It’s deplorable, but no worse, that Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-GA) say they don’t recall that specific comment, which no thinking person would find believable. At least, though, Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) did the right thing and confirmed that the media reports are accurate. And, of course, democratic senators also confirmed the reports.
What is appalling, though, and infinitely worse than Trump’s behavior, is that evangelicals serving on Trump’s advisory committee repeatedly refuse to condemn him and call him to account for words and actions that are wholly un-Christlike, if not downright evil.
According to the Washington Post, the pastors’ spokesperson, Johnnie Moore, questioned whether Trump even made the remarks. Jerry Falwell and Harry Jackson declined to comment. Erick Metaxes, Franklin Graham, Paula White, and James Dobson refused to respond to requests for comment. A number of other members of the group excused his language—since he’s not a pastor, as they are—and defended the view he expressed. And the only Hispanic member of the group, Samuel Rodriguez, refused to rebuke Trump but condemned as “shameful” those who called Trump’s behavior racist!
Here’s what Jesus had to say to religious leaders of his time who displayed similar hypocrisy:
23“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! (Matthew 23, NRSV)
In fact, the entire chapter recounts Jesus’ vehement denunciation of the religious leaders of his time. Jesus’ remarks are filled with exclamation points—and even name-calling. Here are the behaviors he condemns, each time beginning with the warning, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”:
- Laying burdens on the shoulders of others and failing to practice what they preach (3-4)
- Doing deeds to be seen by others and claiming the most prominent seats at public gatherings (5-7)
- Converting people and then teaching them hellish behavior by the example they set (13-15)
- Valuing the gold that is laid on the altar more than the sanctuary and the God who dwells in it (16-22)
- Tithing from their bounty and neglecting justice, mercy and faith for those who have no such bounty (23-24)
- Loving the appearance of cleanliness and purity but ignoring the filth inside (25-28)
- Declaring that they would never do some of the horrible things their ancestors did and then doing things that are even worse (29-36)
As a fervent evangelical for a large part of my teen and young adult years, I never once heard a sermon where a pastor had the insight to suggest that he considered his own behavior and those of other Christian leaders when reading passages such as this one. Instead, these pastors’ directed their condemnation at sinners in the congregation who needed to heed the altar call if they didn’t want to spend eternity burning in hell.
These choice words of Christ aren’t directed at the masses: “So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (28). Jesus is saying this to the most prominent religious leaders he knows.
What will be their fate? “You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?…upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth…[those] whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar” (33, 35).
I have heard the voice of these pastors from their prominent places in the media pulpit, condemning the poor, the immigrants, the non-Christian. From their lips, I hear no justice or mercy or faith in the mission Christ commanded us to fulfill—to feed the poor, to care for the sick and the disenfranchised.
And just as surely, I hear the voice of Christ, ringing out in these ordinary days that follow the season celebrating his birth as a warning to those entrusted to preach the Gospel:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…Woe to you, blind guides…You blind fools!…How blind you are!…Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?”
I suspect the answer doesn’t lie in defending a man who is the polar opposite of the Christ we Christians serve. I just hope the leaders on this advisory council heed Christ’s warning before they take our country to hell with them.
Disclaimer: Yes, I have judged. But as Christ warned those who would do so, I am willing to be judged by the same standard that I’m using to judge them: Am I doing my best to follow the example Christ set for me?