Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36, N.K.J.V.)
News broke this week about a speech that Donald Trump Jr. gave on December 19th to a Turning Point USA gathering in Phoenix, Arizona. In case you didn’t know — and don’t feel bad if you didn’t because I didn’t, either — Turning Point USA is a nonprofit organization that caters to young political conservatives on the high school and college fronts. Its goal is to motivate those young folks to get involved in politics and fight against the leftist liberal agenda.
Turning Point USA believes the following three things: 1. The United States of America is the greatest country in the history of the world. 2. The United States Constitution is the most exceptional political document ever written. 3. Capitalism is the most moral and proven economic system ever discovered. According to their website, the organization’s political strategy can be summed up with the following sentence: “We play offense with a sense of urgency to win America’s culture wars.”
Okay, now that we know a little about Turning Point USA, let’s get back to Donald Trump Jr.’s speech. Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd of supporters, most of whom would describe themselves as being Christian evangelicals, Trump Jr. said the following about “cancel culture”:
If we get together, they cannot cancel us all. OK? They won’t. And this will be contrary to a lot of our beliefs because — I’d love not to have to participate in cancel culture. I’d love that it didn’t exist. But as long as it does, folks, we’d better be playing the same game. OK? We’ve been playing T-ball for half a century while they’re playing hardball and cheating. Right? We’ve turned the other cheek, and I understand, sort of, the biblical reference — I understand the mentality — but it’s gotten us nothing. OK? It’s gotten us nothing while we’ve ceded ground in every major institution in our country.
That last part about how turning the other cheek has gotten us nothing really riled some professing Christians. It was as if Trump Jr. was saying that Christ’s teachings from the Sermon on the Mount are for losers and we’ll never win the cultural war unless we start playing by new rules. As for me, though, I didn’t get upset about what Trump Jr. said. I just thought to myself, “Oh look, Donald Trump Jr. has finally figured out that biblical Christianity and American nationalism aren’t after the same goals.”
One of the things that disappoints me about Christians in America is that so many of us have bought into the mentality that following Jesus always makes you a winner in terms of worldly accomplishments. Do you want your team to win the big game? All you have to do is tell the team chaplain to evoke the name of Jesus over your players. Do you want your business to grow numerically and monetarily? All you have to do is put pictures of Jesus on the walls of your office. Do you want your Presidential candidate to win? All you have to do is assemble together a prayer team and have the members pray in agreement for Jesus to put your candidate into office.
While the image of Jesus as a blond-haired, blue-eyed, undefeated champion from the heartland of America plays well in not only conservative political rallies but also certain churches, the reality of following Jesus typically looks very different. That reality includes Christians being in the minority, experiencing persecution, being constantly engaged in spiritual warfare against Satan and his fellow fallen angels, and (in the worst-case scenarios) getting martyred for the faith. Try selling that to a crowd of young political conservatives who want to take America back and make it great again.
Just to be clear, no one who knows me would call me a flaming liberal. In regards to how I feel about America, I love baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and have owned several Chevrolets in my lifetime. I would have even driven those Chevys to the levee if there had been a dry levee in my vicinity. In regards to how I feel about political issues, I am a registered Republican who preaches against abortion and homosexuality. I’d love to see Roe vs. Wade overturned, and I have never wavered in saying that the LGBTQ movement is anything but thoroughly unbiblical and sinful. In other words, I’m a conservative Christian who would feel much more comfortable at a Turning Point USA rally than I would at a Planned Parenthood rally. However, with that said, I am under no delusion whatsoever that the kingdom of the United States of America and the kingdom of Jesus Christ have ever been or ever will be one and the same.
Please allow me to be blunt: In regards to the realm of this world, Donald Trump Jr. wasn’t wrong in what he said. The truth is that turning the other cheek will cause you to take it on the opposite chin, give up ground to your enemies, and come off looking like a loser. After all, nobody ever lived the Christian life better than Jesus and it got Him unjustly persecuted, betrayed, arrested, and nailed to a cross. Why, then, do we modern-day Christians get so surprised when we come out on the short end of the stick in our dealings with the world? Jesus couldn’t have been any clearer when He said to His apostles:
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of this world, but I chose you out of this world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word I said to you, “A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. (John 15:18-21, N.K.J.V.)
