A “Jonah Moment” Within Trump/ Never Trump Worlds
Last Sunday’s Old Testament text was from the Book of Jonah. You know that story, right? Well, most of us know about “belly of the whale” part. But the real nub of it is how hard Jonah finds it to practice forgiveness. Jonah was royally and stubbornly pissed at the Almighty because God extended grace to people he didn’t like and to those had hurt him and his people, that is, the terrible Ninevites.
In our post-Trumpian wreckage there are a few Jonah Moments taking place. Not, to be sure, as many as there ought to be as many of Trump’s supporters seem to be doubling down on their mendacity and even conducting witch-hunts of their own, e.g. Arizona Republican Party “censures” and boots out Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Cindi McCain and Senator Jeff Flake. Some of the same crap in Washington State aimed at the two brave GOP Congress members, Newhouse and Beutler, who voted for impeachment.
A better story begins however with a letter of apology from a Trump supporter, Hunter Baker, the Dean of Arts and Science at the Baptist, Union University, in Tennessee. David French addresses this apology in his “French Press” edition of the Dispatch newsletter.
But first a little background on French himself. He is a Harvard educated lawyer who wrote for the conservative National Review, before becoming editor-in-chief of “Dispatch,” an on-line newsletter. French is also an Iraq veteran, a staunch Never Trumper and an evangelical Christian. In recent years, French has written a lot — and critically — in The Atlantic, The Washington Post and New York Times about Christian/ Evangelical support of Trump. French and his family have paid a heavy price for this.
Here’s French on Baker’s apology:
“On January 15, Hunter Baker, the dean of arts and sciences at Union University—a Baptist college not far from me in Jackson, Tennessee—did something exceedingly rare in our highly polarized time. He published an apology. In an essay in Public Discourse, he forthrightly declared that he ‘severely underestimated the threat posed by a Donald Trump presidency.’ He acknowledged that Never Trumpers were correct that ‘there were significant risks involved with Donald Trump that could very well outweigh the policy outcomes.'”
Ergo, the Jonah moment. Does a guy like French accept Baker’s apology? And will other anti-Trump Christians forgive those Christians, and others, who repent their support of Trump?
French does accept Baker’s apology and repentance, but not without first bringing some truth, and therefore accountability, to any reconciliation. French notes that Baker, and many like him, ridiculed Never Trumpers as “weak,” “fragile,” “cowardly,” and for currying favor “with elites.” Here’s French’s truth-telling.
” . . . if I had to pinpoint the single most common personal attack throughout my years of opposition to Trump, it would be that I was ‘weak’ or a ‘coward.’ Baker was hardly alone in his thoughts, and that same critique rang out across the length and breadth of MAGA media.
“I was ‘weak’ in 2015 when I decried the rise of the alt-right as my daughter’s face was photo-shopped into gas chambers and slave fields and my wife was bombarded with gruesome pictures of murders, suicides, and assassinations.
“I was ‘fragile’ in 2016 when the harassment escalated to the point where online threats culminated in a screaming, profane person hacking into a phone call between my wife and her elderly father.
“I was a ‘coward’ in 2018 when the FBI came to our home and told us that Trump super-fan bomber Cesar Sayoc had searched for my address, and we had to warn our neighbors to be on the lookout for suspicious packages.
“I was ‘courting elites’ in 2019 when the ‘David Frenchism’ controversy ignited, someone damaged our front door apparently trying to enter our house, suspicious vehicles cased our home, and individuals began contacting drug rehab and porn addiction centers around the country posing as me, saying I needed help, and providing detailed personal contact information.
“I was allegedly just as weak as recently as this month when someone again found my cell number, texted racial slurs, and began calling all hours of the night from unknown numbers, sometimes leaving voicemail messages that sounded like recordings of people screaming.
“And all of that was happening amidst a constant avalanche of personal insults, angry attacks on my employers, threats to withhold donations, calls for my termination, and a steady stream of online lies so voluminous that there are people who are simply furious at me for positions I did not take and beliefs I do not hold.”
I cite French at length here for two reasons. One, he and others like him have really been courageous, and continue to be. They have paid a price for their convictions. Second, as South Africa taught us there is no reconciliation without truth and truth-telling.
The latter is a particularly relevant point now as many Trump supporters in Congress and elsewhere call upon us all to “move on,” to seek “unity,” and offer nauseating, pious protests about the coming impeachment trial, like, “It’s over, we have to move on.”
In the Book of Jonah the awful Ninevites did however “repent.” Jonah’s problem was that even when they did, he wouldn’t forgive them and begrudged God’s forgiveness. Before we judge Jonah too harshly put yourself in David French’s shoes vis a vis a Hunter Baker, a fellow-Christian who derided him as “weak” and “cowardly” for his opposition to Trump.
What does French do?
“Hunter Baker has shown us one path. More Christians can demonstrate his humility and courage. And when or if they do, it’s important for even those who suffered profoundly for their anti-Trump stands to grant forgiveness immediately and without hesitation.” (italics added)
Given what he has been through — and there quite a lot more — I’m not sure I would be as gracious as David French. I might be more like a pissed-off Jonah.
That said, I hope that some of us (who have not paid any real price for our opposition to Trump) will have the opportunity to find out how we will handle it in the (unlikely) event that some Trump supporters we know do, in the days to come, repent and apologize.