Matthew is the first book of the New Testament – one of the 4 gospels. The gospels are filled with stories and teachings from Jesus during his ministry on earth. Some Bibles show the words of Jesus in red letters so they stand out. Some Christians, myself included, give more weight to the words of Jesus than the rest of the Bible because, well, those words were spoken by Jesus. This is sometimes considered a controversial view, but most any discussion of the Bible raises controversy. Regardless of whether a person gives more weight to the words of Jesus, it is still worth noting the times Jesus was teaching his followers. It is these teachings I tend to read more literally.
Speaking of literal, that is sometimes one of the tests used by some Christians to decide if other Christians are real Christians. Do you believe the Bible is literal, inerrant, and the like? I was raised in church…Sunday School…Christian school, so I know some of the right answers. But the truth is, I can’t possibly believe the Bible is entirely literal, or even mostly literal, and I would be skeptical of people who claim to believe that, although many say they do.
However, in Matthew, there are several passages I take literally. They encompass the basis of my faith. For example, there are chapters in Matthew referred to as the “Sermon on the Mount” which contain the “Beatitudes.” Many people have heard references to this portion of scripture without having studied the Bible. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matt. 5:4-7
In the chapters that follow, Jesus teaches the crowds about loving their enemies, storing up treasure in heaven, and the impossibility of serving 2 masters–God and money.
Toward the end of Matthew, Jesus teaches again about inheritances: “…’Come, you who are blessed by my father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison, and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matt. 25:34-40
These are the words that have made it impossible for me to reconcile the support from Evangelicals for our president. His behavior is the antithesis of what Jesus taught.
During the campaign in 2016, the Evangelical minority, of which I am and was a part, watched in disbelief as others in our faith openly supported the current president. As one story after another emerged, we were sure it would put an end to his quest for the highest office, and yet there he remained. “He will surround himself with good people,” they said. Mike Pence was supposedly one of those good people, a person I think is more dangerous for our country than the president himself, although it is a very close call.
On Election Day in 2016, I was lucky enough to be living in an RV in Utah. I could process my feelings of betrayal, disappointment, sadness and anger in the mountains, National parks, and Walmart parking lots. The first day-November 9th-I stayed in bed and texted like-minded friends. As I worked through the feelings, I was comforted by the belief his presidency would be short-lived. As the scandals continued, I thought someone would surely put a stop to all of this. The scandals have never stopped, maybe not even for a 24-hour period. When we don’t hear from him, it is often because he’s on the golf course while parts of the country are suffering and in need of sound leadership.
One of the hardest parts of the past 2 years has been reconciling the beliefs about people I respect and love, with their decision to support this president based on the belief that he is somehow God’s candidate. He’s had some of the most vocal support from prominent Christian leaders. It is mind-boggling. There were people who voted for him because they believed he was pro-life, and perhaps his supreme court judge selections will have an effect on the abortion laws. I am sympathetic to this reasoning–the belief that “the least of these” Jesus talked about certainly include unborn babies. However, since his actual term began, it is evident his highest priorities are himself, and money (one of the 2 masters Jesus warned us about in Matthew.)
Others believed the alternative was worse. Most times when I bring up the president to a conservative friend, they will respond by saying Hillary was worse. In a race between two distasteful candidates, I propose not voting for either one. Some people find this unacceptable, but we each have our own conscience to consider. There is a Minnesota Attorney General race in which neither candidate is vote-worthy to me, so I will leave that line blank on the ballot.
I also understand there are those who voted for him, sincerely believing he was the best option, but shortly after his election they saw his true colors. His true colors were never a secret but it is difficult for lifelong conservatives to change parties. They stayed optimistic. But certainly now his faults can no longer be ignored. Please speak out against him.
And yet, there are still large numbers of avid supporters–Evangelical supporters–who believe he’s God’s chosen one.
As time goes by and the s*** show continues, I take different approaches as I have resigned myself to wait it out. I pray. I take a break from the news. I connect with those who believe as I do. I look forward to the November mid-terms with optimism, hoping to send a message that this will not be tolerated. And some relationships suffer. My most conservative relative told me family comes before politics, and yet he routinely posts things on social media that are blatant lies about people like me. When challenged, he only grows more vocal. These exchanges will prevent me from attending the next extended family gathering, out of respect for myself.
I come back to Matthew, and the least of these. I cannot impose my faith on others, but I can and should seek to live it out better. Am I caring for the poor? Am I feeding the hungry? Did I reach out to the stranger, and visit the prisoner, the directives Jesus took the time to teach, and Matthew thought worthy to record? May I do better at these high callings. May those of us who profess to follow Jesus join hands, and walk together serving him and his people, the least of these.