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Sunday, July 24, 2016

A clear and present danger

In all the years I've been ordained - 30 in October, if you're curious - I've rarely, if ever, been publicly supportive of a Presidential candidate.  Any Presidential candidate.

No bumper stickers. No yard placards. No buttons. No nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

At least, when I was in parochial ministry. Things are a bit different when you're not the leader of a congregation. Even so, and while my politics are pretty obvious to anyone who is paying even slight attention, I've always tried to be fairly circumspect. 

Separation of church and state, you know. It's in our constitution. Or, at least, that's what I had always thought. Turns out, it's not. It was just a phrase Thomas Jefferson used. A lot.

Funny how that happens, eh? You say something enough times and it becomes "truth".

Well, I'm sure I don't know what I'd do if I were still rector or vicar in a congregation. I think I would be having more than a few conversations with my bishop and clergy peers, my spiritual director and therapist.

So, I'm writing this to clergy leaders, yes, but also to any and all of you who exercise leadership in Christian community - especially to those of you who have not exercised leadership but have been feeling 'stirrings" about needing to stand up and do something.

As we've heard over and over and over again from various journalists and political pundits, this is an election process like no other. For example: A year ago to the day that Donald Trump gave his speech accepting the nomination from the Republican party for President of the United States,  Donald Trump said of John McCain, 
"He's not a war hero. He's a war hero 
because he was captured. 
I like people that weren't captured."

That evening, July 21, 2015, the NY Post ran a cover depicting Trump on a raft with an encircling shark lurking behind. The headline? "Don Voyage!" Post owner Rupert Murdoch said that Trump was "embarrassing his friends" and "the whole country." 

And, yet, on Thursday, July 21, 2016 - exactly a year later - when Donald J. Trump strutted to the podium to announce - in a 75 minute speech - that he would accept the nomination to be the Republican candidate for President of the United States, he did so with the endorsement of Rupert Murdoch and the NY Post.  

How did that happen? 

We should not have been surprised. Donald Trump has been saying for most of his adult life that he wanted to become President of the United States. Anyone who saw his face during President Obama's impromptu "roasting" of The Donald at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner could see on this face the formulation of his plans for a candidacy run. 

Watch the clip here and see if you don't agree that Mr. Trump simply could not abide being mocked by a Black man - especially about his life's ambition. It's pretty clearly written all over the scowl on his face and the squint in his eye, the way he sat on his hands and rocked back and forth in his chair, that he set out to do something about it right then and there.

When Donald Trump announced his intention to run for President of the United States on June 16, 2015,  Mr. Trump said that Mexicans, "They’re bringing drugs.They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people!" And, he proposed building a wall. A YUGE wall.

A month later, the man who has called women "fat pigs" and "disgusting" dismissed Fox New's Megan Kelley as a "lightweight" journalist who, during the Republican Presidential debates,  had "blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her... whatever." 

In December 2015, Mr. Trump called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." He also wanted to round up all Muslims for deportation. He didn't say then - and still hasn't said - how he intended to do that, but that's not what's important when you're trying to "shock and awe" and instill fear and incite violence.

He has a long history of racism, from having had charges brought against him and his father as early as 1973 by the Nixon Department of Justice (not exactly known as a bastion of liberalism) for civil rights violations in housing. 

In 1986 during the Central Park jogger case,  Mr. Trump denounced Mayor Ed Koch’s call for peace and bought full-page newspaper ads calling for the death penalty. The five teenagers spent years in prison before being exonerated, but not before Mr. Trump spent considerable time and energy and money whipping up the crowds into a racist frenzy. 

That was 1986. Sound vaguely familiar?

Mr. Trump has also retweeted messages from white supremacists or Nazi sympathizers, including two from an account called @WhiteGenocideTM with a photo of the American Nazi Party’s founder.
He, of course, has repeatedly and vehemently denied any racism, and he has deleted some offensive tweets. The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi racist website that has endorsed Trump, sees that as going “full-wink-wink-wink.”

The man who once supported Planned Parenthood and was staunchly pro-choice did say in an interview with Savannah Guthrie that he would depart from the Republican Party Platform and "allow" abortion in the case of incest, rape or the life of the mother."  

However, when asked by Chris Matthews in March of 2016, Mr. Trump said that women should be punished for having an abortion.  

He, of course, walked that back - because even the most strident pro-abortion activists cringed at a position they certainly believe but had been carefully deflecting for decades -  but there it was.

However, in April of 2016, Mr. Trump said that transgender activist, Caitlyn Jenner, could use the women's room at Trump Towers any time she needed to. I know. Go figure, right? 

He has been married three times - twice to women who were not born in the United States (read: immigrants) - and has reveled in his reputation as a "lady's man". Indeed, three women have brought charges of sexual assault against him. As if that weren't enough, he has made lascivious remarks about his daughter, Ivanka, who is the "public face" of his respect for women.  

During her speech at the Republican National Convention, Ivanka told us that her father was "color blind and gender neutral," even though the weight of evidence does not support that assertion.

