A Crisis of Fault-finding, Narcissism, and Dishonesty

The Situation. Our nation has reached a point of crisis demanding calls for repentance from every Christian pulpit. Hypocrisy, narcissism, and mental instability in the Trump administration led to a growing number of mental health professionals warning of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump before the midterm elections of 2018.  The silence in too many pulpits as Trump’s relentless hate language jumped into higher and higher gears, as he keeps rejecting the message from the midterm elections, is growing evidence of betrayal by Christian churches of all varieties.

Americans have been losing confidence in our political and religious institutions since the 1960s. The fundamental reason is well-founded suspicions of dishonesty among political and religious leaders. Outright lying was not always the problem, rather it was failure of courage to acknowledge political and religious truths that became increasingly obvious despite efforts to deny or obfuscate.

Bishop John Shelby Spong identified a major problem for Christianity. Its central doctrines are no longer credible in light of mounting empirical scientific and historical evidence. Of course, traditional beliefs point to spiritual realities beyond the scope of empiricism, but defending old explanations and theories by avoiding or denying evidence was dishonest. The shame of it is that for a century ministers of all varieties have been exposed to evolving truth in seminaries but conspired among themselves to hide it from congregations that might punish them with lower attendance and unfunded budgets. Constructing larger buildings and finding new ways to raise money became the measures of ministerial success – and the chief indicator of the betrayal of everything Jesus taught.

Attendance, buildings, and budgets continue as the top priorities as a president openly foments violence. One evangelical spokesman after another has risen to say they know that deep within President Trump is not racist or terrorist. A national agenda of coercive righteousness is used to justify silence and denial.

Regardless of political affiliation, every American Christian should be unanimous in opposition to accelerating immorality defended with lies that become louder and increasingly more exaggerated and hate filled as the election of 2020 approaches. Jesus spoke directly to the political and religious basis for our present crisis when he warned against self-justification by pointing fingers at those less guilty than ourselves. Repentance can happen if we listen to the message of Matthew 7:1-5.

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Finding Fault. The point of this text concerns finding fault with others. It is not that we should never judge, for that leads to ridiculous extremes like not prosecuting crimes or putting criminals in jail. When tempted to point an accusing finger at someone, we are hypocrites if we don’t consider balance and proportion. Have we done the same kinds of things or worse?

Extremist media outlets and most social media are now poisoning our society with propaganda rather than truth. Selling distorted points of view is no longer distinguished from advertising except that the federal regulations for truth in advertising do not apply. Social media proliferate automated lies and distortions as instruments for blaming anyone with differing political, social, or religious views. Hypocrisy has been industrialized to build credibility among the vulnerable by the sheer volume of attacks. As people respond favorably to these items, they make themselves vulnerable to algorithms that filter out any information contrary to the hostile, hate filled messages they endorse by sharing.

The strategy of Donald Trump is designed to run parallel to distortions of extremist media outlets and social media. A president who is known to lie habitually and never acknowledge mistakes of any kind is constantly attacking critics for dishonesty. In fact, Trump has given new meaning to the speck versus log in the eye comparison. Everyone sees his defects magnified before the world, yet he keeps pointing to specks as more significant than whatever he did. The obvious distortion is overcome by a tactic Jesus didn’t mention – he just criticizes louder and becomes increasing extreme so that his supporters shrug their shoulders and resort to meaningless comparisons. For example, whenever blatant encouragement of criminality by Russians is tolerated, or when the intelligence community on which our nation depends is undermined, or when security clearances are given to advisors who are national security threats – I have heard Trump supporters routinely reply “What about Hillary’s emails?” I can’t imagine a more glaring example of speck in the eye versus log.

The Bottomline. This text is a complete passage, not just an assemblage of single verses. Too often sermons dwell on one verse or another rather than recognizing the conclusion to which Jesus was moving. The remedy is to take an honest look at ourselves before finding fault with others.

Perhaps the most consistent feature of the Trump White House and its supporters in Congress is partisanship to the extreme of never caring about their own defects. Political victory lies in exaggerated attacks on all opponents, especially those who dare to be outraged by the unrepentant, brazen hypocrisy of Donald Trump. Partisanship is not one-sided, yet failure to recognize the dramatic contrast between Trump’s logging operation and the splinters of his opponents is inexcusable.

Christian Evangelicals keep avoiding this message of Jesus. Their justifications reflect the narcissism of Trump himself. They are champions of religious liberty, of America as a Christian nation, of unborn children from murder, of a righteous Supreme Court that will agree with them in imposing on the United States solutions from old-fashioned white America. Unwilling to look honestly at the coercive righteousness of their motives, they want to save America by removing what they see as the logs that distort vision. The problem is that the logs they want to remove include truth as known through science and history. They also lack the honesty to admit their champion is mentally unstable, grotesquely immoral, and lacking fundamental human compassion for victims of his policies.

Other Christians need to hear Jesus’s bottomline as well. Narcissism is a trap that theological advocates can easily fall into – whether it be the rights of women, of all genders, of all races, of the disadvantaged, or of all humanity. Special pleading can lead to fault finding with specks in ways that turn our specks into logs if we are not careful. As Jesus said at the beginning of this text, we all must be careful and measured when finding fault.

Your Neighbor. There is yet another point in this text that is subtle. Jesus is thinking primarily of interpersonal relationships, even though we have seen the principle applies on a larger scale. Jesus assumes people will pass judgments on “neighbors,” on someone who is known on a personal basis.

There is something in the word neighbor that implies consideration and perhaps gentleness. Something that is communicated between people should have a constructive rather destructive intent. Being honest in finding fault with someone, when communicated in the right way, can build friendship and community.

Therefore, the spirit of this passage is linked to another statement in Matthew 7:12. “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you ….”  An even stronger message is found in Matthew 5:44. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ….”

National Repentance. Jeremiah and other Old Testament prophets called for national repentance to head off foreign conquest. The prophets blamed the whole people, but it was their religious and political leadership that made all decisions in times without voter participation.

Our nation must repent of accelerated fault finding that is ripping apart our social fabric and making us daily more vulnerable to foreign adversaries. Christians in America can vote to force changes in destructive and unchristian behaviors. We must repent, pray for forgiveness, and then act with courage to reverse deadly tides undermining the forces that build honesty, trust, and unity. We must also put aside our own temptations to narcissism, those specks in our eyes, to overcome the mounting weight of the logs crushing love for neighbors and for enemies.

Let us repent of the silence and lack of courage that prevents this message from ringing from every Christian pulpit.

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