POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica
by David Trumbull
January 17, 2020
A little more than a year into Trump’s presidency I had dinner with a friend who is the pastor of a church in the Reform tradition, but who came from the Evangelical tradition. I’m a Catholic, so our combined experiences cover most of the Christian experience in American. We were talking about how clueless the media are about Trump and his appeal. My friend noted that the media doesn’t understand why Evangelicals support Trump. I responded, “I can sum it up in one word, ‘Cy’” and my friend responded with, “rus.” We were referring to Cyrus the Great, the Sixth Century B.C. king of Persia who released the Jews from their Babylonian captivity, returned them to their homeland, decreed that the temple in Jerusalem be rebuilt, and provided the money to build it. You can read the account in the Bible, in verses one though eight of the first chapter of the Book of Ezra, as well as several favorable mentions in the Book of Isaiah.
There is no record, not even a hint, that Cyrus became a worshipper of the God of the Jews. His policy of religious tolerance was applied across his empire to all religions. He took the golden temple vessels that the Babylonians had seized from the Jerusalem temple and returned them to the Jews, but there is also an account of his paying for the restoration of a Babylonia idol. In short, he seems to have understood that the best way to rule a multi-ethnic empire with many religions was to be the guarantor of freedom to any and all religions. He wasn't a Jew, but as we say, he had their back. In fact, according to the Bible, he was chosen by God.
Fast forward about 850 years to the Year of Our Lord 313. That's when the persecuted Christians in the Roman Empire gained their freedom of religion. Emperor Constantine the Great issued the Edict of Milan which, like Cyrus' policy, established freedom of religion in the Empire for all faiths. In the Eastern Church Constantine is recognized as a saint. In the Western Church he is highly revered, but not officially recognized as a saint. His personal live was hardly saintly, he had his wife and child murdered, and was otherwise cruel when he believed the situation called for cruelty. Perhaps his knowledge that governing the Empire would require ruthless acts was why he delayed Christian Baptism until he was on his deathbed (Baptism washes away all sins). During his life, Constantine was favorable to Christians, but he was not one himself and -- he had their back.
In 2012 President Obama pushed for an Obamacare mandate that if enforced in the way he wanted would have forced the closure of Catholic and many Protestant hospitals and schools. It was clearly unconstitutional, but the legal battles alone would likely have been crippling to faith institutions. In response, here in heavily Catholic Boston Cardinal O'Malley urged us to pray:
"Almighty God, Father of all nations, for freedom you have set us free in Christ Jesus. We praise and bless you for the gift of religious liberty, the foundation of human rights, justice and the common good. Grant to our leaders the wisdom to protect and promote our liberties; by your grace may we have the courage to defend them for ourselves and for all those who live in this blessed land. We ask this through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, our patroness, and in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, with whom you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."
Many people of various religions in America believe that prayer may have been answered on November 8, 2016. Is President Trump my idea of a good example of Christian living? No. He doesn’t have to be one of us to have our back.