Open Letter to President Trump

November 15, 2018

Dear Mr. President,

I’m concerned for the country. I’m also worried about you. The two go hand-in-hand, yet they are not the same. Though we have never met, we share something: we were baptized in Presbyterian churches. Neither of us can remember that moment. We were infants. We had no choice.

Because we do have a choice now, I write to share with you the story of another person who, unlike us, was old enough to choose.

Kosuke Koyama was 15 years old at the time. Japan was his country. Tokyo was his home. The United Church of Japan was his church family. The scene of his baptism could not be more different from ours. It was 1945 during the American fire bombing of Tokyo. The worshipers could hear the bombs exploding all around the church. Through the windows they could see the flames.

His pastor gently took  Koyama’s face in his hands, looked him in the eye, and charged him with words that succinctly say what baptism into Christ means:”Kosuke, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. You must love your enemies. Even the Americans.” It was a defining moment for the rest of Kosuke’s life.

Kosuke Koyama - RIP

Kosuke Koyama (1929-2018 “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:23) RIP

Through the eyes of faith, Koyama later plumbed the depths of that moment, and came to a deeper understanding of what had happened to his native country. Japan had come to regard itself as exceptional — a singularly superior nation and culture. Japan had made itself into its own house god. It had twisted love of country (patriotism) into nationalism, and nationalism gave license for imperialist adventures that led to unimaginably horrific consequences. In 1967 the United Church of Japan issued a Confession of Responsibility During World War II as a way of restoring the church’s integrity.

Kosuke Koyama died in 2009 after a distinguished professional career that officially ended with his retirement from the John D. Rockefeller Chair of World Religion at Union Theological Seminary in your home city. Robert McAfee Brown, who wrote the book you and I were assigned to read in confirmation class, The Bible Speaks to You, was Koyama’s faculty colleague. During his 14 years at Union Seminary, and following his retirement, Dr. Koyama created a legacy that lives on in his books (Water Buffalo Theology, Mount Fuji and Most Sinai, No Handle on the Cross, and others) and in the lives of those he influenced by his teaching and humble character.

World War I centenary

World War I Centenary, Paris, France, Nov. 11, 2018

Today you call yourself a nationalist. You have embraced the great sin that Kosuke came to see so clearly in his native country. Watching you at the Arc de Triomphe last week for the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, I saw you through Koyama’s lens of faith. You sat among the company of other world leaders, but you looked very alone. Sitting very nervously away from the spotlight, you waved back to someone, as if to assure yourself of your importance. I saw a very lonely man without the company of friends and allies. In that moment, I felt a bit of sympathy for you. I wished you could slip away to a nearby cafe where we could talk, just the two of us as pastor and president.

Trump and Macron III July 2017Then I heard the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, step to the podium to issue a rebuke to nationalism as “a betrayal of patriotism” that eliminates what makes a nation great: its moral compass. While my heart leaped for joy, I wondered what you were feeling and thinking all alone there in Paris.

Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying “our interests first, who cares about the others,” we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great and what is essential: its moral values. I know there are old demons which are coming back to the surface. They are ready to wreak chaos and death. History sometimes threatens to take its sinister course once again.

I thought again of Koyama and wondered whether it would have made a difference if your pastor had baptized you during a bombing raid when you were old enough to choose, looked you in the eye, and said, “Donald, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. You must love your enemies [and friends], even the French.” New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, a short walk from the White House. It was President Abraham Lincoln’s home church during his presidency. Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln worshiped there to hear a word from a free pulpit which they knew they could not command. It could become a home for you, Melania, and Baron, too.

I will pray for you. I will love our country. But I will not worship it. Neither should you.

Respectfully,

Gordon C. Stewart

Retired Minister (HR), Presbyterian Church (USA), Chaska, MN

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “Open Letter to President Trump

  1. Thank you Gordon for your perspective which speaks to us all. I appreciate your letter’s pastoral tone, when my inclination would be not to counsel, but to reprimand. The President is certainly getting plenty of reprimands, when what he might need is some good counseling. Problem is… would he take it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, David, Great to hear from you. Thanks for coming by VFTE and sharing your comment. Reprimand — the “prophetic” role of pastoral ministry that speaks truth to power — comes easily these days.

      “Would he take it?” Highly unlikely, of course. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try. There’s an earlier post based on the story of Jesus and Nicodemus that imagines the president slipping away from the White House disguised as a beggar for some time with a counselor in a tenement apartmnt.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gordon, Great letter. Good thoughts to more than the President, I always need reminders about loving my enemies then I remember to bless them with God’s blessings is to ask Him to give them His love.

