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Called to Resist Bigotry — A Statement of Faithful Obedience
Bonhoeffer: 'Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.... Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.' Act against Donald Trump.
During elections, religious leaders have an obligation to lift up the moral values of their faith traditions that offer instruction and guidance on issues of public consequence. When entering into the public sphere, faith leaders must take care to avoid being used by politics or politicians, or to allow their faith to be exploited for partisan causes or their faith communities turned into mere political constituencies.
As Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.”
The right questions, for Christians, include: What does the Bible say? What does Jesus teach? How can those convictions best be applied to the complex and imperfect choices of political elections? Various Christians will reach different conclusions on these questions – and vote differently – and those differences must be respected in a democratic and civil society.
At significant times in history, however, Christians from across the political spectrum come together around political realities that threaten the fundamental integrity of Christian faith and the well-being of society itself. Sometimes what is called politics raises moral crises, in which our faith is literally at stake in the way we respond.
We the undersigned believe this is one of those times, and that the churches in this country, and our country itself, face such a moral threat today. We are seeing the very worst values of our nation and its history on display with a vulgar message and style. A direct appeal to the racial, religious, and gender bigotry that is always under the surface of American politics is now being brought to painful public light.
The ascendancy of a demagogic candidate and his message, with the angry constituency he is fueling, is a threat to both the values of our faith and the health of our democracy. Donald Trump directly promotes racial and religious bigotry, disrespects the dignity of women, harms civil public discourse, offends moral decency, and seeks to manipulate religion. This is no longer politics as usual, but rather a moral and theological crisis, and thus we are compelled to speak out as faith leaders. This statement is absolutely no tacit endorsement of other candidates, many of whom use the same racial politics often in more subtle ways. But while Donald Trump certainly did not start these long-standing American racial sins, he is bringing our nation’s worst instincts to the political surface, making overt what is often covert, explicit what is often implicit.
Trump’s highly visible and vulgar racial and religious demagoguery presents a danger but also an opportunity—to publicly expose and resist the worst of American values. By confronting a message so contrary to our Christian values, our religious voices can help provide a powerful way to put our true faith and our better American values forward in the midst of national moral confusion and crisis.
There is understandable anger across the country. The failures of both Washington and Wall Street have created legitimate citizen anger and alienation across the political spectrum, and many of us are empathetic to the many people who feel marginalized and unheard by economic, political, and media elites that don’t serve their needs. Faith leaders and our communities need to reach out to all of those in marginalized communities — even across racial and ideological lines–to listen, learn, and serve.
But Donald Trump, a celebrity from the worlds of real estate and reality television, is manipulating this anger for his own political advantage – at the expense of the common good. Trump is shamelessly using racial resentment, fear, and hatred – always dangerously present in our society – to fuel a movement against “the other,” targeting other races, women, cultures, ethnicities, nations, creeds, and a whole global religion.
That stands in stark and chilling opposition to the reconciling love of God confessed by those who claim Jesus as Lord. So we, as faith leaders, hereby confess our resistance against the message and actions of Donald Trump. Donald Trump’s message and the way he communicates it is the antithesis of Christian values, and it is time for faith leaders to say so. The media concerns itself with its own ratings and the political polling on the messages of Donald Trump; but faith leaders should focus on the morality of his message.
The demographics of the United States are changing. Soon, this country will no longer be a white-majority nation but a majority of minorities. We believe, as faith leaders, that our emerging cultural diversity is a blessing and not a threat. But Donald Trump has pitted himself and his followers against the more diverse America that we are becoming. He defends the status quo of white majority power and privilege. To that, Trump adds the use and abuse of women, and the defense of old patriarchies. As Christian leaders, we reject those ugly racial and sexist attacks on our brothers and sisters.
The growing racial and cultural diversity of our churches and society should be welcomed by those who believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, and embraced by those who call themselves the body of Christ. Instead, Donald Trump is condoning the politics of race and hate, and now even justifying political violence. His divisive rhetoric, laced with racist, bigoted, and hateful attitudes and wrapped in nationalistic xenophobia, is being enthusiastically embraced by millions – including many self-identified Christians, who are allowing their racial identity to trump their faith. This stands against the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Painfully, the politics of race and violence have been used repeatedly against people of color in our history – indeed, since our nation’s founding. But instead of repenting from America’s original sin of racism, Donald Trump is exploiting the legitimate economic grievances of marginalized white Americans with false and ugly racial blame.
Trump’s personal attacks on America’s first black president as illegitimate and not one of “us,” his false accusations against African Americans, his vicious attacks against Mexicans and inflaming the fear of immigrants more broadly, his claim that most Muslims hate America and his call to “ban” them from our country, his advocacy of torture and the killing of terrorist’s families and children – are all of deep concern to many of us as religious leaders. To all that falsehood, hatred, and violence we must say no, in defense of all of God’s diverse children.
