Building Walls instead of Bridges

I simply do not know what to say about Donald Trump. I grew up in a home where what was going on in the world and in the nation was talked about regularly at the dinner table. Politics was often a spirited discussion between my father, a dyed-in-the-wool Republican and conservative in almost all his opinions and positions, and my mother who I realized was a lot less ideological and more liberal. He didn’t have much good to say about President Roosevelt and Eleanor but she liked them a lot. Dad used to brag that the first words I spoke as a toddler were “Wendell Wilkie”, the Republican presidential candidate in the 1940 election, an election FDR won handily. I still have his Republican campaign lapel pin bearing Wilkie’s picture from that election. Robert Taft, Harold Stassen, Earl Warren, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Nelson Rockefeller, were familiar names to me listening to my father and they were men of dignity, intelligence and civility.  Mother was a nominal Republican but in 1960 she switched. She loved JFK, Jackie and the whole Kennedy ethos. There were, I recall, vigorous conversations about the Richard Nixon – John F. Kennedy contest in 1960. I asked her, “Did you vote for him?” “Of course I did,” she responded,” but I didn’t tell your father.” I grew up seeing the world though the lens of the 1950’s -60’s Republican Party. It was John Kennedy, the optimism of the New Frontier, the Peace Corps, the high call to service – “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” – that inspired me at the very moment I was deciding what to do with the rest of my life, inspires me still, and made me leave my father’s politics.

And yet, I grew up assuming that Republicans and Democrats, like my parents, were partners in managing the nation, that Congress was the place where ideology evolved into governance, and that the whole deal depended on civility, respect, and compromise.

I am astonished at what has happened in 2016. Jacob Weisberg, author of a book on the presidency of Ronald Reagan, wrote about Reagan in the New York Times recently. “He supported amnesty for illegal immigrants, advocated gun control, used Keynsian stimulus to jump start the economy, favored personal diplomacy even with the nation’s sworn enemies, and instituted tax increases in six out of the eight years of his presidency.” In short, Reagan, who was deeply, ideologically conservative, was also a pragmatist, willing to compromise in the process of governing. Dad died before Reagan was elected but I know he would have loved him.

Then Weisberg turns to the current Republican presidential candidates, each one of whom invokes Ronald Reagan as a patron saint but who have turned Reagan’s party into “a swamp of negativism, ideological extremism, and pessimism about the nation’s future, in direct opposition to Reagan’s example.” The have “transformed primary season into a reality show of insults, betrayals and open feuds.”

I simply do not know what to  make of Donald Trump, and the biggest mystery of all is that Evangelical Christian voters are overwhelmingly Trump supporters. The February 23 issue of Atlantic put it starkly: “How did a twice-divorced, casino owning New Yorker  who curses during speeches and is prone to church-related gaffes such as putting cash into the communion plate, win in a state (South Carolina) where seven in ten Republican voters are white evangelicals?” The author of the article argues that evangelicals, who claim to vote on the basis of Christian morality, have become, “‘nostalgia voters’, a culturally and economically disaffected group that is anxious to hold onto a white, conservative culture that is passing from the scene.”

Each Republican candidate, with varying degrees of authenticity, wraps himself in the mantle of Evangelical Christianity, and Trump famously calls himself a Presbyterian – which makes this Presbyterian cringe. The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church(USA) says that Donald Trump’s name is not on the membership role of any congregatIon in the denomination. Pope Francis got it right when he pointed to the obvious, “building walls instead of bridges is not Christian.” Jesus was not laying out a detailed political strategy plan for governing in the Sermon on the Mount but he did say things like;

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you..
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also..
Do merciful…do not judge…do not condemn..
Forgive and you will be forgiven.

And then, according to St. Luke;
“Why do you call me Lord,
and do not do what I tell you?”

The Bible  does not lay out a plan for governing nations or dealing with complex international realities like Iran, ISIS, North Korea, and Syria, but it does provide moral guidance that can be the basis for how we strive to live our lives, spend our resources, cast our ballots, a basis for how we treat other people, a moral foundation built on hospitality toward the stranger, helping the poor, including the excluded, and humility in all of life’s situations.

Heeding the teachings of Jesus is the precise opposite of boasting, bullying, name calling, threatening, appealing to our lowest instincts – anger, fear and greed, rather than our highest. It surely doesn’t include rounding up the strangers in our midst, regardless of how they got here, and sending them back to the countries and communities from which the escaped, and building a wall to keep them out.


  1. You really don’t have much credibility on this Rev. Buchanan. You gave James M. Wall, who is on CC’s masthead a pass for his bigotry and affiliation with Veterans News Now. And now you go after Trump? Trump was slow to disavow David Duke and the KKK, but Wall was editor of a publication that promoted Duke’s writings. And you never condemned him. Wall is an ordained minister and has behaved in some disgraceful ways, and you were silent.

  2. Silas Knudsen says:

    The grievance I have with my fellow Christians
    is that when they approach a Presidential
    Election they confuse their vote.

    We at NOT electing a Theilogian In Chief or
    an Evangilical Pope. We are electing a
    Commander in Chief.

    By no means was Reagan a “President or Govenor” that
    Governed with Christian Values. H turned
    his back on the sick, the poor, the mentally ill
    and the widowed and orphaned as well as the Veterans.

