In early March, several players on the World Series championship team the Washington Nationals—Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, Kurt Suzuki, Patrick Corbin, and Daniel Hudson—played golf with President Trump at his private West Palm Beach resort after a morning workout at the team’s spring training facility. Unsurprisingly, the Nats players were pilloried by the President’s many critics for fraternizing with the nation’s chief executive. One letter to the editor in the Washington Post labeled the decision, and statements by Zimmerman defending their outing, as “galling” and reflective of “uncritical adulation” of a man guilty of “lying, self-aggrandizement, bullying, passing the buck, and denigrating the people and institutions of our government.” Yet the Nats players did not even voice political support for Trump. They just went golfing with him.
Few presidents in American history have elicited as much open mockery and hatred, or as many expletives, as Donald Trump. Perhaps this degree of enmity should be unsurprising, given the decrease in civility and respect for tradition and institutions among our secularized, social media–addicted electorate. Yet, more concernedly, this is true even for many Catholics. Catholic blogger Mark Shea has accused Trump of being a “Cult Leader, the Lie Machine,” and his supporters “enemies to be defeated, not rational actors, not patriots, and not decent people.” Former National Catholic Register blogger Simcha Fisher has frequently employed vulgarity and obscenities in her attacks on Trump and his supporters. Jason Stellman, an author and podcast host (and Catholic convert), recently called Trump a “racist piece of sh*t.”
It would be good to remind ourselves of Christ and the first generation of Christians. Indeed, it was Our Savior who preached “love your enemies” and demonstrated that love, deference, and respect to the Jewish authorities who unjustly maligned Him, and to the Roman authorities who unjustly murdered Him. This paradigm of respect continued in the early Church, even as those who converted were persecuted. St. Paul writes:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. (Romans 13:1-7)
These are amazing exhortations for St. Paul to make, especially given that he himself would be unjustly killed by the Roman Empire during Nero’s persecutions. Roman political authorities were often corrupt, murderous, and blasphemous. Yet St. Paul urges us to extend respect and honor to these officials. Nor is this a scriptural anomaly; St. Paul says much the same in Acts 23:1-5 (there citing the Old Testament) and in Titus 3:1-2. Moreover, in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 he writes: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.” It is not enough to respect our leaders, we must pray for them.
Nor is St. Paul alone. St. Peter, our first pope, commands: “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17). St. James in turn writes: “Do not speak evil against one another, brethren. He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law” (James 4:11). Surely that “speaking evil” would extend to our political authorities. Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong has noted: “We find nothing in Scripture mocking and deriding Saul or Nero, or the pagan Roman government as a whole, and going on and on, hysterically and fanatically, as we see now, with President Trump.”
Fr. Anthony Messeh, a Coptic Orthodox priest whose church is not far from my home, and whom I’ve interviewed for The American Conservative, gave a great sermon during the 2016 presidential election entitled “Faith Before Politics.” In that homily, Fr. Anthony explained: “Honor doesn’t mean agree…. You can honor even if you disagree….. Our call by Christ is to honor everyone regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum.” In that same sermon, he noted a conversation he had with a couple who had lived and worked in many places around the world. “What astonished them… they had never seen a country where we [Americans] openly bash our leaders the way we [Americans] do.” Compare this to the early Christians who maintained respect even when thrown to the beasts in coliseums and used as human torches. “If they can do it, you can do it,” says Fr. Anthony.
Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman offered much the same perspective when speaking about golfing with President Trump and visiting the White House after winning the World Series:
You can stand for whatever you want to stand for. Some people love the president, some people don’t like the president, and some people don’t care about politics… But the fact of going to the White House, being able to celebrate, it’s more a symbol of this country and the ability to live in this great country… I understand why people would be upset if they don’t agree with his politics or aren’t a fan of him. But any president that asks me to go to dinner or anything, I’m 100 percent going to.
Zimmerman is not Catholic, nor is he particularly religious, having once been corrected by his mother regarding their church’s denomination when he was a kid. Yet it is the quiet, humble baseball player Zimmeran—rather than many theology degree-holding, book-writing Catholics—who possesses the more biblical perspective on honoring our nation’s leaders.
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