The image of Donald Trump posing with a Bible outside a church building in Washington DC has seared itself into people’s consciousness. It’s been everywhere on news media and on social media and it’s been much discussed. To make the photo-op possible, crowds protesting peacefully about the murder of George Floyd and the racism which blights our societies were tear-gassed and forcibly removed from the US President’s path. I believe most Christians were outraged; I certainly hope they were. I don’t normally comment on political events in this way, but Donald Trump’s actions made me deeply angry, I believe rightly so. As the Bishop of Dover, Rose Hudson-Wilkin, has said: ‘[Mr Trump] would be better off sitting down at a round table and engaging with the structural racism that has over the years continued to contribute to a people being so disenfranchised.’ The President was wrong, both in what he did and in what he has failed to do. His behaviour needs to be called out.
A few days after the incident took place I was writing material for some new podcast episodes, working through the book of James. One of the episodes was to be on these words from James 1:22-25:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
It would have been easy reading these verses to focus again on the unacceptable behaviour of the American President. Here is further vindication for how I felt. That would have been legitimate, but this time my thoughts went in a different direction. What about me? I may not pose with a Bible, but there have certainly been times when I’ve opened it and not done ‘what it says’. Actually, many times. I thank God for his grace upon which I depend. Yet I know I should be further forward in the life of holiness, further forward in love, further forward in my commitment to community, further forward in my commitment to be consistently anti-racist, in living for the God who says there is ‘neither Jew nor Greek…for all are one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3.28). In other words, I should be further forward in doing what the Bible says.
And what about you? What about all of us who desire to live as faithful disciples of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit? To develop James’ illustration of the mirror, when we look at the photo of Donald Trump holding a Bible aloft, using it to forward his own agenda, what do we see? If we are honest, do we see an image of how we can sometimes be, reflected back at us? Holding the Bible, professing to believe in the authority of the Bible, but not living out its life giving, life sharing message day to day? These are uncomfortable questions, but questions we need to ask.
This is not to make us feel guilty, but it is to call us to repentance and radical change. Each day Jesus forgives his failing and fallen followers, picks us up, dusts us down and sets us on the road of discipleship once again. Such is his grace. What’s more he is present with us by the power of the Spirit so that real change is possible. So, as we look into the mirror of God’s word what do we see? This is a vital question. But for James it’s not the most important one. The question he would want to leave us with is not ‘What do we see?’ but rather ‘What will we do?’