What Would Samuel Say Today?

 
American democracy is in serious trouble today. Our president is steadily, insidiously attacking its foundations. We’re so lost among the trees of his lies, so boggled by the scandals and investigations and hearings, that we have lost sight of the forest. We’re barraged by news of outrageous incidents, but meanwhile we are losing the view of the much bigger picture. Trump and the Republicans are denigrating the institutions and public trust that make our Constitution meaningful. Tyrrany seldom comes overnight: it comes after democracy has died by a thousand cuts.

Embedded in the Judeo-Christian tradition is a deep distaste for despotism. Now is the time for us to read our Bibles, remember our spiritual roots, and renew our commitment to resist the forces of oppression, fighting back against the “powers and principalities”. William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, said that people “must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants.” In a time when so many churches in America have been turned into Republican echo chambers, Christians who choose God over billionaire autocrats must make their voices heard in the public square as never before.

Nowhere in our scripture is the democratizing impulse more evident than in the speech of the prophet Samuel to the people of Israel, when they clamored for him to anoint a king:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” I Samuel 8 – NRSV Bible

Here’s the prophecy Samuel might deliver today to the voters who believed Donald Trump when he said “I alone can fix” America’s problems:

“These will be the ways of the real estate tycoon who will reign over you: he will take your sons and send them to arrest refugee women and children trying to cross into the country. He will appoint cabinet members to deliver the government for the financial gain of himself and his wealthy courtiers. He will have his way with your daughters, and then pay them off to keep quiet about it. You wanted him to protect you from your enemies, but his go-it-alone bluster will weaken your nation’s alliances with its allies and make you even less secure. He will take the best of your public lands and turn them over to oil interests and mining companies, to foul your air and pollute your water. He will plunder the treasury to lavish tax cuts on his rich courtiers, and take away funds for shelter and bread from the poor.

Worst of all, he will denigrate the institutions upon which democracy depends. He will lie so often and so outrageously that you forget that there ever was such a thing as the real truth. He will insult and demean his enemies, and even his friends, so often that you will begin to think it is normal for an elected president to act like a dictatorial bully. He will tarnish your faith in the value of a free press, he will weaken your trust in the fairness of the judicial system, he will ride roughshod over the checks and balances enshrined in your Constitution. He will co-opt religion for his own ends, rendering it ineffective to resist him. He will cheapen the ideals of democracy, so that you will become apathetic about participation in it, and let the country become a playground for oligarchs. You shall cease being citizens, and instead become the subjects of a plutocracy. And in that day you will cry out because of your tyrant, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

But Trump voters refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a billionaire over us, so that we also may be like Russia and China, and that our oligarch may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

More at my Resistance Bible Study

Rev. Jim Burklo, Associate Dean of Religious Life, USC
Website: MINDFULCHRISTIANITY.ORG Weblog: MUSINGS Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
See the GUIDE to my articles and books
Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California

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