Sunday, June 10, 2018
King Donald & the Voice of the Prophet
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.
1 Samuel 8:4-8
Some American Christian tweeters have noted that in the same week this marvelous Time magazine cover was published the ecumenical lectionary, the schedule of scripture passages used in liturgical denominations for this Sunday is the beginning of the story of Israel's monarchy. The prophet Samuel is petitioned by the elders of Israel to establish a king, so that they might be like their neighbouring countries. Samuel tells them that this will not work out well and he enters into prayerful conversation with God who answers with a bemused shrug, saying that they can do so, but be careful what you wish for.
Enter Donald Trump, the so-called populist president who wants to rule absolutely within his own country and dismiss relationships with traditional allies, such as Canada. Time developed this image of the president of the United States because Trump's lawyers opined a few days ago that he is essentially above the law of this supposedly democratic and law-abiding land. It is a bizarre contention because he is not a emperor or monarch by some other name. He is the elected servant of the people, expected to lead with integrity within the constraints of a democratic process which was born out of revolution which set the American people free from colonial restraints.
A New York Times editorial offered a response to Trump's legal team:
"The president is not a king but a citizen, deserving of the presumption of innocence and other protections, yet also vulnerable to lawful scrutiny. We hope Mr. Trump recognizes this. If he doesn't, how Republican lawmakers respond will shape the future not only of this presidency and of one of the country's great political parties, but of the American experiment itself."
The passage from Samuel is the precursor to the coronation of Saul as king, a development which began a long and uneasy skein of monarchies for Israel, many of which were disastrous. Even some of the "good" kings such as David were deeply flawed and suffered from hubris and the lack of checks and balances in a monarchy, other than the voices of the prophets who put themselves in harms way to challenge absolute power.
There has been a rise in "strong man" leaders around the world, including in this province. Invariably they are individuals who offer "might makes right" promises which dazzle those who seem to crave authoritarianism. I notice that in many instances it is the leaders of faith communities who call for a moral and compassionate approach to counter authoritarianism, although in the United States conservative Christians are Trump's strongest supporters.
We really must support those who speak truth to power and pray for the prophetic voices of those who are honest and direct in this turbulent time.
As National Paddling Week begins I reflect on the joys of contemplative paddling in my Groundling blog