    Republicans live in a world of denial. It ok to
    At the expense of caring for our own.

    Mixing Religion and Politics is extremely
    dangerous. Theocracies whether the be the
    Vatican, Iran or Israel are dangerous and
    they should be avoided at all costs.

  3. thanks for this!!

  4. castaway5555 says:

    John, you’ve hit the ball outta the park … by a thousand yards or so. What has happened takes my breath away – it’s crazy, it’s beyond words … I don’t know of a time more dangerous than now, though perhaps in the ten years prior to the Civil War, we might have found similar divisions. Thanks for this fine piece.

  5. Martha Quay Laird says:

    Hello John Buchanan, I’m Martha Quay Laird, a child of Broad Avenue Presbyterian Church in Altoona, and youngest child of Alice Quay (who lives near me now, in Wayne. PA, and is now 102 years old! And still a wonderful example of a caring Christian with an discerning mind.) Currently I’m a member of Wayne Presbyterian, John Galloway’s old stomping ground.
    Blair Monie shared this blog. I wish this could be broadly shared with practicing Christians. I’ll do my part to share it. My one comment is that while I’m just as astonished as you are at the tone and behavior of the Republican candidates, I am not surprised. I’m not surprised in that I have seen this “appealing to our lowest instincts – anger, fear, and greed” coming for quite a while. There is much in the Republican strategies of the past few elections that has courted the trigger responses to baser instincts, especially the fear instinct. So, from my point of view, they deserve the product that they have nurtured. They are “reaping what they have sown”. Trump has just played it out one big ugly step further. He appeals to all of the void-of-discernment, shallow-thinking tendencies of American pop culture: the mistaken belief that if one speaks one’s mind, one is somehow speaking truth, when the truth may be that one is only speaking one’s unfiltered, baser instincts. Just because someone says something rather vulgar and base, and it elicits an immediate feeling of “Yes, I feel that!” does not mean that it is somehow a good truth. This only turns prejudices into a kind of distorted virtue. It makes me worried and sad that so many Americans are responsive to Trump.
    Finally, part of my astonishment is at the lack of courage on the part of the media when “moderating” these debates. (They all need a short course in what Presbyterians consider “moderating”!) Why have these media people not demanded better behavior? Why have they not established stronger rules of conduct for the debates, and then upheld those rules? By not doing so, they have fueled the flames, and even worse, given the impression of validating such behavior.
    I am a person of hope, though. And I know what I hope will happen as the election season progresses. It’s a kind of prayer.

  6. timjweaver says:

    Well said, Dr. Buchanan. I completely agree with you.
    David Brooks has observed that Donald Trump employs the tactics and low manners of professional wrestling. Max Lucado has written that “Trump doesn’t pass the decency test.” I’m prayerfully hopeful that the majority of Americans won’t ultimately vote for a carnival barker who sounds very much like a bombastic dictator..

  7. Reblogged this on Bound and Nurtured in God's Love and commented:
    John Buchanan brings us another thoughtful commentary on the need to elect positive and forward thinking leaders who can help our nation build bridges into the future.

  8. A wonderful book that tells a lot about how it used to be, when civility still existed and people had good manners in the USA, is Tip and the Gipper, about the way in which Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan worked together for the common good.

  9. Based on the current slate of candidates, I am concerned and pray that our country survives, regardless who the next president is.

  10. Well said, John. Exactly is step with what Evelyn and I have oberved. Thank you for a meaningful theological assessment.

  11. Sarah Odishoo says:

    Dr. Buchanan, thank you for your biblical sanity. But I was meditating on why such a man would rise up at this time and show to the public how his behavior is so base and offensive by its distortions of values and moral responsibility to the human community. And I speculate that we as God’s children are asked now to recognize the opposites of the Law clearly to identify in our human community what role we need to take in response: to act as Jesus did with those who degrade the principles of his teachings & his life serving God. We can choose: it is that choice at this time that Mr Trump is important to All of us! We need to become conscious of the kind of “ground” we want to stand on: to identify & act on Jesus’ examples through choosing rightly what actions to take–not in kind, but in opposition to the hate-mongering and the segregationist policies and thetowering walls–we can choose to understand and Love Our “enemies” enough to educate the one who needs to be healed of his shameless ignorance to Love his neighbor not his neighborhood.
    Thank you, Dr Buchanan for the inspiration to write this and your presence in this world…

  12. Thank you, John, for this thoughtful piece. Ed Gehres speaks for me. “Religion and Politics: Cain and Abel, originally published on Views from the Edge, the blog Steve Shoemaker and I share” -republished by MinnPost in 2010, might be of interest:

    Thanks for keeping on! All the best! Gordon

  13. Reblogged this on Views from the Edge and commented:
    This post by John Buchanan’s “Hold to the Good” is well worth the read IMHO. John is Pastor Emeritus of Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, and recently retired Publisher of The Christian Century.

  14. CA (Carolyn) says:

    It seems to me that the politician whose platform comes closest to reflecting Jewish AND Christian values is Bernie Sanders. I don’t think one single one of the Republican candidates comes even close, though I guess Trump (or, as his name originally was, Drumpf) is probably farther away than the rest. Then again, is he so much farther away from the others in terms of values, or is it more a matter of his decorum and civility?

  15. You are preaching to the choir here. The people who should read this I’m willing to bet don’t read. Anything.

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