text size

Being the Church in the Trump Years (Part 1)

Top comments

{{ annotation.praises_count }} Likes
{{ annotation.creator_alias }}
{{ annotation.creator_score }}

There are no comments yet. Be the first to start comment or request an explanation.

If you are a pastor, priest, or other Christian leader in the U.S., or if you are an active church member, the election of Donald Trump has changed your life and ministry, and not just a little, but a lot, and for the foreseeable future. In the last few weeks, I've heard about church staff members being forbidden from posting on social media for fear it will inflame political tensions in the congregation. I've heard from pastors wondering how they'll feed their children if they speak out and are fired. I've spoken with pastors and church members who are so sickened by the politics of "white Christian America" that they just want to walk away from the whole thing. “If we don't walk on eggshells," one priest told me, "we'll drive some people away, but if we don't speak out boldly, we'll drive others away." Whatever you are currently doing -- celebrating Trump, denouncing him, or walking on eggshells, seldom if ever in your lifetime have you faced such agonizing choices as a Christian. Christian communities have faced tough choices like these before. For example, in the US during the eras of slavery and segregation, or in Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa, churches and church leaders had to grapple with a wide array of harmful laws, policies and social attitudes. Most of our ancestors travelled through their turbulent times on what I would call the Highway of Cooperation. What is the Highway of Cooperation? Let's say that the President never makes the long awaited “pivot.” Let's say his character was accurately revealed in his statements about “knocking the crap" out of protestors. Let's say that soon there are "mass deportation forces" being amassed and that the government turns a blind eye as hate crimes proliferate against minorities. Let's say that the President continues to make statements with the same level of veracity as his claims about inauguration crowd size and voter fraud. Additionally, let's say Trump was right that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters wouldn't care. Can you see how the choice for cooperation, which might seem safe enough now, could become dangerous down the road? The Highway of Cooperation has two lanes. The fast lane could be called Active Collaboration. If you and your church take this lane, you will carefully avoid criticizing the Trump administration or offending its supporters. You will do so, either because you are afraid or because you support some or all of the President's policies. You will bolster support for Trump by quoting verses like Romans 13:1-2 (“Submit to the governing authorities") and 1 Peter 2:7 ("Honor the king") as if they were the final word on your moral responsibility. If the Trump Administration begins rounding up your undocumented neighbors or subjecting your gay or Muslim neighbors to insult, threat or physical harm, you will give your tacit approval through careful silence or you will voice your support and justify it using Bible verses. If you are asked to submit lists of names to the government -- “suspicious” neighbors, non-compliant parishioners, or fellow clergy -- you will comply. Again, out of conviction or fear. At first, you may feel uncomfortable, but the more you bite your lip and swallow your concern, the more you will be able to cooperate with just about anything. If church members come to you concerned about what’s going on -- disrespect for women and minorities, damage to creation, harm to important public institutions (like schools, the social safety net, or health programs), alienating allies and goading enemies, or violating ethics and even the Constitution, you will tell them they must pray, submit, and trust. If they can’t stand with you in your cooperation with the Trump administration, you will have no choice but to ask them to leave. The slow lane on this Highway of Cooperation could be called Silent Complicity. If this is your choice, you will double down on the personal aspects of faith and declare yourselves “non-political”. You will downplay all social or public dimensions of the gospel and focus exclusively on personal sin, personal salvation, and personal fulfillment. You may convince yourself that you occupy the moral high ground because of your doctrinal purity or personal piety. You may not realize, however, that silence on public issues is profoundly political. Others will see how you have “strained out gnats and swallowed a camel.” At some point, you may come to realize that even though your congregation claims to be Protestant or Catholic, Evangelical or Charismatic, really, many of your members have become disciples of Fox News, extremist radio talk shows, and white Christian nationalist websites. Each Sunday, they'll want you to splash some holy water on their ideology, and as long as you do, they’ll put money in your offering. Whether you travel the fast lane or slow, you may eventually feel so disgusted with yourself that you will begin looking for an exit ramp from the Highway of Cooperation. You may even be developing your exit strategy right now. IN PART TWO, WE WILL TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT ANOTHER WAY FORWARD