What in the world was John Piper thinking?
That thought kept streaming through my mind on Tuesday after I noticed that he inserted what appeared to be a political jab into what was an otherwise helpful biblical reminder.
“‘Jesus is the ruler of kings on earth’ Revelation 1:5,” Piper tweeted on Monday. “Over Trump, Putin, Kim Jong-un, and every huffing and puffing wannabe dictator. Let this sink in.”
And I did let it sink in. Then, I marinated on it and stewed a bit. See, I covered the initial story about Piper’s tweet and the waves it was making, then I found myself a bit flabbergasted after I thought it over a bit more.
“Jesus is the ruler of kings on earth.” Revelation 1:5 Over Trump, Putin, Kim Jong-un, and every huffing and puffing wannabe dictator. Let this sink in.
— John Piper (@JohnPiper) December 3, 2017
The more I let it “sink in,” the more Piper’s words seemed troubling, as I came to conclude that the latter part of the message was irresponsible, unwarranted, needless and an exercise in improper conflation and oversimplification. I also found it quite sad, considering that it came from an incredibly talented pastor and theologian.
President Donald Trump might be an egomaniac. He might even be rude, at moments nasty, inappropriate, unpresidential, prone to lying, silly and whatever other descriptor his critics want to slap on him.
I’m not here to argue against any of those things. I’m also not here to defend the president.
That being said, I am intent on making one critical point: Trump most certainly isn’t Russian leader Vladimir Putin, nor is he North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The latter of which, without a doubt, is much more than a “wannabe dictator” and is, by all accounts, a murderous lunatic bent on imprisoning and torturing Christians, among others.
Piper’s tweet — based on my interpretation that a comparison is being made between Trump, Putin and Jong-un — isn’t only unhelpful; it’s also a disservice to the people suffering under Jong-un’s reign of terror. Clumping together Trump (pending that’s the intent) with two leaders who reportedly restrict rights in their respective countries is unbelievably irresponsible.
I’m not a fan of oversimplifications and, thus far, Trump hasn’t taken any real-life actions that would make him legitimately comparable to either of those leaders. Awful rhetoric? Sure. “Unpresidential” behavior? At moments, yes. But a “huffing and puffing wannabe dictator” who deserves to be lumped in with Putin and Jong-un? No, not really.
The list of Putin critics who’ve mysteriously ended up dead is stunning, to say the least. And Jong-un? Until Trump forces political prisoners to “haul emaciated corpses up a mountain ready for burning so their ash can be used as fertiliser” and “watch as a guard angered by the crying of a baby forces its mother to drown it face down in a bucket of water,” and countless other atrocities like that, I think it’s safe to say there is no comparison.
I took the same stance against comedian Chelsea Handler when she joked earlier this year about comparisons between Trump and Jong-un. Here’s some of what I had to say at the time — and it still holds true:
In the end, there’s absolutely no equitable comparison between Trump and Jong-un. Absolutely none. And anyone with a brain knows that, regardless of whether people think Trump is silly, idiotic or just plain unqualified.
But this op-ed isn’t really about Trump; it’s about something much larger than that: the reality that, what goes on in North Korea is absolutely no laughing matter.
Open Doors USA, an organization that monitors persecution across the globe, ranked the country the worst and most oppressive place in the world to live as a Christian, describing the reclusive country as a “totalitarian communist state.”
But it doesn’t end there.
“Worship of the ruling Kim family is mandated for all citizens, and those who don’t comply (including Christians) are arrested, imprisoned, tortured or killed,” Open Doors explains. “Entire Christian families are imprisoned in hard labor camps, where unknown numbers die each year from torture, beatings, overexertion and starvation. Those who attempt to flee to South Korea through China risk execution or life imprisonment, and those who stay behind often fare no better.”
There’s plenty more to say on the matter, but we can leave it there for now. As for Russia, it’s no secret that Putin and his government have been hostile toward religion, with an anti-evangelism law that was put in place cracking down on missionary and faith activities. There’s apparently a long history of such violations as well.
All of this leaves me wondering why Piper felt it necessary to include Trump in his tweet. The preacher’s lesson about Revelation 1:5 is certainly valuable, but he eclipsed that scriptural truth by intentionally inserting the president’s name where it simply didn’t belong.
Jesus is absolutely the “ruler of the kings of the earth,” as that scripture affirms, and that’s a lesson that could have been beautifully delivered with or without names — or by limiting the tweet to include world leaders who are actually comparable.
Piper is certainly entitled to his opinion, but it’s hard to view that tweet as anything other than an attempt to improperly conflate and/or attract attention — and that’s truly unfortunate. Again, this is not a defense of Trump, I’d make the same case for anyone doing the same to Obama or Bush. But I also don’t believe that it’s truthful or proper for us to walk around lazily acting as though he’s as bad as murderous dictators.
I expected more from Piper. And in a climate in which it has become too easy to simply make outlandish comparisons, I think this is a call to us all to think deeper before we make unfair, unwarranted or inaccurate proclamations. Let’s be better.