JUBILEE YEAR for the CENTENNIAL of BLESSED ROMERO, 2016 — 2017
An editorial in the Evangelical publication Christianity Today calling support for Republican presidential Donald Trump a form of “idolatry” recalls the social criticism of Blessed Oscar Romero in El Salvador during the late 1970s.
In the scathing commentary, executive editor Andy Crouch, writes that
there is hardly any public person in America today who has more exemplified the “earthly nature” (“flesh” in the King James and the literal Greek) that Paul urges the Colossians to shed: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry” (3:5). This is an incredibly apt summary of Trump’s life to date.
Evangelical Christians, he urges, should be loath to overlook Mr. Trump’s “blatant immorality.” Instead, he recognizes, many tolerate the candidate’s defects because they believe that it is necessary to support Trump in order to promote a greater good—namely, to advance the protection of life by supporting a candidate they believe will oppose and scale back the practice of abortion. This is the tendency Mr. Crouch likens to idolatry. “Important issues are indeed at stake,” Mr. Crouch acknowledges.
But there is a point at which strategy becomes its own form of idolatry—an attempt to manipulate the levers of history in favor of the causes we support. Strategy becomes idolatry, for ancient Israel and for us today, when we make alliances with those who seem to offer strength—the chariots of Egypt, the vassal kings of Rome—at the expense of our dependence on God who judges all nations, and in defiance of God’s manifest concern for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed. Strategy becomes idolatry when we betray our deepest values in pursuit of earthly influence. And because such strategy requires capitulating to idols and princes and denying the true God, it ultimately always fails.
This language is reminiscent of Oscar Romero’s thinking, particularly in his last pastoral letter, “The Church's Mission amid the National Crisis,” released in August 1979. In it, Romero criticized the absolutization of wealth and private property and the absolutization of national security—both by the right—as well as the absolutization of organizations by the left. Explaining the perils of such hard stances, Blessed Romero wrote:
Making any created thing into an absolute is an offense against the one Absolute and Creator, because it erects and serves an idol, which it attempts to put in the place of God himself.
As well as offending God, every absolutization disorients, and ultimately destroys, human beings. It is the vocation of human beings to raise themselves to the dignity of the children of God and to participate in God's divine life. This transcendence of human beings is not an escape from problems here on earth, still less is it an opium that distracts them from their obligations in history. On the contrary, by virtue of this transcendent destiny people have the capacity to always remain critical vis-a-vis the events of history. It gives them a powerful inspiration to reach out to ever higher goals. Social forces should hearken to the saving voice of Christ and of true Christians, cease their questioning, and open themselves to the values of the one and only Absolute. When a human value is turned into an absolute and endowed, whether in theory or in practice, with a divine character, human beings are deprived of their highest calling and inspiration. The spirit of the people is pushed in the direction of a real idolatry, which will only deform and repress it.
Romero’s words are made current in the most recent edition of Christianity Today.