You see, what Donald Trump Jr. has figured out is that Jesus’ teachings don’t align with playing political hardball, even when the stakes are as high as they are in America’s cultural war. “An eye for an eye” really is a more effective way to win elections, but Jesus still says, “Turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-39). Speeches about hating your enemy really do fire up your constituency, but Jesus still says, “Pray for those who use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). Doing your charitable deeds when the cameras are rolling really does make for good publicity, but Jesus still says, “Do those deeds in secret where only God can see you do them” (Matthew 6:1-4). Praying impressive sounding prayers in public really does put you in good standing with the Religious Right, but Jesus still says, “Pray privately in your secret place where only God the Father can hear you” (Matthew 6:5-8). Accumulating monetary war chests really does enable you to effectively lobby and advertise for your political agenda, but Jesus still says, “Lay up for yourself treasure in heaven, not on earth” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Warren Wiersbe, who is on a short list of my all-time favorite preachers and commentators, used to say that God isn’t trying to save this world; what He’s doing is saving people out of this world. I think that’s a lesson that a lot of professing Christians in America need to learn. If we don’t, we will fully embrace the “win at all costs” mentality of Donald Trump Jr. and all the other political mouthpieces (not only from the right but also the left) who earn a living by keeping their bases at a fever pitch.
Here’s a question that’s worth asking: If we have to kick the Sermon on the Mount to the curb in order to win the cultural war, what have we really won? Jesus didn’t say, “If you love Me, talk about My commandments and use them as screen-savers on your computers.” What He said was, “If you love Me, KEEP my commandments” (John 14:15). You say, “But if I do that, I might not come out on the winning side of things.” Oh, you mean like John the Baptist getting beheaded by Herod Antipas, Stephen getting stoned to death by the Jewish Sanhedrin, James getting executed upon the order of Herod Agrippa I, Paul getting arrested by the Romans, and John getting forced into exile on the penal island of Patmos by the Romans? Is that the kind of “losing” that you think is so unappealing, so unamerican, and so unbecoming of a follower of Christ?
Look, I didn’t write this post to go on a tirade against Donald Trump, Jr. I just wanted to point out that all he did was say out loud what some evangelical Christians have inwardly thought. You’ve heard that old saying, “The end justifies the means,” haven’t you? Well, that’s the mentality that some professing Christians seem to take when it comes to who gets to dictate the rules for American culture. Even though these Christians would never admit to thinking this way, their mindset seems to be, “Once we have won this cultural war, then we’ll hold our Bibles high and live by them, but for now the priority is to win the war by any means necessary.”
Of course, the problem with that mentality is that living by Christ’s teachings isn’t something that we Christians can just take or leave depending upon the situation. Even if it means that we don’t always come out victorious in this life, our duty is to faithfully live out those teachings as best we can regardless of where we happen to be at the time and what we happen to be doing there. Once again let me say that Donald Trump Jr. wasn’t wrong in what he said. What he was wrong about was the implied assumption that it must be God’s will for Christians to win the cultural war and that God doesn’t mind us laying Christ’s teachings aside in order to do it.
Jesus Himself says in the text verse for this post that His kingdom isn’t of this world. Once you understand that, then you’ll understand why His followers aren’t guaranteed victory in everything we do on this earth. The good news, though, is that Christ’s kingdom is coming to this world one day. That will happen when Jesus returns to walk this earth again and establishes His 1,000 year reign upon it. But until then we Christians are called to be the salt and light that this lost world so desperately needs (Matthew 5:13-16). Sometimes the Lord’s influence through us will be enough to turn the courses of events the way we want them to go, but other times it won’t be. No matter what happens, though, we will receive eternal rewards for having faithfully followed Jesus, and those rewards will be infinitely greater than any earthly accolades we might accumulate by forgetting about the Sermon on the Mount altogether and using worldly tactics to fight for our causes. That’s why, Christian, I’m sticking with the Sermon on the Mount, and if you are smart you will too.