By T.C. Moore

The United States is neck-deep in an unprecedented election season. Suffice it to say, people who have spent their entire careers reporting on partisan politics continue to be tc_mooreamazed, sometimes daily, by the candidacy of Donald Trump. One of the latest examples is a recording of Trump making explicit statements about the sexual assaults he has perpetrated on women because he is a wealthy celebrity.

As if Donald Trump’s actions and statements aren’t infuriating enough, there are also the routine justifications by Conservative and ‘Evangelical’ spokespersons. Many of the same figures who never tire of moral conversations concerning American ‘family values,’ ‘sexual ethics’ and ‘integrity,’ are some of the same who are now performing acrobatics to justify their support of Trump. Because Trump has made certain calculated decisions to align himself with Conservative political philosophy (i.e. running as ‘pro-life’ and promising to defend ‘religious liberty,’ etc.), many Conservative Evangelicals consider themselves unswervingly obliged to support him. But there’s an even deeper issue at work than simple partisan politics. Trump supporters may not be aware, but they are guided by a conception of power that the cross of Jesus Christ directly defies.

In their book, Metaphors We Live By, linguistic philosophers Johnson and Lackoff explain how the concepts behind our words are formative not only of our beliefs, but of the resulting actions we take. In one example, they detail how we describe argument in terms of warfare. “He attacked my point,” “I defended my position,” “He shot down all my arguments,” etc. They propose that the conceptual metaphor “argument as war” drives not only the way we talk about argument, but also how we carry it out. “Imagine a culture where an argument is viewed as a dance, the participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way. In such a culture, people would view arguments differently, experience them differently, carry them out differently, and talk about them differently.”

Something similar is going on behind the inexplicable Trump-support of many Evangelicals. Rather than the cross of Jesus Christ framing their concept of power, power is conceptualized as totalizing control. Yet, it is precisely this conception of power that the apostle Paul denounces in First Corinthians chapter one. Paul confronts the Corinthian Christians who are divided along partisan political lines. They have lined up behind their preferred teacher instead of seeking oneness in their shared union with Christ. “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

This is also what Paul teaches the church at Philippi when he uses the term kenosis (self-emptying or self-giving) to describe how God is revealed in Jesus’ cross. Rather than revealing God as one who exercises totalizing control over others, Jesus’ cross reveals that God’s character and nature is self-giving love. Jesus’ cross, not control, should frame our perception of power.

It is God’s essential nature of kenosis that Tom Oord has described in his book, The Uncontrolling Love of God. In a chapter called “Models of God’s Providence,” Oord confronts the concepts of power which lurk beneath the surface of our thinking about divine providence. Many Christians aren’t aware that the concept of power as control subtly shows up in how we talk about miracles and justice. Since suffering and injustice are evident in the world, explanations must be provided for how God can be providentially reigning. One of those explanations, which Oord takes on, is the “God is voluntarily self-limited” model. God has chosen not to intervene in the world in ways that violate the free agency of creatures or the regularities/natural laws of our world. However, just out of sight, the presence of the concept of power as control is still felt as, “This model maintains a view of God’s power that says God could withdraw, override or fail to offer freedom/agency to creatures. God could violate the regularities/natural laws of the universe. God could intervene in these ways if God chose to do so because God can control others.”

In this model and others like it, power as control is God’s ‘trump card.’ And with this proverbial trump card, God can win the game at any moment.

Yet, this is precisely what God does not do on the cross. Jesus’ revelation of God is decidedly not power as control but power as self-giving love. This is the center of our life together as communities of Christ-followers. As we worship the God who is revealed in Christ crucified, we are being transformed more and more into human beings who live lives of self-giving love—not seeking to control others, but, instead, to serve. God’s love manifested itself in Jesus’ servanthood, not coercion. Therefore, it is this ‘attitude’ or spirit of humility and servanthood that we are empowered to embody in and through our lives.

The ‘trump card’ concept of power manifests itself in many ways. It’s not always as blatant as using one’s wealth and celebrity to sexually assault women. In most of our lives it is far more subtle. We demand conformity from those around us. Or we only feel powerful when we ‘win’ an argument. The concept of power as self-giving love demonstrated in Jesus’ cross reveals and provides us a better way.

God neither has nor seeks any trump card, nor should we.

T. C. Moore is the husband of Osheta Moore and together they parent three wonderful school-aged children. He serves as a pastor for an intentionally inclusive, multi-ethnic, multi-socioeconomic, and multi-generational congregation that gathers in Downtown Los Angeles. He is a designer and theology nerd who writes at his blog: TheologicalGraffiti.com. And he graduated from Gordon-Conwell’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education.

5 thoughts on “No Trump Card: Partisan Politics, Divine Providence, and What the Cross Reveals About Power as Control

  1. Don’t necessarily disagree, agree, or know quite what God is saying? But with respect, not sure your reasoning is all sound. Yes, what you say about God – but how and who this relates to? Two candidates: If you said same about both – much less argument and come on, with Trump, much less to prove? Compare evidence and the historical, look one-step beyond? As for me, I’m appalled at progressives being so, so, SO – typically closed, to any political depth of investigation. Talk about the election has accentuated this. A shrug and the joys of smug (not saying you are). Those jumping on pro-Trump, shows a certain understandable hope but the problems, if managing to stop the steal are not about a (could be edited) recordings of his disrespect. Almost better not-Trump, only because… the vulnerabilities are so rife. Maybe time we get to see Clinton/backers and get on with troubles like never known. Having said this, Trump would have to be all you speak of God in Jesus, in one of us, to make good. Life laid down… Me: Feel pain. This all. Mourning and maybe?

