Grace and Gullibility

I’ve been overhearing conversations lately about how people of color, women, people who are LGBTQI, and people who have been mistreated and otherwise disrespected by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg should respond to his self-funded campaign to become the 2020 presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.

I’ve overheard relatives, acquaintances, and strangers talk about the importance of defeating Donald Trump in 2020.

I’ve heard, seen, and read media reports about Bloomberg’s strengths and liabilities when he was mayor of New York and the way he spent his fortune on various causes before he decided to commit hundreds of millions of dollars to run for president.

The conversations also include references to Bloomberg’s support for the racist stop and frisk policy that targeted and mistreated black and brown New Yorkers. People are talking about Bloomberg’s suggestion that the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing recession were somehow triggered by federal policies that prohibited redlining. Some of the conversations mention how the New York Police Department actively infiltrated Islamic mosques in what was said to be an attempt to identify people who might commit acts of terrorism during Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor. People differ about whether Bloomberg’s recent expressions of regret about those things are sincere or merely last-minute attempts to win support for his candidacy from black and brown voters who are indispensable for any Democratic presidential candidate to be viable.

I recently mentioned these points to a black politician who endorsed Bloomberg. The politician defended that endorsement by saying Bloomberg is not the only candidate whose past includes support for and association with unjust policies. That is an accurate observation.

I’ve also heard people emphasize that Bloomberg’s wealth means he has the financial strength to aggressively compete with Donald Trump’s campaign war chest, and that defeating Trump is more important that fidelity to concerns about Bloomberg’s commitment to social justice.

And I’ve heard people of faith (including the black politician mentioned earlier) talk about the importance of forgiveness, grace, and redemption for people who have erred.

I publicly declared that Donald Trump would be a corrupt and divisive president after the November 2016 election. I denounced Trump as a sociopath whose presidency would harm the United States and threaten the rest of the world almost two years ago, and later called for Trump’s impeachment long before Congress voted to impeach him for abuse of office and obstruction of Congress. Yes, Trump is dangerous.

And I believe in forgiveness, grace, and redemption. As a pastor I know that each person is morally and ethically capable of error, both knowingly and unwittingly. I know we each need grace from others. We need to be given opportunities to amend our ways and repair the harm others suffer because of our past misguided and intentional actions. We need restoration to fellowship and community. I believe in salvation and restoration.

Yet, there is a real and deep difference between being gracious and being gullible.

Religious congregations do not select new converts to become senior leaders, let alone senior pastors, notwithstanding their belief in grace. St. Paul warned against ordaining people for ministry hastily (1Timothy 5:23), and emphasized that a ministry leader “must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit…” (1Timothy 3:6).

New recruits are never promoted to command military units.

New employees are not promoted to chief executive rank in businesses.

New converts are not selected as senior ministers of religious bodies.

Gamblers refuse to bet on a horse that has thrown riders in past races to win the Kentucky Derby, let alone the Triple Crown.

Sensible coaches do not intelligently trust the outcome of momentous sporting competitions to athletes who have a record of making bad plays.

People who prefer proof of competent past performance are not vindictive or ungracious. They simply have enough sense to know that people whose past moral, ethical, and cultural competence involving complex matters has been competent are more likely to behave competently in the future than people who only recently admitted their past moral, ethical, and cultural incompetence.

That is why it is not enough that Bloomberg is apologetic about his past moral, ethical, and cultural incompetence even if one believes his apologies are sincere.

It is not enough that Bloomberg is wealthy enough to aggressively air-brush himself by spending hundreds of millions to purchase television and social media advertising featuring black and brown people as backdrops for his presidential campaign.

And it is not enough for Bloomberg to now grant titles and money to black and brown politicians and women after having racially profiled black and brown people, disparaged women, wittingly engaged in bigotry against Muslims, and after having supported policies and practices for decades that widened the wealth gap he now professes to abhor.

I refuse to forget how self-professed “religious conservative” voters disregarded Donald Trump’s lifetime of corruption, bigotry, dishonesty, and other proof of moral, ethical, and cultural incompetence when they chose him as the Republican nominee for president in 2016.

I refuse to forget that “religious conservatives” who supported Trump’s 2016 presidential candidacy, who support his current administration, and who are primed to support his re-election made a Faustian deal.

I have too much sense to ignore the relationship between how callous support from “religious conservatives” who knew Trump’s corrupt character and conduct produced and is producing disastrous consequences in the United States and across the world that will burden coming generations.

My concerns about Mike Bloomberg have nothing to do with grace. I simply don’t wear a “Boo Boo the Fool” T-shirt.

Wendell Griffen is an Arkansas circuit judge and pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.