On Challenging the Status Quo: Trump, Patriotism, Israel
“Why do you seem so angry at Trump, yet you rarely criticized Obama?”
“Why are you so hard on Israelis and overly gracious toward Palestinians?”
“Why do you take Republican leaders to task and yet give Democrats a free ride?”
“Why do you criticize your own “Christian” religion incessantly, while remaining a staunch ally of your Muslim friends?”
I get asked these types of questions a lot. They come in different forms, with various emotional tones. But, really, they all wonder the same thing: What’s your deal, Carl?
Believe it or not, I do have a strategy. A rhyme and reason to what may seem to some like madness. Let me explain.
First, most of us don’t like our realities and perceptions challenged. If you “know” something to be true and then someone comes along and says “no that’s actually not true,” you are forced to do one of two things: 1) Reconsider what you “know,” or 2) Write off the person with the challenging information as WRONG. There’s almost no in-between. You either consider changing your viewpoint, or not. (In which case, if you’re on social media, I’ve observed that some find it therapeutic to start calling the other one vulgar names – or at least a political or religious heretic.)
So why do I challenge so much of what many hold dear? Patriotism. Love for Israel. Dislike of Muslims, immigrants and refugees. Why do I risk looking “liberal” when, in fact, I’m quite conservative both theologically and politically?
I do it because that’s what Jesus did.
Ok, ok, so I’m playing the “WWJD” card. I know that’s not fair. But hear me out. Jesus constantly challenged the status quo of his own people. You won’t find him giving the Samaritan leaders a hard time. We don’t see Jesus making pejorative comments about the pagans around him. He didn’t tell the Romans to go home.
He left his sharp rebukes (and they were sharp indeed) for those of his own tribe. Jews. Religious leaders within his own people group. Pharisees, Sadducees and Teachers of the Law. Those Jewish leaders who played political games like Caiaphas.
Very few from my background (white, male, evangelical mid-westerner) liked Obama. So why would I be tough on him when no one from my people liked him anyway?
Conversely, and amazingly, many from my tribe do support President Trump. So I’m tough on him.
Very few from my tribe support Palestinians. So, it would be unnecessary, even pointless, for me to call out the hypocrisy in their worldview (even though there’s plenty.)
Is Trump worse than Obama? Only God knows. That’s not even the point for me. Are Israelis worse than Palestinians? Maybe, but that’s not what I’m after. It’s not simply who’s right and who’s wrong – we all have our own perspectives. What’s important is seeing the other side. The side of the minority. To encourage us to not blindly fall in line with whatever our group tells us is true or right. That’s actually quite dangerous.
Life is full of nuance because people are nuanced. Everyone has a story. When I sit with an Israeli who lost both of his parents in the Holocaust, I’m deeply moved and can see (and feel) why they’re afraid of Palestinians and why their mantra is “never again.” I get it.
And then I sit with a Palestinian whose land has been ripped from beneath his feet by these same Israelis, and whose life is under threat even now, and my heart is broken.
There’s room for all of these positions and for all of these feelings. They are not mutually exclusive. Like people, however imperfectly, they coexist.
I’m not the judge of which “side” is more right than the other, but I do feel free to help my own tribe to more wisely discern complexities and consider that the “other” might be closer to us than we think.
And that’s why I was kind to President Obama, yet tough on our current President.
Let’s get back to Jesus.
Think with me about Jesus’ friendships. He was toughest on those closest to him and softest on those further out. Think of concentric circles around Jesus. In the first circle of his 12 disciples, he was hardest on Peter, James and John. He was extremely tough with them – even at one point, calling Peter Satan.
Think of religions as concentric circles going out from Jesus. The innermost circle would be Jewish leaders. He was often down-right mean toward them. Then you’d have other Jews – he was tough on them too, but not quite as hard as he was on the leaders. And then you’d have Samaritans and other non-Jewish people, to whom he was typically quite kind.
Tougher on men, easier on women.
Harder on adults, tender toward children.
Kind with the healthy, but extra compassionate toward the sick.
“It’s not the healthy who need a doctor,” Jesus said.
And so that’s why I do what I do.