Opinion

Trump Embraces Christian Charity? Not So Much

President displays a tolerance for intolerance

Supreme Court Justice John Roberts administers the oath of office to U.S. President Donald Trump as his wife Melania Trump holds the Bible and son Barron Trump looks on, on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Donald Trump was sworn in using two Bibles, the one Lincoln used during his first inauguration and a family copy.

If he’s read either of them, he knows that Jesus separates the sheep from the goats — the people going to heaven from those going to hell — by how they treated their fellow men and women.

“Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” Jesus says in Matthew 25:41-45. “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. … Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

These are values common to Americans across most of the ideological spectrum. They help explain why we subsidize health insurance for the poor, disabled and elderly, provide retirement security, school lunches, tax exemptions for charitable giving and a host of other benefits designed to provide a safety net for the least among us. There are, of course, practical reasons for these programs, too — the plight of extensive poverty and oppression has undeniably deleterious effects on society that go far beyond moral decay.

Christian charity?

It is strange, then, that a president who won a majority of Christian voters — both Protestant and Catholic — has done so much in so little time to target the most vulnerable in society. He is creating a mass deportation force, which he openly describes as a “military operation,” to purge both criminal and noncriminal undocumented immigrants. These “strangers,” who have virtually no voice, have so far included at least one domestic abuse victim and people who sought refuge at a church hypothermia center. Families are being ripped apart in indiscriminate fashion. What is Trump saying: Undocumented immigrants are a danger to Americans, whether or not they’ve committed serious or violent offenses.

His Muslim ban, which has been rewritten a couple of times to obscure its basic premise, targets a statistically tiny community in the United States. Regardless of whether it applies to people who have legal status in America or not, the message from the president and his top advisers couldn’t be more clear: Muslims are to be treated as a threat to national security.

Just last week, Trump reversed Obama administration guidance instructing public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice. There are about 1.4 million transgender people in the U.S. — less than half the size of the Muslim population — and school-age kids represent a fraction of that. Again, the message is unambiguous: Transgender children are a threat.

‘A tolerance for intolerance’

And Trump’s initially dismissive responses to rising anti-Semitism — including threats to dozens of Jewish community centers — betrayed, at the very least, a tolerance for intolerance toward a religious minority that accounts for fewer than 6 million of the 325 million people in America. While Trump eventually called anti-Semitism “horrible,” it was only after he had taken a lot of flak for failing to say anything and telling a Jewish reporter who had asked about it to take a seat. His weak response was brought into sharp relief by the actions and words of his own vice president, Mike Pence, who visited a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis that had been vandalized, worked to clear debris from the site, and spoke in unequivocal terms about his support for the Jewish community.

Trump’s been insensitive, at best, to Jews before. He perpetuated stereotypes during the campaign by telling a Jewish group that they were great negotiators. His attacks on the media echo those of the anti-Semites who say the press is owned and manipulated by Jews. And he hired Steve Bannon, former CEO of the white nationalist-loving website Breitbart, as his right-hand man in the White House. Even the White House statement on Holocaust Remembrance day was devoid of any mention of Jewish people.

So, what are we to take from Trump’s perpetuation of the persecution of small minorities? Like the alt-right white supremacists who follow him, he wants to destroy anyone he sees as weak or different. He’s just starting with the lowest hanging fruit. That’s at odds with the religious convictions of his base, and it runs counter to the compassion that distinguishes American values at their best. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Trump is lining up with the goats.

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