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The religious case against President Trump

By BINYAMIN NOVETSKY | February 20, 2020

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GAGE SKIDMORE/CC BY-SA 2.0

Novetsky draws negative parallels between biblical King Jehoiakim and President Trump.

Around two months ago, the magazine Christianity Today made national headlines by writing an editorial arguing in favor of removing President Donald Trump from office. This article was significant for many reasons, but perhaps the reason that it was so relevant was because of how thoroughly unexpected it seemed. The editorial wasn’t just interesting — it was surprising.

It is well known that the President is considered to be deeply popular among religious Christians, and in particular with white Evangelicals. Seventy-five percent of those white Evangelicals voted for him in 2016, according to CNN.

Admittedly those numbers were far lower when talking about non-white evangelicals, with whom he has a 29 percent approval rating. When you look at non-Evangelicals who regularly attend religious services (around 40 percent of religiously active Americans), Trump’s approval rating is only 46 percent. That being said, for white Americans of any religion, approval is around 60 percent.

While there are certainly issues with identifying as both Jewish and white, I pretty much look the part, so I’ll consider myself in that other 40 percent of religious Americans. However, I’d like here to make a purely religious argument, albeit one based on traditional “Judeo-Christian” sources. 

It would not be particularly creative to discuss the over fifty times that the Old Testament, or the Torah, explicitly commands that we be kind, thoughtful, empathetic and welcoming to strangers. The people least protected by society — namely the widow and orphan, as well as the stranger — are the ones that are most protected in Biblical law.

One of the most famous verses in the entire Torah is Leviticus 19:18, “Love your fellow as yourself.” The verse is shortly followed with clear instructions that “the stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself,” (19:34).

Traditional commentators are all in agreement that both of these verses apply to the stranger. We are commanded to love those that are different from us more than any other, because they are the ones that are most in need of love.

When it comes to the way that our President has spoken and continues to speak of and treat migrants, refugees and those different from him, it is clear that he isn’t exactly following the words of the Torah. 

From imprisoning children on the U.S.-Mexico border to verbally attacking those trying to escape terrible situations in Central and South America, President Trump has clearly and firmly shown a complete and total lack of love for the stranger.

However, as clear a rebuke of the current administration and their policies as that is, I’d like to discuss further a more niche chapter of the Bible that is even more explicit in its censure of a leader like our President. Specifically, I’m referring to chapter 36 of the book of Jeremiah. 

Jeremiah, a prophet, was a huge critic of the Judean king at the time, Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim was incredibly wealthy, and Judea was falling apart. Its populace was overwhelmingly impoverished, yet Jehoiakim lived in a massive palace, lavishly spending money taken from his people while his country was at war and Jews were literally dying on the streets of his capital city from hunger. 

Jeremiah, as you might imagine, was not very happy about this. 

He took many steps to publicly decry the king, undermining Jehoiakim’s authority and criticizing his choices. He even did so in a daring speech delivered in the palace during the king’s first year as ruler. Chapter 36, though, focuses on a scroll dictated by Jeremiah to a scribe, who then delivers it as a speech in the Temple in Jerusalem. 

Significantly, Jeremiah doesn’t deliver this speech himself because he wasn’t welcome in the Temple. He was banned for criticizing the king and claiming that Jehoiakim’s disastrous rule would lead to the destruction of Judea (which it did, for the record). The king was absolute in his policy that no criticism of the government was tolerated.

Jeremiah knows that his people are in danger, though. Even if he can’t deliver his messages in person, he needs to get the word out if the Jews are to have a chance at survival. They needed to know that if — as a nation — they didn’t start to behave, to help those who need it and to rebuild their society as just and compassionate, everyone would be doomed. Jerusalem would fall.

Chapter 36 gives a haunting account of a key event in the destruction of Judea. Nobody dies in this chapter, though. No battles are won or lost, no blood is shed. Jeremiah merely writes a scroll, a manifesto begging for the moral improvement of the Jewish people and criticizing the king for helping to continue a corrupt society where might is equal to right.

The scroll, when read publicly, is a hit. It eventually makes its way to the cabinet of Jehoiakim, who are shaken by the brazen description of the impending doom of Judea. “When they heard all these words, they turned to each other in fear; and they said to [the scribe] Baruch, ‘We must report all this to the king,’” (36:16). The advisors, knowing their king, advise the scribe and Jeremiah to go into hiding before they read the damning scroll for him.

I hope you can see the parallels here with the current President, a man not known for taking criticism particularly well.

When you consider Trump’s constant tweets defending himself from any and all forms of criticism, the fact that he basically never admits he’s ever made a mistake and that every news source that criticizes him he dismisses as “fake news,” to say America today is led by a modern Jehoiakim is not exactly a stretch. 

It is the next scene of this chapter that is the most horrific and tragic. The scroll is read before Jehoiakim, who is sitting in his palace before a roaring fire in the middle of the winter. At the same time, a national fast day has been declared because of the danger that the Jewish people are in. While his nation freezes and starves, Jehoiakim lounges.

His advisors come and read him the scroll, a treatise on everything wrong with his reign and all the mistakes that he’s made. This is the dramatic climax, the moment where we finally see the corrupt king directly face the accusations of all of his wrongdoings. Surely, surely this must compel him! This has to be the moment where Jehoiakim finally repents and changes his ways in order to save his people.

If only it was.

Instead, after every few pages, Jehoiakim takes a knife, cuts out the words criticizing him and throws the parchment into the blazing fire of inequality at his side. He does this, page after page after page, until there’s nothing left. Not a word of critique survives his censorship. His cabinet begs him to stop, to listen, but he refuses, burning every single letter of truth to a crisp.

Jehoiakim was a self-righteous leader who lacked all forms of genuine righteousness, obsessed with himself and incapable of accepting any claim that he had done anything wrong. In his own eyes, Jehoiakim was perfect, every choice correct, every decision right.

His own people were in danger, and he didn’t bat an eye, because he, and those who were like him, were safe. He was rich, his friends were rich and he was convinced that everything was fine.

I’ll leave you with the words Jeremiah records after the burning of the scroll. “Assuredly, thus said the Lord concerning King Jehoiakim of Judah: He shall not have any of his line sitting on the throne of David; and his own corpse shall be left exposed to the heat by day and the cold by night” (36:30). 

The message is abundantly clear. It was obvious then, and it is clear now. Any ruler who refuses to learn is making a fatal error.

If you don’t believe these to be words of God, I understand. Not everyone is religious. But if you do believe them, if you are a person of faith as I am, then to support President Trump is both theologically inconsistent and incoherent.

It’s not just the actions that are problematic or objectionable, it is the man himself, and I for one am tired of hearing excuses.

Binyamin Novetsky is a sophomore from Teaneck, N.J. studying Writing Seminars. He is a Staff Writer for The News-Letter.

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