Reports of the bullying of Hispanic and Muslim children on school playgrounds indicate the danger in the culture to such messaging. Therefore, it is time for both Republicans and Democrats of moral conscience to speak out against this message. The rise of open bigotry and effective demagoguery requires more than a political response – rather, it demands a moral, and even religious, declaration of opposition and theological resistance.
Many within the Republican Party have strategically used racial politics for decades, and that flame now burns out of control. They have harvested the votes of many white working class voters, but then failed to represent and address their needs. Indeed the use by these Republican leaders of racial resentment and political extremism has provided a fertile ground for the rise of a leader like Donald Trump. Thankfully, some Republican leaders have condemned and disassociated themselves from many of Trump’s most pernicious statements and positions, but many voices for a more inclusive Republican Party have been swept aside. Both our political parties have exploited racial minorities and not kept promises they have made. This racial demagoguery negatively shapes the policies of other political candidates and alarmingly reveals the continued structural racial disparities in our national political life across party lines.
The promotion of racial and religious fear and hate, and the justifying of political violence, are gospel issues, not merely partisan political matters. Confessional resistance to that message is now required by faithful Christians. This is not merely an electoral debate in which Christians hold legitimately differing policy views from one another. Rather, it is a public test of Christian truth and discipleship. History records other moments that beckoned churches to publicly confess the truths of faith in order to confront political movements that represented a deceitful and dangerous attack on the gospel—to try to clarify faithful Christian witness in a time of crisis.
Inflammatory messages of racial, religious, and nationalist bigotry compel confessional resistance from faithful Christians who believe that the image of God is equally within every human being. We hold up the call to love Christ in the encounter with one another, and we believe social justice is an integral component of the way of Jesus, leading inevitably to speaking up for our neighbor against political attacks, especially by oppressive leaders and governments. Racism is a sin against the Holy Spirit; it overtly opposes the work of God in the world; and we Christians are called to stand up for our neighbors. We must always uphold the principle, in both our personal and public lives, of reciprocity –the Golden Rule — that we should treat others in the ways we want to be treated ourselves.
When we face dangerous and demagogic messages of racial fear, hate, xenophobia, gender disrespect, and nationalist ideology, it is incumbent upon Christians to lead by example – on behalf of racial justice and reconciliation, mutual respect, civility, service, religious freedom, international peace, and partnership. We must lead with our best values, and show how the people of God can help guide the way toward a more diverse, just, and unified America. The Christian vocation is to build bridges instead of walls, as Pope Francis has recently reminded us.
German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” So we are called to speak and act, from pulpits and prayer groups across the nation, declaring our refusal to cooperate, in word and deed, against actions of intolerance and hate, not as a political group or partisan voice but as disciples of Jesus Christ. We can use the opportunity of speaking clearly about what we are against, to demonstrate and lead by example on behalf of what we are for.
We can do no other.
Offenses committed by Donald Trump include:
* He began his political career by challenging the legitimacy of the nation’s first black president as not a real American, offered or passed along degrading comments, images, and lies related to African Americans, and refused to quickly and clearly disavow the support of the KKK and other white supremacists for his candidacy.
* He began his candidacy and has deployed his national platform with false, incendiary, insulting, and racist attacks on Mexicans and other immigrants, thereby endangering not only all Latinos in America but other people of color now targeted even by bullying school children. Along with others, he has proposed a cruel mass deportation of every undocumented immigrant in the United States, which would separate and destroy millions of families.
* He has offered a blanket condemnation of Islam as a religion and has proposed an unprecedented and unconstitutional ban on all immigration of Muslims to the United States; he has falsely accused U.S. Muslims of many things, including supposedly cheering the attacks of Sept. 11, thus impugning the national loyalty of millions of our fellow citizens – which undermines our national security by alienating and marginalizing our Muslim neighbors.
* He has made numerous objectifying and degrading comments about women, disrespecting both their dignity and equality – including mocking the appearances of female candidates and the wives of candidates who opposed him and issuing sexist attacks on female reporters who challenge him. His own sexual boasting and cheating on multiple wives offend both men and women and serve as a negative role model for our children.
* He mocked a disabled reporter, creating an environment that leads to further mockery of disabled persons.
* He has threatened to “open up” libel laws in order to punish those who criticize him, a chilling threat to free speech and freedom of the press, and, along with his continuous hostile words and actions against the media, he has created a threatening environment for reporters covering his campaign. Trump’s harshly negative statements and actions toward a free and critical press is discomforting for many of us. Without apology, he has expressed his support for strong dictators and their crackdowns on dissent, thus sending a signal.
* His rallies have become frightening settings that both threaten and at times enact violence in word and deed. By implicitly and explicitly encouraging violence and physical attacks on those protesting at his rallies, he has endangered public discussion, and even exploited such incidents for his political advantage. Not only has he failed to clearly and emphatically denounce his supporters for violent behavior, he has actually called for such practices and, when people engage in them, has offered to subsidize their legal expenses.
