A Moment of Truth
It was a surprisingly honest word from a President whose exaggeration of statistics, distortion of facts, and outright lies have become so incessant that we had almost forgotten what it sounds like to hear his voice say something that might actually be true.
The National Prayer Breakfast is a strange blend of power politics and prayerful platitudes that often seems like a religious version of the Washington Correspondents’ Dinner without the satire. At best, it’s an affirmation of the common ground of our shared religious traditions. At worst, it’s what Jesus critiqued when he talked about praying on street corners.
Jesus and the “Crisis of Contempt”
This year’s Keynote Address by Harvard professor, Arthur Brooks, is more than worth the 15 minutes it will take for you to watch it. As a “follower of Jesus,” he pointed to the words of Jesus, “who taught us to love God and taught us to love each other.”
He named “the biggest crisis facing our nation” as “the crisis of contempt and polarization that’s tearing our societies apart.” But he also called this crisis “the greatest opportunity we have ever had as people of faith to lift our nations up and to bring our people together.”
Focusing on Jesus’ “subversive and counterintuitive” command to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Brooks got personal.
“How many of you love somebody with whom you disagree politically? …Make it personal, my friends…Jesus didn’t say, ‘tolerate your enemies.’ He said, ‘love your enemies.’ Answer hatred with love.”
He closed with this bold challenge for all of us:
“Ask God to give you the strength to do this hard thing, to go against your human nature, to follow Jesus’ teaching…Ask God to take political contempt from your heart. Sometimes, when it’s just too hard, ask God to help you fake it.”
Pow! Where I grew up a sermon like that would be followed by an invitation to repentance and prayer. And then the President got up.
Disagreeing with Jesus
With what felt like genuine honestly, the President said, “Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you. (Laughter.) But I don’t know if Arthur is going to like what I’m going to say.”
He went on to demonstrate his honest rejection of everything Brooks said with his full-throttled, gut-punching anger, hostility and revenge toward those who had opposed him, specifically attacking the Speaker of the House who had just said that she prays for him.
At least he told the truth.
Brooks had acknowledged that it’s hard to love your enemies. It’s hard for all of us. But at the Prayer Breakfast, at his acquittal celebration in the White House, and by his actions every day since, the President has proven that he has no interest in even “faking it.” He’s been declaring, “Jesus, I don’t agree with you. You’re not going to like what I’m going to say.”
Doing the Hard Thing
Brooks got it right when he called loving enemies “the hard thing.” It’s hard for all of us, nearly impossible for some of us. But being a “follower of Jesus” means that we at least accept Jesus’ words as the goal or vision toward which we are called to live. At the very least, we try. So, I, as an imperfect follower of Jesus for whom loving someone with whom I disagree is hard, intend to follow Brooks’ advice and pray:
Lord, give me strength to do the hard thing, to stand for truth and resist evil, but to do it without contempt in my heart. Help me learn to love people with whom I disagree. And sometimes, Lord, when it’s just too hard, help me to fake it. Amen.
Grace and peace,