The Rev. J. Dana Trent is a graduate of Duke Divinity School, professor of World Religions, and author of One Breath at a Time: A Skeptic's Guide to Christian Meditation (Upper Room Books, January 2019).
Posts By This Author
Teaching Empathy in a World That Creates Religious 'Others'
Let me tell you what it’s like to walk into a classroom studying world religions after a mass shooting at a house of worship. I know because I’ve done it twice in six months. Last October, my students and I returned to class after 11 people were gunned down in Pittsburgh during Shabbat services. Last Friday, we awoke to a shooting that killed 50 people during Jumu'ah prayers at a New Zealand masjid.
How Stillness Can Sustain Our Activism
Practicing silence can be counter-intuitive among progressive Jesus-followers who want to usurp the Trump-supporting, fear-mongering, Fox News version of Christianity. We’re emboldened to speak up and out, responding to next oppressive policy, the next breaking story, the next call to use our privilege to work on behalf of those who have little or none. But we risk something in this cycle: the development of a savior complex that loses touch with God’s direction of our call because we are too busy working to hear it.
Sabbath as Resistance
“AMERICA FIRST” is not a new mantra. While Donald Trump used the phrase during his campaign and in his inaugural address, some of its most telling roots are in the America First Committee of the 1940s, which advocated staunch isolationism (and less explicitly, anti-Semitism) and sought to prevent the U.S. from entering the second World War.
For Trump, the phrase is connected to economic wealth. “I’m ‘America First,’” Trump told The New York Times in a pre-election interview. “But you can’t make America great again unless you make it rich again.”
When Trump declares he will make “America” first and rich, he’s clearly not referring to everyone in the U.S. “America first” is a battle cry for the privileged, those who already reap tremendous benefits off the backs of the marginalized. When Trump wants America to be first by being rich, he means white Americans at the helm of corporations and lobbies, whose success comes at the expense of others.
‘Prosperity breeds amnesia’
Christianity is rooted in a gospel narrative that urges its adherents to strip ourselves of attachment to worldly treasure and the egoism of being first (see Matthew 20:16). Despite that, Trump’s most supportive base is among white evangelicals. As Frederick Douglass put it, “Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.”
Why has so much of modern (white) U.S. Christianity—with its scriptures of the “first shall be last” and in light of hard-earned historical lessons of slavery, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement—aligned itself with values so antithetical to Jesus’ message? Perhaps some of the answer can be found in an insight from Walter Brueggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance: “Prosperity breeds amnesia.”