If, as G.K. Chesterton, once wrote, America is "a nation with the soul of a church," perhaps it would be wise for us on this presidential inauguration day to do a brief review of our new president's connection to religion and what that might mean over the next four (or eight) years.
Daniel Burke, CNN's religion editor, took such a look at Donald Trump late in the presidential campaign.
"Trump's attempts at public religion have been awkward, at best," Burke wrote.
In fact, though Trump asserts he's a Presbyterian, the language of faith seems to escape him. And if some investigative reporting about Trump's business dealings and his penchant for revenge is anywhere close to accurate, we're dealing with a man whose actions often fly in the face of the teachings of the world's great religions on such subjects as forgiveness, compassion, concern for the poor, personal piety and moral rectitude.
And yet a broad sweep of American Christians who identify themselves as conservative or evangelical backed Trump's election and are hoping he can restore a national dialogue about and commitment to traditional values (whatever, exactly, that term means).
It's hard for me to share their optimism, but the fact is that we simply don't know yet how Trump will behave once he sits in the Oval Office. Will he express words of love and reconciliation but besmirch the office with tawdry examples of personal lust the way Bill Clinton did? Or will he be a fundamentally decent, moral man, like George H. W. Bush, who often felt the need to compromise politically in awkward ways to move his agenda forward in opposition not just to Democrats but to narrow-gauge, intransigent Republicans like Newt Gingrich? Will he stain the presidency with the kind of immoral, despicable behavior that we saw in Richard Nixon or will he, like Barack Obama, manage to get through his term without serious scandal but, like Obama, be challenged at every turn by the political opposition?
I don't know. And neither does anyone else.
It seems to me that what people of faith are called to do in this and every other presidential administration is not just to pray for the president and his administration and the nation but also to be close observers of what happens and to speak with our prophetic voices about what we see going amiss and how that might be rectified.
Supporters of the new president cannot simply assume that everything he does now will be fine, just as his opponents cannot assume that his every action will be wrong and in need of public condemnation. Let's be discerning. Which will require us to watch carefully.
And let's remember that the United States has survived a long time partly because its citizens have, on the whole, been responsible and have understood it's their responsibility to know that when we speak of "the government," we mean us, the citizens.
Represent us well, Mr. President. We'll be watching (and more).
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A KEY TO PRESIDENTIAL POPULARITY?
Donald Trump is starting his presidency with low approval ratings, but there's one leader who might be able to teach him how to improve his standing in the polls -- and that's Pope Francis, whose popularity among Americans is growing from what started out as a pretty high base. His attractiveness to a wide swath of people is part of what led Paul Rock and me to write our book, Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church. The lesson for Trump? Maybe it's: Be more like Francis.