trump shockingly found a way to make what had already been crystal clear even more obvious that he and God could not be more diametrically opposed in every way.
You either stand with Trump or you stand with Jesus. Staying silent is standing with Trump. It is simply unacceptable for anyone who follows Jesus to not cry out with the full force of faith to decry the blasphemy of the words and actions of Trump yesterday (really, every day, but especially yesterday).
This is your time. No one is holding a gun to your head, which means you have to live with your answer. But the whole world is watching to see our response. It’s only reached this point because Trump’s base of American “Christians” has remained silent (or even openly supported) his long list of prior words and actions that violate everything Jesus lived (and died) for. He’s the one more than 80 percent of white evangelicals chose to be their president, and he’s the man that the majority of American “Christians” still support as of recent polling.
For me, there is no choice. I have no interest in standing with Donald Trump. I follow a God who promises so much more. But for those who’ve stuck with him with all their “but…” arguments to try to justify it, we’ve reached this point. You brought this on yourself. And now you’re faced with a choice.
Who are you standing with? Who are you denying? This is your time.