It seems like the Bible is the one piece of real estate Donald Trump is unfamiliar with. Or maybe he’s just never read any of that “Jesus” stuff in the New Testament.
Last Monday, the Donald told Liberty University students not to turn the other cheek but to "get even" with adversaries, particularly in business.
"I always say don't let people take advantage — this goes for a country, too, by the way — don't let people take advantage,” Trump said. “Get even. And you know, if nothing else, others will see that and they're going to say, 'You know, I'm going to let Jim Smith or Sarah Malone, I'm going to let them alone because they're tough customers."
Don’t get me wrong; I’m the last person who wants to get walked all over. And I’m probably not the best authority on the world of business. But I have read Matthew 5, where Jesus pretty plainly tells us to love our enemies — not to “get even” with them. Perhaps Mr. Trump is aware of that one passage where Jesus appears to Paul and tells him to exact revenge on those prison guards. Wait, I must not have read that one. It’s eerily similar to the story in Acts 16 when Paul preaches to the keeper of the prison instead of letting the man kill himself. That one is a little different.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not at all trying to bash Trump — or any other Christian — for his or her success in the business world or any other endeavor. I’m simply questioning the methods used to achieve such success — especially for people who call themselves Christians. “Getting even,” in my understanding, connotes retaliating or even vengeance.
What’s troubling is that Trump has publicly declared himself a Christian.
“I believe in God. I am Christian. I think The Bible is certainly, it is THE book. It is the thing," Trump told Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody.
We live in a day and age in which people are identified as Christians not by their actions but by whether or not they call themselves “Christians.” I see this phenomenon prominently in my life as well. Whenever I ask whether people are Christians, I don’t first look at their actions. Instead, I try to remember if they’ve told me or someone else they were Christians. Because if they call themselves Christians, then they must be Christians, right?
What’s even more troubling is the response from Liberty University. In a statement, Trump’s special counsel, Michael Cohen, said he checked with a university official on the appropriateness of Trump’s comment.
“The biased liberal media continues to distort the success of Mr. Trump’s speech at Liberty University to more than 10,000 students. Most recently they question his advice to the student body ‘to get even’ and call the statement anti-Christian. Wrong!” Michael Cohen said in a statement to ABC News. “I conferred with Johnnie Moore at Liberty University and questioned whether Jesus would ‘get even.’ The answer is ‘he would & he did.’ Johnny explained that the bible is filled with stories of God getting even with his enemies, Jesus got even with the Pharisees and Christians believe that Jesus even got even with Satan by rising from the dead. God is portrayed as giving grace, but he is also portrayed as one tough character — just as Trump stated.”
I’m having a hard time remembering when Jesus got even with the Pharisees — the ones who unjustly prosecuted him, tore up his flesh, publicly humiliated him, and eventually nailed him to a cross where he died next to a couple crooks. He even had the audacity to ask God for their forgiveness while they were murdering him. When Jesus came back and visited the disciples after the resurrection, it doesn’t seem like the first thought in his mind was, “Man, I gotta get even with those Pharisees.”
I’m also not quite sure that “getting even with Satan” was at all the point of Jesus’ death on the cross. God acted out of love. God did not send his son to die so that he could win some sort of cosmic battle of pride.
I can only hope that the students at Liberty are getting a good education — one that encourages them to hear multiple perspectives and prayerfully discern what they believe to be true. I also hope that they’ve learned to ask questions, which is another mark of a fine education, because right now Liberty students should be asking each other, “What the hell is this guy talking about?”
Brandon Hook is the Online Assistant at Sojourners.