    Rarely comment on sites like this/and certainly not about to start doing otherwise. A gem with this one. Call it The Liberating Love of God. Encouraged with the good God-talk. But as for politics? Where is God and those with a word? Where? Show me? Please… it’s ok, no need. I despair and weep. For an awakening. Noted Brother Oord cites his David Ray Griffin, an influence. Think of Gore Vidal’s humility to be taught. This the card we need. The H card.

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    • Hi Mark, I couldn’t make out all of your objections, but I did decipher that you were disappointed I didn’t comment on Clinton equally. To that objection, I’ll respond. The goal of this post wasn’t analysis of the candidates themselves but the conception of power we unconsciously hold and how it affects our view of both partisan politics and divine providence. The goal of this post wasn’t to analyze Trump (there is plenty of that already). I don’t and wouldn’t presume to tell you how to vote. I’m a pastor and theology scholar; I presume to tell you about the conception of power the Scriptures teach by way of Jesus’s Cross. Regardless of who you decide to vote for, if you decide to vote, what I would hope you take away from this piece is the knowledge that Jesus’s Cross reveals God’s power as self-giving love. Peace.

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      • Apologies if I misread you. Admit, did a too hasty read. Granted your intention ‘wasn’t (an) analysis of the candidates’ but bash Trump mainstream led bias, often-lies fest, is in full swing. Empire in fever pitch. Perhaps this explains my less nuanced (mis)reading/response. Grieved at the ‘conception of power’ that fails to measure people’s political leadership claims with more equatable integrity – the cards we’re dealt. More ‘not the way of the cross’. As for my wider ‘objections’ go? It’s not something easily received over understood. A matter for prayer. No mystery, at least on the surface. Yet, of course we all know what I’m on about, but this ‘conception’ is the unspeakable. Until we do and action by way – again – of… ‘Jesus’s Cross reveals God’s power as self-giving love’ we’re in denial and… No. Not for me to write here. Perhaps this to leave with: humility is sometimes a lot easier for the failed and idiots like me. // Thanks for the article, and your reply to my comment. Thanks for having me.

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  2. I read your article and it saddened me. First, it disturbs me that you feel anyone must justify their support of a candidate. It is precisely this mentality that is contributing to the division of this country. Although I may not agree with someone as to who is the best person for the job and why, I respect ones right to choose as he or she sees fit. Second, I think it is foolhardy to ignore the fact that most Christian Trump supporters are well aware of his character flaws and do not try to defend them. Instead, they realize that God quite often uses flawed people to further His Kingdom and infuse hope in the world. Let’s see, there was Samson the womanizer, Rahab the prostitute, Noah the drunk, Jacob the cheater, David the murderer, the twelve disciples, and praise the Lord for Paul. In fact, some may say that TC Moore was once a man of poor choices. Nevertheless, God changed his heart just like He can change Donald Trump’s heart. Third, one would be hard pressed to defend the behaviors and faith of either candidate; particularly Christians who know full well that all sin is equal in the eyes of God. In addition, all Christians are aware that Jesus instructed us to love those who are hard to love; does Mr. Trump not fit into that category? Thus, it is my opinion that this all boils down to whose policies the voter supports. Abortion. Same sex marriage. Immigration. Economics. Health Care. International Relations. Environmental concerns. Religious freedom. Gun control. Education. It is here where Christians are parting ways…the interpretation of God’s Word is fracturing our community. This is not new. Scripture tells us that God’s word has been distorted before. In fact, we are warned to be careful “lest [we be] carried away by the error of unprincipled men”. (2 Peter 3:17).

    As a Christian, I feel I must vote for the candidate whom I feel most supports biblical principles. I feel that my siblings in Christ, particularly my pastor, should not condemn my choice but should feel free to speak the Truth…in love. Sadly, I found your tweets and your article to be condescending and condemning. In fact, I am disheartened for the Trump supporters in your congregation; I wonder if they would feel free to express their opinions and share their biblical world views in an environment that isn’t promoting a “shared oneness in Christ”…particularly those who “inexplicabl[y]…support” Trump.

    Although you state that the purpose of your post is not “an analysis of the candidates themselves…[and] “wasn’t to analyze Trump”, it is clearly an admonition of those who support Donald Trump. In fact, if the article doesn’t convince someone of your disdain for Trump supporters, perhaps your tweets (including those calling out “partisan trolls”) will.

    In closing, I am not responding to argue biblical correctness, discuss the relevance the theories asserted in your article, nor chastise you. I am writing to denounce all of us Christians for behaving badly during this election. Yes, even pastors! The eyes of non-believers are on us and we are certainly not “serving God’s love” when we attack those who do not share our beliefs. We have been given the blessing to worship our Lord through our treatment of others, our sharing of the gospel, and our spreading of Truth and love and we are failing.

    Praying for us all that God will turn our hearts like streams of water and guide them in the direction that HE pleases. (Proverbs 21:20) Peace & blessings!

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