To Recite or Not To Recite the Creed: Honorable or Hypocritical?
Let’s be careful what we conclude about Donald Trump from his refusal to recite the Apostle’s Creed at George H.W. Bush’s funeral.
Remember first of all, this wasn’t the Pledge of Allegiance. The Creed is a statement of personal religious conviction. It means nothing if it’s not an expression of the heart. It means less than nothing if it’s only for show.
Belief or Hypocrisy?
Suppose, then, you’re a politician standing on the front row of a nationally televised funeral. You recite the Creed. Why? Either you believe it, or you thinks it looks better on TV to act as if you do. That second option also means you don’t think the words mean that much; certainly less than your appearances. It’s textbook hypocrisy.
If you don’t speak the Creed, it could be you’re merely distracted or preoccupied. That’s a stretch, though; it’s much more likely you really don’t believe it. But there’s more to it than that, for by not speaking, you’re also showing you’re willing to be criticized for it.
Obtuse Individualism or Real Respect for the Creed?
And why would that be? For some it might be obstinate individualism, a contrary streak that says, “You know, I honestly don’t care what anyone thinks.”
We expect that from Donald Trump in some ways, but in this case he’d be saying he doesn’t care what his Evangelical/ Catholic/ conservative base thinks. That would be surprising. It’s not impossible, but it seems rather a stretch, too.
He who does not speak is at least safe from speaking hypocrisy.
Yet here’s another reason one might risk that criticism. That would be if one takes the Creed too seriously to speak it unless he’s sure he means it. That would be the stance of a man who respects Christian beliefs, who thinks it’s likely there’s real substance there, and that it’s nothing to fool with. It’s someone who’s grappling with the reality he suspects it contains, but knows it would be wrong to act as if he’d totally signed on to it.
Wouldn’t you rather have such a man remain quiet than speak only for the sake of show? Wouldn’t that be a more honorable, more principled stance — even if it’s not a believing stance?
So Whom Should We Criticize For It?
I don’t know why Donald Trump didn’t recite the Apostle’s Creed, and neither do you. I hope — and pray — it means he’s taking it seriously, but that’s mere hope, not knowledge.
But we also don’t know why the former presidents standing near him did recite it. They could have been speaking out of their own beliefs, or they could have been speaking for show. He who does not speak is at least safe from speaking hypocrisy.
This isn’t about patriotism, but it’s always about politics; and if it’s about politics you can count on someone criticizing someone. So let’s play the game and decide who we should take to task here.
We’ve just seen that the one speaks and the one who doesn’t — either one could have good or bad reasons for what they are doing. Is one way more honorable, then, than the other, in Christian terms?
We Don’t Know
I’ve already said I don’t know. I don’t know whether Trump’s heart is blacker than the Clintons’ hearts or the Obamas’ hearts.
Which means I also don’t know why Trump is getting all the criticism for it. That is, I do know; he’s the media’s all-time favorite target. What I really mean is neither you nor I know that the criticisms have any relation to reality. We can’t tell just from watching them speak whether the former presidents’ participation expressed reality in their hearts, either.
I don’t mean to say there’s no room either to honor or criticize a person’s motives. Rather, let’s speak what we know, rather than what we don’t know. So if we’re going to criticize Trump, let’s do it for his all-too-frequent rudeness, especially towards women and the weak. If there’s a policy you don’t like, criticize him for that. Same for the others standing there.
But be very careful criticizing Trump for not reciting a Christian creed, while holding the Clintons and the Obamas up as models he should have emulated. You don’t know enough to know what’s going on in any of their hearts — where it really matters.
Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ. Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor.