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Moses, Trump, and the Christian School

There’s a conundrum we have. I was working with a Christian school in Florida and listening to Christian radio. It was Thursday April 26th and the World Day of Prayer which has the motto: Informed Prayer and Prayerful Action. Christian radio was talking in somewhat pious tones about what a wonderful ceremony there was in the Rose Garden where President Trump signed a proclamation including these words: “America has known peace, prosperity, war, and depression — and prayer has sustained us through it all.  May our Nation and our people never forget the love, grace, and goodness of our Maker, and may our praise and gratitude never cease.  On this National Day of Prayer, let us come together, all according to their faiths, to thank God for His many blessings and ask for His continued guidance and strength.” He was surrounded by the evangelicals who put him into power and whom he continues to woo with great skill.

Now it seems obvious to me, an English teacher who has spent decades of parsing every phrase of numerous poems, plays, short stories and even novels – often to the dread and dismay of my students – that these words were not written by President Trump himself, as his speeches are clearly not since their cadence, scansion, mood and themes have nothing in common with his actual speech patterns and speech content. This doesn’t matter assuming that President Trump is not a complete hypocrite. I actually do believe that in some fashion our 45th President does believe in God. After all, Pew Research says that 71% of the Silent Generation and 69% of the Baby Boomers have an “absolutely certain belief in God”. Only 38% of Baby Boomers attend church and here is the connection to Moses.

In Genesis 4, God is talking to Moses and telling him to go back to Egypt. In verse 23, God actually gives Moses the words to say to Pharaoh including the promise that God “will slay your first-born son” (the following is with thanks to Dennis Prager and his commentary on Exodus). We know that God does indeed slay Pharaoh’s first-born son in the final plague of the Angel of Death commemorated in the Passover and completed in the death of Jesus at the Passover Feast in Jerusalem. But Moses chickens out and doesn’t include this promise to Pharaoh when they eventually meet up. He tells Pharaoh to let my people go, but he fails to tell him that God’s judgment is on him already. This suggests that Moses believes in God – how could he not with all the evidence of his own eyes and ears and heart? But it also suggests that Moses does not yet trust God and fears (we are guessing a bit here) that Pharaoh will kill him if he goes too far in his warnings. We know that Moses was very keen on staying alive! It took time for Moses to truly trust God. I am struck by this because evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham have compared Trump to Moses – great leaders who are flawed is their idea. There is a kernel of truth in their foolishness. Trump believes. He does not trust. Moses believed. He did not trust.

For the Christian school, we should pay attention to this difference between belief and trust for it is a great and dangerous chasm. In some ways the great creeds have led us a little astray in this with their constant refrain of “Credo”, “I believe in”. We have taken the many Bible verses about believing in God in order to be saved and made them absolutes without any context. This has great danger for the Christian school. If belief is it, then there’s not much to being a Christian and all kinds of actions can be justified. St. James warns us that ““You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:19) Much to Martin Luther’s discomfort, he even talks about faith and actions in reverse – you show me your faith and I will show you my actions. His statement that faith without deeds is useless, and that the wrong kinds of deeds lead to judgment leaves no doubt that faith is accompanied by the “right” kind of deeds bearing witness to the love and mercy of God. As Jesus said: ““Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these” (John 14:12) Jesus equally points out that the devil, who certainly believes, does not do Jesus’ works: ““When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

So some thoughts:

  • The motto of the USA is In God We Trust, not in God We Believe.
  • Belief in God at the Christian school is not enough, neither at the Board level, nor at the adult administration level, nor at the faculty level, nor at the student level. Belief in and of itself lacks commitment.
  • Trust in God has far deeper implications and a commitment to lead in Godly fashion:
    • The Board will not talk behind the Head’s back, have factions within itself, use its influence inappropriately, seek favors for itself, fail to act as good stewards
    • The Head of School / Principal and other members of the school’s leadership will not gossip, talk patronizingly about parents, lack courage to move out underperformers, fail to plan and act with courage
    • Faculty will not complain that children are not like they used to be, hang onto old ways because they used to work, fail to collaborate and act as servant leaders
  • Teaching children to trust in God has little to do with holy words and pious sentiments – trusting is hard-edged requiring courage to speak truth in love to power, to take stands that are unpopular, to stand up to bullies even when they are popular, to hold accountable to high standards, to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34)

Trusting does not imply worldly success but, rather, as Dennis Prager puts it: “must mean, first and foremost, that we believe God cares about each one of us and in some way He will ultimately do right by us” (p. 59). We will not be successful with belief only. There’s no commitment to it and a danger that it allows too much. Trust requires full commitment and a leadership that is resurrection centered. In God We Trust.

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