Dwight A. Moody, PhD
Just hours before the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as 45th President of the United States, pastor Robert Jeffress of Texas preached a short sermon in St. John’s Episcopal Church. In attendance were Trump and his family and friends and Vice President Mike Pence with his family and friends.
Jeffress took his text from the story of Nehemiah and said: “God raised up a powerful leader to restore the nation. The man God chose was neither a politician nor a priest. Instead, God chose a builder whose name was Nehemiah. And the first step of rebuilding the nation was the building of a great wall.”
There were some other things about Nehemiah the preacher failed to note, and there were other people the preacher left unnamed.
Nehemiah built the wall around Jerusalem. One of its functions was to protect Israel from her enemies. But another purpose was to keep out those who were not welcome. On the day of dedication, the scripture reads, “Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners…. They excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent” (9:2 and 13:3). Furthermore, Nehemiah complained, “I saw men of Judah had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. Half of their children spoke the language … of one of the other peoples and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. I rebuked them and called curses down upon them. I beat some of the men. I said, ‘Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?’” (13:27).
In his sermon to the new President, Pastor Jeffress neglected to mention this prohibition on people outside the tribe, this inhospitality to others who lived among them and around them, this ban of mixing and mingling with those who spoke another language. No, Jeffress did not mention this, and there is another curious and telling absence in the sermon.
Jeffress did not mention Jesus.
The Christian preacher speaking in a Christian pulpit for the Christian people of a Christianized nation did not mention the name of Christ. He did mention Ronald Reagan and Walter Peyton; and he mentioned Sanballat and Tobiah (from the biblical narrative) and also the prophet Daniel as well as Nehemiah; and he mentioned Trump and Pence; and he mentioned himself twice.
But he never mentioned Jesus.
But he was not the last to leave out the Savior when extolling the greatness of Donald Trump. In fact, in these three years since the stunning election of Trump, many Christian leaders have taken pen in hand to write a defense of the one whom many of us see as the counter-christ, the one whose personal behavior and public policies are precisely the opposite of what we see and hear in the life and teachings of Jesus.
For instance, in December of last year, another Texas minister Jack Graham penned a 1300+ word essay on why Donald Trump is the chosen one of God and deserves to be re-elected. Not once did the name of Jesus appear in this affirmation; not once did the good minister appeal to a word or deed of Jesus.
Also in December, popular theologian Wayne Grudem published an equally long defense of trump, pushing back against a widely read editorial in Christianity Today. Again, not once does he name Jesus and, even though he defends Trump because “he has delivered on so many issues important to Christian voters”, he nowhere uses the words or deeds of our Lord to make his case for either the personal or public life of Mr. Trump.
Last month, author Eric Mataxas also wrote an essay defending Trump against that same critique found in Christianity Today. He managed to mention Jesus once, but not in relation to Trump, rather in describing the salvation that we have by grace through faith.
Now, Regnery Publishing of New Jersey is releasing in March a book by the conservative organizer Ralph Reed. It is entitled For God and Country, The Christian Case for Trump. It will be interesting to see if and how Reed, a seasoned political operative closely allied with certain elements of the Christian community, will use the name, the person, the life, and the teachings of Jesus to push forward the presidency of Donald J. Trump.
A few weeks ago, I challenged my Facebook friends to write a sentence that included both the name Trump and the name Jesus. A modest response of 42 entries brought a range of statements: from “Jesus sent Trump to make America great again” to “Jesus wept; Trump mocked” to “Under Trump, Jesus would have been separated from Mary and Joseph as they were deported, then either adopted out or left to died in a border camp” and finally “Jesus loves me, and Jesus loves Donald Trump, too”.
In the end, it is exceedingly hard to promote Donald Trump as person or a President using the words or deeds of Jesus our Lord and Savior. And this is a sad commentary upon both Trump himself and all those Christians who extoll him as the messianic agent of God’s work on earth.
I’m left precisely where I started, asking that simple question: “Where’s Jesus?” If you can find Jesus in all the places we are looking, let me know.
read other commentaries by Dr. Moody at themeetinghouse.net/commentary