Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He gave us the model of the Good Samaritan who, though ethnically separate, sacrificed for a suffering sojourner.
Christ gave us the model of himself, who laid aside all the glories of heaven, emptying himself to the point of death for the sake of foreigners and the unrighteous.
Paul, who left home to travel the world for the witness of the Kingdom, wrote, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
Ours is a magnanimous, “love your enemies” kind of gospel.
If this is our framework as Christians, we cannot applaud or agree with the doctrine of “America First”.
That, however, is exactly the doctrine driving our country today.
In his Inauguration Day speech, Donald Trump descended into an ominous caricaturing of the outside world. A total other-ing of foreigners as moochers and marauders. It seems there are no longer allies–there are only rivals and enemies.
For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; we’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.
We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.
All of this is a misrepresentation of the truth.
Apart from wage differences between elites and the rest, the economy is actually doing the best it has since the recession, with wages increasing and unemployment at an eight-year low (4.9 percent)
The military is still by far the best-equipped and most resource-rich fighting force in the world. Though tired from fighting multiple simultaneous wars overseas, ours is still the premier fighting force on the globe. Our defense budget is greater than the next 11 largest military budgets combined. We have by far the largest arsenal of deployed nuclear warheads. And we have the capability, capacity, and readiness to wage war at home or abroad. Not to mention, supplying military aid to foreign countries is not simply an international favor—it’s a primary form of power projection and hard power positioning.
The idea that we “refuse to defend” our borders is as absurd as it sounds. Nearly a quarter of a million Department of Homeland Security employees work to keep our country safe. As CNN reported a few months ago, “Over the past 24 years, the amount of money spent on border security has increased 14 times; the number of border patrol agents have increased 500 percent; the amount of border wall has grown from 77 miles to 700 miles since 2000; and the number of people being apprehended trying to cross the border have decreased by four-fifths.” Barack Obama deported more people than any president in history.
Trump is onto something in his critique of American infrastructure—it does need a lot of modernizing—but it could hardly be called “carnage”, which is how he described our present situation.
Trump’s solutions to the alleged “carnage” that is our nation?
Solution 1: Himself—“I will never, ever let you down,” he said in his inauguration address. And at his RNC speech: “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
Solution 2: A policy of “America First”.
Now we are looking only to the future. We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power.
From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First…
…At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America.
This talk of nationalism, of “total allegiance”, should not sit well with Christ followers.
If we acknowledge that our faith calls us to love others as equal or greater than ourselves, it simply cannot also be true and good for us to care about ourselves more than others. The two don’t jive.
When it comes to prioritizing people, either we will follow Trump and put ourselves first, or we will follow the gospel and prioritize all people equally–or even put others above ourselves.
This is an issue on which Christians will have to choose God or the President. It cannot be both.
Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He showed us how. Trump, however, told us to love ourselves at the expense of Syrians and Sudanese, Chinese and Mexicans. Trump openly espouses a doctrine that values native-born Americans above immigrants, refugees, and aliens.
Isolationist, protectionist nationalism is not Christian.
As disciples of Christ we must love people. All of them. Not just those within our borders, our ethnic groups, our social cliques, but all those neighbors around the globe granted the gift of worth and solidarity through the imago Dei.
Whether Trump says it or not—and it’s better for him if he doesn’t, as it might raise flags of something anathema to the gospel among his Christian supporters—putting America first, in effect, means putting everyone else last. Since Election Day, while American stocks and the dollar have flown relatively high, emerging markets have tumbled. Europeans are worried they may be left out to dry as alliances are questioned. Allies elsewhere worry they may be betrayed, or at least second-classed.
“‘America first’ is the theme of his economic nationalism,” writes the Wall Street Journal in an Inauguration Day piece, “which includes stiff penalties for firms that move jobs to other countries, but it is also a phrase popularized by Charles Lindbergh in the 1940s as he aimed to keep America out the war against Hitler’s Germany.”
Rhetorically, logically, and soon practically, “America First” will mean an uncompassionate self-centeredness. I do not expect any national government to be entirely empathetic or sacrificial, but I do hope those qualities would define Christians.
The Church is other-loving, humanizing, caring, generous, merciful, and sacrificial. These are not values Donald Trump espouses and it appears his government will outright oppose some of them on the geopolitical scene.
It was a peculiar irony that the Beatitudes were invoked at the same inauguration ceremony at which Trump asserted “America First”.
The Beatitudes unveil the recipients of unique blessings of God—the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness. Do any of these align with a doctrine that commands us to love ourselves more than others?
The faithful must choose. Will we adhere to “American First”, putting our own self-interest above everything else? Or will we obey the Great Commandments to put God first and count the interests of others as equal to our own?