My previous post generated some interesting conversation--some of which is reflected in the comments section below. Let's keep those comments coming! I also received a number of comments on Facebook (also great--but visible to a more limited group so comments on the blog are extra great). And quite a few friends and colleagues sent personal emails with comments, links and resources.
Here are some highlights of what I've been hearing this week:
First of all, a number of friends pointed out that some very prominent religious leaders have already come out in support of Donald Trump. Back in September 2015, a group of 40 pastors (all of them associated with the so-called "prosperity gospel") made headlines when they met with Trump in New York and prayed for his blessing and protection during the campaign. Some of these leaders have gone on to campaign for Trump as "private individuals".
In November, Trump invited a group of African-American evangelical pastors to meet with him at Trump Tower but then blamed the Black Lives Matter movement for pressuring these pastors not to endorse his candidacy. In advance of the meeting, more than 100 African American Christian leaders signed an open letter published in Ebony Magazine challenging those who agreed to meet with Trump to reconsider. The letter is powerful and I recommend reading it.
In late January, Jerry Falwell endorsed Trump as a "private individual" after having invited Trump to speak at Liberty University, a tax-exempt organization that of course does not endorse candidates. More recently, both Franklin Graham (who publicly endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012) and Joel Osteen have had to make public statements clarifying that they have not endorsed Trump despite all the positive things they've said about him in the past. Other Christian leaders, most notably Pope Francis, have been openly critical of Trump's candidacy. I guess he can say what he wants because no one is going to revoke the Catholic Church's tax exempt status.
But by and large, religious leaders have stayed away from criticizing Trump. Progressive groups such as MoveOn.org have issued a joint letter this week calling for protests against Trump and a massive voter registration campaign. They called on "people of faith" to join their campaign, but no faith groups signed the letter.
That statement echoed the work of a group of individuals--many of them artists and actors--who have been collecting signatures to a statement against Trump published on www.stophatedumptrump.com. And while there are a few people who could be identified as faith leaders (Anne Lamott, Reza Aslan, Cornell West and Sister Joan Chittister), none of them lead congregations and all signed as individuals.
So it is worth noting that on Wednesday of this week (March 16th) the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church issued a "Word to the Church" for Holy Week. The statement read, in part:
In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.
In this moment, we resemble God’s children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshiped a golden calf constructed from their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.
We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.
It is a strong statement--until it gets to the end. If we are really acting in a way that is equivalent to the Israelites who built and worshiped a golden calf, is a call for prayer really an adequate response? The Bishop say they have rejected idolatry--shouldn't they call on their congregations to do the same? If we "must respect the dignity of every human being" I think some specific actions in response to those who degrade the dignity of others is called for.
But then again, our community has been praying for peace for five weeks and look what's happened. We're feeling called to do more, to respond not only with prayer but with action. When you take prayer seriously, it tends to open you up to God's call to love, not just in word or speech, but in truth and action.