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  3. This is a tremendously moving and thoughtful letter. President Trump is indeed an island unto himself, who obviously sees his current world in adversarial terms. To be fair, President Macron presented the USA , his guest, as a potential military adversary and President Trump counterpunched.

    Let’s look at what we think we “know” about our President. During his tough upbringing in military school and a demanding New York City rough and tumble environment, he honed the skills that led to his business accumen and persistence in the face of failure….and there were huge failures. He has not been afraid to try. His favorite word is “fairness”, which used to be a Liberal mantra. Mr. Trump also used to be a Democrat. His “deals” are emphasized as both parties treating each other “fairly” with each side “winning” a benefit from the outcome of the encounter….neither is going to be totally happy, and both sides will probably have made considerable accommodations. Mr. Trump “wins” by obtaining a successful conclusion to an issue he initiates. He is smart, results-oriented and hard working. He believes in rules…don’t cut in line; criminals should be dealt with, fairly; pay your agreed share; personal safety is important to all; the Constitution should not be subject to outlandish judicial interpretation; if something is wrong and needs to be fixed, do it properly and do it now; the able-bodied need to work; love your country and honor its heroes. He is also brash, not “politically correct”, and when attacked, there will be immediate retaliation. He seeks to be loved. He is prone to exaggeration, which many label as lies. He is a showman and braggart. He needs for his accomplishments to be praised, or at the very least acknowledged. He appreciates loyalty. His personal life has been filled with beautiful women, which he seems unable to resist. He sleeps little, does not drink, smoke or take drugs. His diet is what the average American family consumes…too much fat, salt and carbs…junk food. He is overweight. His emotions are immediate. His speech is direct. He relates to the working class with ease. He obviously loves his family, his country and his faith.

    If he had been greeted upon his arrival in Washington by a Judeo-Christian nation intent on giving the benefit of the doubt to this political newcomer, with some space and time to prove himself, instead of the constant drumbeat of attack from day one, he might have been able to balance the combative side of his being with his seeming innate desire to be loved and “do the right thing”. Perhaps the change in “tone” that many have longed for and perceived as more “Presidential” might have surfaced.

    President Trump is no longer an unknown entity, and his accomplishments after nearly two years are noteworthy. Isn’t it time for the opposition to turn the other cheek and “see what happens”? Can our mutual dialog change? Can we accept his offer to work on a “bipartisan” basis on behalf of all of America as she faces the multitude of upcoming challenges?

    Can we forgive Trump for being Trump?

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    • Hi, “Someone” and thank you for taking so much time and putting so much effort and thought into your reflection.

      “Can we forgive Trump for being Trump?” My reply to this fine question comes at the matter from having sat in the dark lonely places mayors,CEOs and the like, and the jail and prison cells of murderers.

      The challenge for me, irrespective of the persons status in society, has been to meet the other with unconditional regard for his/her God-given human dignity, no matter how blurred it had become.

      For an inmate conficted of heinous crime and for powerful authorities who had abused their offices, forgiveness was often they sought. Early in my ministry I thought it was my business to forgive them. I learned over the years that human forgiveness can only be offered by the person(s) they had harmed.

      “Can we forgive Trump for being Trump?” begs for a complex response. 1) Have I/we been hurt by him? I feel hurt, damaged, assaulted most every day by his abusive behavior. “Lock her up!” at campaign rallies assaults the virtues we should expect from the Oval Office. 2) It’s hard to hold Donald Trump responsible for being Trump. Each of us is, in large part, determined by DNA and experience, like the one you describe in detail. Some people are forever damaged. Their God-given human dignity, however besmerched, deserves honoring. Accepting behavior is a different matter, especially when one is lifted to the most powerful office in the world.

      When I watch the president’s body language and facial expressions, and listen to his words and tone of voice , I see a spoiled teenager who most likely was bullied on the elementary school playground, ran home crying and was told to go back and punch him in the nose. It’s one thing to be trapped in that way of being in the world.

      The job of the society as a whole is to hold him accountable to the constitution and to his better self.

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  4. Good letter, Gordon, even if you are speaking into a chasm. It’s a minute by minute struggle to love those who seek to destroy us.

    Being brought up in the 50s and 60s wearing the blinders of the era’s Catholicism, I did not know about Koyama, but I will definitely look for more about him. Thanks for a rich start to my day.

    Liked by 1 person

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