There’s a problem that follows on the heels of repeated evil behavior, and that problem is almost as evil as the evil itself: its normalization.
As citizens, our ability to restrain or recompense evil is painfully limited. But we can always restrain, or at least slow, its normalization. How? At the very least, we speak.
I do not have the time, the journalistic connections, or the authenticating mechanisms to play judge and jury with every foolish thing a nation’s leader says or is reported to say. Identity politics, selective reporting, media bias, and especially the truth-trampling habits of our sitting president force us to be doubly vigilant: to stand against clear evil, and to be careful not to bear false witness.
But the reports flowing from Washington D.C.—including the vague and underwhelming denials—confirm something disgusting about our president’s views of people from poverty-stricken countries: stark prejudice.
Whenever you demean someone else, made in God’s image, you disfigure that very image in yourself. It is no wonder, then, that our president is so disfigured. This is not his first time, and it will not be his last.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl describes the dehumanization that takes place when humans commit atrocities against others. But what is less known, says Frankl, is that dehumanization cuts both ways. The perpetrator who maims, or tortures, or bullies, or demeans another person has similarly maimed his own mindset and distorted his own psyche. In biblical terms, he has fallen, yet farther, from his dignified place as one whom God made to govern his sphere of influence with wisdom, justice, truth, and grace.
Few people I know hold positions where they’re called to create or enforce widespread standards of right behavior among our populace. Yet we all possess the obligation to shape the mini-worlds around us. We cannot control or legislate morality. But we can, through our words and prayers and actions and interactions, protect those in our own little worlds from the scorn and abuse that some—including the most powerful—would heap upon them.
Prior to the 2016 election, I warned that many Christians’ constant defense and normalization of Donald Trump’s immoral behavior would disfigure the church’s witness and the testimony of the gospel. That disfigurement is well underway, and all who claim the name of Christ must now reckon with the disfigured office-holder whose behavior regularly disgraces that office with a constancy that requires tremendous vigilance among the citizens of heaven.
These are not issues of mere civility, or linguistic preference. This is not simply a difference between political correctness and “tough talk.” This is a matter of defending the very pillars of Christian anthropology—what it means to be human. If some human beings are deemed less valuable than others, then all human beings become less valuable.
Four East Africans hug me when I leave for work each morning, and those same young Africans welcome me home each night. We share dinner around a common table before doing what families do—human things like talking and reading and playing and laughing. When I left yesterday morning, they were either reading their Bibles or studying for school, preparing themselves to contribute meaningfully to the society we’re privileged to share.
That society, and the freedoms we enjoy as its citizens, are not guaranteed to us. Ironically, there’s one bald geopolitical fact that seems to evade our current leader: The poor condition of many of the countries he condemns has been shaped by immoral leaders whose lust for power cultivates widespread deception and corruption which ultimately denigrates and desecrates the image-bearing nobility of their oppressed citizens. In short, some of these countries have suffered immeasurably under the kind of leader President Trump might be (in full) if it weren’t for the constitutional restraints by which his lust and pride are presently bound.
We should expect our nation’s leaders to have hard conversations, and to speak hard truths. We should expect debates about taxes, and immigration, and national security, and policing, and drugs, and nuclear threats, and the Constitution. We should even expect, among passionate leaders in high-stakes discussions every day, repartee and verbal jousting as they jostle together toward the path of national wisdom.
But we should also expect—even demand—that they hold their conversations and make their decisions with an honor, dignity, prudence, and respect befitting their office. Never should our elected leaders profane anyone whom God has crafted in his very image—which includes each and every one of us who currently draws breath on this remarkable planet.
No poverty level, no skin color, no catastrophe, no nation-of-origin, and no cultural idiosyncrasy should ever lead us to sanction talk that demeans the inherent dignity of another human being. Whenever such talk is promoted, we must condemn it. Where such ideas are aired, we must suffocate them. However often such lies are told, we must continue speaking the truth we’ve known since the very opening of God’s story:
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them.