By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Triumphalism is excessive exultation over one’s success. That’s a signature trait of Donald Trump, and it’s also a central theme of church doctrine. The irony is that Jesus opposed triumphalism with his teachings on humble service, reconciliation and sacrificial love for others. Conversely, the church has sought triumphalism based on its popularity and worldly power.
Triumphalism is a corrupting force in religion and politics. In the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer. Satan has been triumphant in America by doing a convincing imitation of God in the church and politics. That’s evident in America’s divisive partisan politics.
Triumphalism is where religion and politics intersect, and in foreign policy it’s in the form of American exceptionalism. That’s the American version of colonialism, the Christian Crusades and Inquisitions--and Islam has its Jihads. They base their political triumphalism on religious exclusivism (one true faith), which conflicts with the altruistic and universal teachings of Jesus.
American exceptionalism is based on the popular ideal that American democracy and culture are a shining light on a hill that should be replicated around the world. America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture indicates otherwise; Americans would do well to clean up their own house before attempting to impose their standards of legitimacy and values on others.
Over 70% of American voters claim to be Christians, and most white Christians elected a triumphalist president in 2016. Trump exemplifies the moral corruption of American politics and the unrestrained greed of crony capitalism that pervades Wall Street and the Silicon Valley. In religion and politics triumphalism has supplanted the altruistic teachings of Jesus in America.
The moral teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves. That’s a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims; but in America winning is a supreme virtue, so there is little humility in the church, politics or business.
In the church triumphalism is based on belief that Jesus Christ overcame Satan’s power of evil with the Resurrection; but after more than 2,000 years, the spiritual victory of good over evil seems wishful thinking. In 2016 Jesus was crucified once again, this time on the altar of partisan politics when white Christians put Trump on America’s political throne.
The primary virtues of popularity, power and triumphalism are so interwoven in America’s culture, religion and politics that it would take a moral reformation to create a church that’s true to the altruistic and universal teachings of Jesus; and even if such a church emerged from the moral wreckage of today’s church, it would never be popular enough to elect a president.
Jesus sided with the losers, not the triumphant winners. He said the last shall be first and the first last (Mk 9:35; 10:31; 10:44; Mt 19:30; 20:16; 20:27; Lk 13:30), and he blessed the poor losers and damned the rich winners in Luke’s Beatitudes. (Lk 6:20-26). Jesus was critical of worldly rulers and their triumphalism. He taught that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.” (Mk 10:42-44)
Jesus taught his followers that the road to life (salvation) was narrow and that few would enter it, while the road to destruction was wide and popular. (Mt 7:13, 14; Lk 13:24) The church realized that the cost of discipleship (following Jesus) would not be popular and subordinated following Jesus to belief in exclusivist church doctrines that required worshiping Jesus Christ as a Trinitarian god as the only means of salvation. That enabled the church to become the most popular and powerful social institution in the world.
Wikipedia defines triumphalism as the attitude or belief that a particular doctrine, religion, culture, or social system is superior to and should triumph over all others. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumphalism.
On churches militant, penitent and triumphant, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churches_Militant,_Penitent,_and_Triumphant.
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