* He has several times threatened to deploy torture techniques “far worse” than waterboarding against national enemies, and has threatened to kill “family members,” including the children, of suspected terrorists – all in contradiction to U.S. and international law.
* He has coarsened political discourse through threats, vulgarity, and vile personal attacks on his opponents – giving justification for many of his followers to engage in similar vitriol. He has lied repeatedly, seemingly pathologically, about many matters when directly questioned about the facts. Instead of deepening civil discussion, he inflames angry feelings at home and has already worsened relations with other nations who have become targets of his verbal attacks.
* He defines leadership only in terms of strength, toughness, “winning,” and “making deals,” rather than the ethic of public “service,” finding common ground, or serving the common good. With him, politics is reduced to win/lose battles, with leaders as the winners against the losers. He offers to be the authoritarian strong man, instead of the servant leader, and in his distorted definition of leadership, the Christian virtues of humility, compassion, empathy, mutuality, and integrity disappear.
Instead of learning from his mistakes, the list of Donald Trump’s moral offenses keeps growing. It’s time to say enough.
*Organizations listed for identification purposes only.
Rev. Claude Alexander, Pastor, The Park Church
Rev. Donald H. Ashmall, Council Minister, International Council of Community Churches
Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Legate of the Eastern Diocese, Armenian Apostolic Church
Bishop Carroll Baltimore, Sr., President and CEO, Global Alliance Interfaith Networks
Rev. Leroy Barber, Founder, Voices Project
Rev. Traci Blackmon, Acting Executive Minister, Justice & Witness Ministries, UCC
Rev. Dr. Peter Borgdorff, Executive Director Emeritus, Christian Reformed Church in North America
Rev. Dr. Brad Braxton, Founding Senior Pastor, The Open Church of Maryland
Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO, Faith in Public Life
Dr. Iva Carruthers, General Secretary, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
Rev. Dr. Shawn Casselberry, Executive Director, Mission Year Noel Castellanos, CEO & President, CCDA
Shane Claiborne, Director, Red Letter Christians
Marie Dennis, Co-President, Pax Christi International
Rev. Joshua Dubois, Founder and CEO, Values Partnerships
Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, Pastor Emeritus, Providence Baptist Church
Dr. Robert M. Franklin, President Emeritus, Morehouse College
Rev. Wes Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary Emeritus, Reformed Church in America
Dr. David Gushee, Professor, Mercer University
Dr. Mimi Haddad, President, Christians for Biblical Equality
Rev. Cynthia Hale, Senior Pastor, Ray of Hope Christian Church
Rev. Dr. Derrick Harkins, Senior Vice President for Public Programs, Union Theological Seminary
Lisa Sharon Harper, Chief Church Engagement Officer, Sojourners
Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, Senior Pastor, Friendship West Baptist Church; Chair, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
Rev. Alvin Herring, Deputy Director of Faith Formation, PICO National Network
Michelle Higgins, Director, Faith for Justice
Hyepin Im, Founder and President, Korean Churches for Community Development
Micky ScottBey Jones, Public Theologian, Activist, Organizer, Faith Matters Network
Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church
Rev. Carlos Malave, Executive Director, Christian Churches Together
Rev. Michael A. Mata, Los Angeles Director, Transformational Urban Leadership Program, Azusa Pacific Seminary
Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, Director of Clegy Organizing, PICO National Network
Rev. Timothy McDonald III, Pastor, First Iconium Baptist Church
Rev. Brian McLaren, Author/Speaker, Convergence
Rev. Carolyn Metzler, Spiritual Life Coordinator, Living School for Action and Contemplation
Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, Senior Pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ
David Neff, retired Editor in Chief, Christianity Today
Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto, Senior Pastor, Glide Memorial UMC
Rev. Adam Phillips, Christ Church, Portland
Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, Milton B. Engebretson Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism, North Park Theological Seminary
Rev. Rudy Rasmus, Co-Senior Pastor, St. John’s United Methodist Church
Fr. Richard Rohr, O.F.M., Founder, Center for Action and Contemplation
Dr. Steve Schneck, Director, Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, The Catholic University of America
Rev. Dr. Ronald J. Sider, Senior Distinguished Professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry, and Public Policy, Palmer Seminary at Eastern University
Dr. T. DeWitt Smith Jr., Senior Pastor, Trinity Baptist Church of Metro Atlanta, Co-Chair, National African American Clergy Network
Rev. Ron Stief, Executive Director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Rev. Robert H. Thompson, Exeter, N.H.
Rev. Anthony L. Trufant, Senior Pastor, Emmanuel Baptist Church
Rev. Jim Wallis, Founder and President, Sojourners
Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, Senior Pastor, Ebenezer Baptist Church
Dr. Joan L. Wharton, Pastor, Hemingway Temple AME Church
Dr. Reggie Williams, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics, McCormick Theological Seminary
Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-Chair, National African American Clergy Network
Rev. Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary, National Council of Churches
Rev. Dr. Frank Yamada, President, McCormick Theological Seminary
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