Titus after Trump

I drew the short straw and had to preach at our weeknight service, and the lectionary was Titus 3:1-7, which begins “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient…” You can guess how thrilled I was to have to deal with that the day after Trump won the election. But I like what I came up with, and the congregation was tiny, so I share it here in case it’s what anybody needs to hear.Wednesday Low Mass
November 9, 2016
Text: Titus 3:1-7

We’re doing the Titus reading tonight. I didn’t pick it, and I’d rather ignore it. But that’s where the word I have for us tonight comes from, so here we go.

In an Episcopal Church in the West Village that has long considered its GLBT and HIV-positive members essential parts of its community and celebrated their leadership, I would be on pretty safe ground, at least statistically, in assuming that most or all of you are devastated by the news we work up to this morning. But I will not assume this. You are here at God’s invitation, no matter what your political beliefs and no matter what you have done, even if what you have done has hurt many people who were already suffering and vulnerable. We are here, as the scripture makes clear, because of “the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior” who “saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (3:4-5). We are not Christians because we are good at following Jesus, but because we are bad at it, and call upon and receive his mercy again and again. So you may be happy today, and you are still welcome here. It is your church, and you are loved.

But I am devastated today. And many others are not only devastated, but are terrified, because 59 million Americans chose a president who has openly threatened them, questioned their genuineness as Americans, incited violence against them, bragged about harassing and assaulting them, proposed a ban on immigration from their countries of origin, disparaged their sacrifices for this country, and made light of their justified fear of violence at the hands of officials who are supposed to protect them. Furthermore, he has threatened to use the powers of his office to retaliate against his political opponents, happily accepted the support of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, suggested that he might use nuclear weapons or abandon the alliances that have brought us and our allies an unprecedented period of security and prosperity, or overturn the treaties reached by the current administration that have given us some modest amount of hope for the future of the planet. This man has done great evil in his campaign, and has promised to do great evil in office. Yes, I am devastated, some are terrified, and I should perhaps be terrified for them.

And if some of you are also devastated, then perhaps you, like me, experienced the first verse of the reading from the letter to Titus assigned for today as salt in an open wound: “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient,” and so forth. A lot of devastation has been wrought in the history of the church by a rigid adherence to this rule, if it is a rule. Whatever it is, it looks a lot like a compromise with the status quo which is fairly characteristic of Titus and the two letters of Timothy, which also command women to be silent in church and subject to their husbands in much stronger language than the earlier letters of Paul ever use. They even tell slaves to treat their master like God, and generally endorse a respectable order within church, household, and society where everybody is subject to the free, male father, to the emperor as the Super Father figure, and to God as a super Father-Emperor figure. Kyriarchy, in the term coined by Elizabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza and commonly used in feminist theology and biblical studies. Now, the wide scholarly consensus is that these three letters were not actually written by Paul. But the church has received them as canonical throughout the ages, so they are as much a part of the Bible as Luke or Galatians. And even if the historical Paul didn’t write them, they certainly draw on material that is present in the letters everyone thinks he wrote. So we get to deal with it, even on a night when I at least would rather not. Thanks, lectionary!

Are we supposed to be subject to Donald Trump? We are fortunate that whatever obedience and being subject to the rulers means in a democracy, it’s probably not what it might have meant in the Roman Empire. Barack Obama is and Donald Trump will be our president, but not our ruler. “We, the people” are the ruler. But that might raise an even more fundamental problem. Having been elected by the constitutional procedures ordained and established by the American people, must we accept Donald Trump’s vision as the will of the people, and thus the will of God? The answer there is a resounding no. Remember that both Paul, in whose name this letter is written, and our Lord Jesus Christ were killed by the very government to whom this letter urges subjection. They did not accept its vision. And though they did not go out of their way to disobey its laws, they were defiant at the critical moments when obedience might have saved their lives. Because whatever relative value obedience might have held for them, both Jesus and Paul were always clear that love trumps all other obligations and virtues. And love means speaking and rejoicing in the truth. “Speaking the truth in love,” as Paul says elsewhere, might require resistance. I do not know what sort of resistance may be called for in the next four to eight years. Truthfully, I have no idea how the president-elect will govern, and I don’t think he does either. His professed views are simply too incoherent. His defeated opponent tells us we owe him an open mind. And whatever he has said up to this point, if he seeks to do justice, we ought to seek to support him. And if he defies justice and puts those we love in danger, we must do what we can to protect them. Whatever he does, we must pray for him.

Pray for him? Are we supposed to dutifully pray “for Donald, our President,” even if a little part of us seems to die when the words pass our lips? Yes, I think so. We are Christians. We pray for our enemies, because we were once enemies of God. And those of us who oppose the president-elect and everything he stands for with all of our being will pray for those who supported him and continue to support him. This doesn’t mean we accept Trump’s vision as the will of the American people, let alone of God. And it doesn’t mean we don’t tell our elected officials and fellow citizens that we demand better of them, and stand in their way when necessary. It means we give what we have to those who are in need, for no other reason than because they are in need. And even if we have nothing else, we have prayer, and we have the love of God in Jesus Christ. And our fellow citizens and non-citizens need our prayers and our love. All of them do. Some of them do because they are terrified, and some of them do because they are so broken that Trump’s vile rhetoric and twisted vision seemed compelling to them.

So, if you support or have supported the president-elect, God loves you, and your church loves you. If you opposed or continue to oppose the president-elect, God loves you and your church loves you. And if you are terrified because your country just told you that your life or the life of someone you love doesn’t matter, then in the words of my friend Madison McClendon, stay with us and let us love you until the country is ready to love you. Love trumps obedience, and love trumps hate! And this is not up for vote, because God is love! Amen.