The people in the Bible group were discussing the Gospel messages of love: in particular, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27); “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you” (Luke 6:27-28); “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matt 7:12).
The focus of the conversation was on how these messages apply to everyday life. One person after another shared a relevant situation and others nodded their appreciation and agreement. Then Agnes (not her real name) said, “I’ve noticed how people, including many Christians, don’t apply the Gospel message to Donald Trump,” and the mood instantly changed.
A man blurted, “Trump doesn’t deserve love because of the hateful things he has said.” Several others offered similar thoughts, until someone stated, “This is supposed to be a discussion of Scripture, not politics,” and the subject quickly shifted.
To be sure, the recent presidential election has made the avoidance of political subjects in general, and of Donald Trump in particular, difficult. But is it wise to exclude those subjects from discussions about the Gospel message?
I say NO because I believe that politics in general and Donald Trump in particular are not just permissible but perfect subjects for such a discussion because they test our understanding of Jesus’ teaching, as well as the level of our commitment to it.
To say the subject of politics does not belong in a discussion of the Gospel message is to suggest that the Gospel message has no relevance to secular matters. Yet the Gospels lend no support to that idea. Similarly, to say, “Trump doesn’t deserve love because of the hateful things he has said,” implies that saying hateful things disqualifies a person from God’s love. Yet Jesus forgave far worse sins than hateful speech and he specifically commanded us to love one another as He has loved us, unconditionally.
Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus say or imply that if we really, really hate someone, we are dispensed from the obligation of loving that person. We are to love others no matter how badly they treat us—in other words, no matter how much reason they give us to hate them.
Similarly, it is often argued that if speaking of a subject causes us to become enraged, we should avoid speaking about it. But that guidance applies only in cases where we are incapable of self-control. (In such cases, we should seek psychological help.) In cases where we are simply in the habit of indulging our bad temper, we should endeavor to break the habit.
These reminders of our obligation to love are all well and good, some will say, but there is still much to be said for refraining from discussions that disturb peace and harmony and strain relationships. They have a point. But it also true that Christians are called to witness for their faith, be “ambassadors for Christ,” in St. Paul’s words (2 Cor. 5:18-20). This obligation entails not merely preaching Scripture to others but also sharing with them the insights about timely issues that flow from the Christian perspective.
The way we gain those insights is to seek the truth about controversial issues by listening to all viewpoints and prayerfully evaluating them in light of Christian teaching. The problem is if we refuse to exchange ideas about controversial issues with fellow Christians, we will surely lack the courage to do so with others. And if we avoid talking about such issues, it won’t be long before we stop thinking about them. Accordingly, when the time comes for us to be a voice for truth, we will have nothing meaningful to say.
Those who still fear discussing controversial issues in Christian gatherings need only remember Jesus’ promise, “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matt 18:20)
Copyright © 2017 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved