Editor's note: Jared has requested that you view this video prior to reading. It is brief. Thank you.
On January 20th, during the Inauguration Ceremony in which Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States, Cardinal Timothy Dolan read a passage of Scripture.
Only, it wasn't Scripture. Not to Trump, the professed Presbyterian, or to the millions of Evangelicals who supported him on his path to the White House. Wisdom chapter 9 is not canonized, Evangelical Scripture.
Cardinal Dolan’s participation in the ceremony is in itself an interesting choice. It isn’t the first time a Catholic Clergy member has been involved—FDR, JFK, and Ford’s inaugurations all included a Catholic. But what is interesting is that Trump, notorious for his utter rejection of anyone who disagrees with him, even allowed Cardinal Dolan to share the stage with him.
Perhaps it’s because Cardinal Dolan shows a great deal more tact than the President. Consider with me this statement in an op-ed from July of 2015 in which he links Trump’s anti-Mexican Nativism to the anti-Catholicism of the not so distant past:
"I made the point to my students that nativism never really did disappear completely, but was a continual virulent strain in the American psyche, which would probably sadly show up again. This point my students would not buy. “Father Dolan,” they would say, “there’s no denying that this bigotry was there in our past. But, come on! Who could ever believe now that immigrants are dirty, drunken, irresponsible, dangerous threats to clean, white, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon America! Those days are gone.”I wish I were in the college classroom again, so I could roll out my “Trump card” to show the students that I was right. Nativism is alive, well—and apparently popular!" (emphasis mine)
Dolan goes on to say that it isn’t his job to tell people whom to vote for, and he has since met with Trump and they appear to be on good terms. Nevertheless, the history of anti-Catholicism in America is dark and multi-faceted. On both cultural and religious levels Catholics have often been persona non gratis. When the KKK, best known for its discrimination against African-Americans, began to see a rise in the 1920’s, its new members were as motivated by anti-Catholicism as they were by racism. Both Al Smith and JFK were scrutinized because of their Catholicism; Americans worried that the Pope would interfere in America. The point here is that Trump’s anti-Islamism has its roots in a fear of the other that for most of our collective history has manifested itself as anti-Catholicism.
This is a discussion for another day, but follow me here: I can't help but wonder if Cardinal Dolan chose to read this passage from the Book of Wisdom with the intention of showing just how far out of touch with the Bible Trump really is. I can't profess to know why else Cardinal Dolan selected the Book of Wisdom for his reading, and I can’t begin to imagine why Trump’s staff approved it.
I wonder if the President understands how alienating that is to his base. I wonder if he would even care. Or if his base even noticed.
We can see something even more interesting by pointing to the strangeness that is Cardinal Dolan's choice of inaugural text: When you put Wisdom chapter nine together with Trump’s inaugural speech, the contrast highlights exactly how dangerous the President's narcissism is. Can you imagine Trump praying, as Solomon did in this passage, “For I am your servant, the child of your maidservant, a man weak and short-lived and lacking in comprehension of your judgement and of laws”? (Wisdom 9:5)
I think that Dolan’s selection is apropos. I think it is beautiful. I think it is exactly what we need our leaders, who are ordained by God, to hear. I do not believe it is Scripture, but that, in this instance, does not mean it is untrue.
My fear is that Trump only heard this part: “You have bid me build a temple on your holy mountain and an altar in the city that is your dwelling place, a copy of the holy tabernacle which you had established from old.” (Wisdom 9:8).
Make America great again. Manifest Destiny. A city on a hill. And in the middle of all of it, a President who probably doesn’t know or care that he won’t be able to go back and pray through this prayer of Solomon in the Bible his mother gave him. A President who looks out over a small crowd on the National Mall and describes what he sees as “American Carnage.”
I am not a practitioner of American Civil Religion. I do not believe that America can be fixed by the White House, The Capitol, or Trump Tower. As a Christian I believe that what we face in this country is a sin problem. My hope is that we as Evangelicals do feel alienated by the reading from Wisdom. That we do feel alienated by the words and actions of a man who sees no need to ask for forgiveness. That we do feel alienated and speak out against his scapegoating of entire groups of people. That we do not sink to the level of his tactics.
Perhaps Trump can cause those of us on the Religious Right to put our political movement to bed once and for all and realize that our hope is not found in our ruling authorities. Our hope is built on Christ alone.