In Jesus’ day, Pharisees were well respected social leaders, involved in the political process. They had a specific agenda for making Israel great again. The fact that Jesus opposed them at every turn has caused the Pharisee movement to be vilified in western history. Jesus’ theology wasn’t that different from theirs — his opposition wasn’t a matter of their personal beliefs — it was their political agenda and lack of compassion towards the poor that made him lash out with some of his most pointed language. And so today, our unwillingness to speak publicly about Jesus’ political views has caused many of us to give Donald Trump a free pass. In doing so, we have squandered the opportunity to root out Pharisaism in our own congregations. I will argue that to support Donal Trump today, is to support the Pharisee party over Jesus.
The Pharisees had a one-note agenda for making Israel great again, they believed that their literal interpretation of the Mosaic code (first five books of the Bible) should become the law of the land. Besides being massive, Moses’ words were over a thousand years old at this point. All the problems that we see in modern Iran, where religious-political leaders seek to enforce Sharia law (only 700 years old), were present in Pharisee controlled Palestine. The Pharisees favored capital punishment (stoning), Jesus did not (see John 8:1-11). The Pharisees took the Mosaic commandments against homosexuality very literally and thought it a crime. Jesus never spoke a word against gays. Further, the Pharisees read into the Mosaic law a disdain for foreigners and Samaritans that was unscriptural (see the book of Ruth). Jesus befriended foreigners and spoke favorably of Samaritans.
The Pharisees brazenly sought political power. They used their wealth to buy influence. They advocated laws that favored the rich. Jesus was crucified for speaking against power and choosing a way of ministry that positioned him with the poor. Pharisees cultivated the art of the deal, Jesus the way of love. The Pharisees looked down on the unfortunate and called them losers. Even their charitable acts were done from ulterior motives. This is the thing that I personally find most disturbing about Donald Trump — he sets up a charitable foundation and then fails to contribute his own money to it. When he gets caught using the charity’s money for his own purposes, he brushes it off as a minor mistake. There seems to be no evidence that he ever sacrificed to support something he believed in. He is a hollow man, unacquainted with Christian charity.
From time to time I have run into people like Donald Trump in the church. They have often been popular and always promise great things. They seem like useful people to know and to put in charge of things. They are what one of my seminary professors called, “thing thinkers.” They always have a scheme or a “thing” going for them. This form of showmanship is dangerous. It sucks both the civility and the servanthood from civil service. We should root such people out of church office and vote against them anytime they enter politics. Jesus opposes them. We should too.