And, for an apparent variety of reasons and despite his sexual immorality, his three marriages, his vulgarity and impertinence, reportedly 78% of (white) Evangelicals support him and endorse his candidacy. 

As if all of this weren't enough, it is important to remember that Mr. Trump's friend, mentor and lawyer was none other than Roy Cohn - Senator Joseph McCarthy's (of whom it was asked "At long last, sir, have you no decency at all?") right hand man - helped the Rosenberg's to the electric chair for spying and helped elect Richard Nixon.

It is nothing short of amazing to me - and, apparently, most of the rest of the Free World - that this man, this racist, misogynist bully, this political demagogue who won't apologize even when it's clear that he is wrong - is the Republican candidate for President of the United States.

Actually, when you read the Republican Party Platform, it isn't exactly so much of a surprise.  Among other things, "We the People" seeks to reverse the SCOTUS decisions on Roe v. Wade, Marriage Equality, and the Affordable Care Act, defends their unique interpretation of the Second Amendment gun rights, seeks to "ensure honest elections" (read: further erosion of the Voting Rights Act) and yes, even gives mention to and is supportive of "The Wall." (I am not making this up.)

So, what is the responsibility of Christian leaders in these very perilous times? 

I think it is important, now more than ever, for Christian leaders to promote conversation and dialogue in Christian community.  

I know. I know. That sounds so lame, right?

Not when you consider that fear and anxiety and anger do not promote community. Indeed, it is the very mixture of toxic human waste that drives us apart from each other, increasing suspicions of each other and promoting tribalism and nationalism - the foundational building blocks of Fascism. 

This is part of what we're seeing in Trump's strategy. We've seen it before. It's the tactic of the demagogue to make enemies of each other. It's divide and conquer. And, it works.

That's why conversations and dialogue in communities of faith are critically important. It's a wonderfully subversive way to move people from their reptilian brain response and into an ability to think critically, engage one's insight and participate in creative, imaginative problem solving.

These conversations might include but not be limited to 
+ Christian identity, religious principles and moral values.   
+ The identity, principles and values of a democracy
+ The imperatives of the Gospel
+ The responsibilities of baptism
+ The nature and character of Christian leadership 
+ The public practice of theology.
This could be prompted by a series of sermons followed by conversations on the topic. Or, it could be an evening presentation by a variety of community leaders followed by conversations and dialogue. 

Or, perhaps, it could be an ecumenical or interfaith event with people from a variety of religious backgrounds presenting their perspectives on these or similar issues.

More important, even, than these conversations is the creation of an environment were people feel secure enough to express their opinions and listen to those of others. 

That will take enormous trust in the religious leadership so if it hasn't already been established, it will be critically important for clergy to be mindful of this developmental task. 

One of the reasons Mr. Trump has gotten as far as he has is due to the fact that he excels at raising anger, anxiety and fear. I believe Christian leaders need to be mindful that many of the people sitting in our pews and coming to our altar rails are experiencing these emotions. 

Indeed, I think it is absolutely critical for Christian leaders to acknowledge their own anger, anxiety and fear. And, we need to name it - yes, sometimes out loud and publicly - observing and monitoring how these emotions affect our own behaviors. 

This is the time when our own established support systems and wellness programs - including spiritual direction and pastoral care - are absolutely critical to our ability to lead effectively.

More than anything, this is the time for leadership. Strong leadership. Leadership that doesn't deny the anxiety but neither does it feed it. Leadership that understands that courage is the ability to keep walking, even though fear wants you to stand still. Leadership that calls people together when fear and anxiety want to keep them apart. Leadership that stands up to bullies. Leadership that speaks truth to power. Leadership that risks propriety for notoriety. 

Leadership that, to paraphrase one of the saints of the Civil Rights movement, no longer accepts the things we can not change and changes the things we can not accept. 

Leadership that, in the words of one of my mentors in ministry, does three things: name the pain, touch where it hurts, offer hope. 

Eminent historian and film maker, Ken Burns, recently said in a CNN interview that we are living in an "incredibly perilous situation right now," adding, "Asking this man to assume the position of President of the United States is like asking a newly minted car driver to fly a 747."

The danger is clear and very present.  

Let's not give into it. 

Let's not eat of the bread of anxiety. 

Let's move forward. Together.


Roxanne said...

Thank you very much for such a cogent piece of writing. You are not exaggerating. I swing between disbelief and horror at the possibilities for our country and for me and my family and friends with Trump as president. Your article helped me focus on what I can do as an individual to stand against his election. Your Comment Code of Conduct is a good start.

Marthe said...

All good points, of course, but what we're up against may be a bit different than the picture you paint. From the commentary in a very blue-collar break room, what I hear is that "no one" believes he'll actually do any of the horrid things his rhetoric promises. The consensus is that he is a businessman who says whatever is expedient in the moment, but will adjust to "conditions on the ground" swiftly to make good decisions no matter how outrageous any of his statements might have been only moments before. "They" think he will scare the wits out of other countries and get what "we" need: an America no one will dare challenge -- they WANT a bully to shut down the whole progressive trend of the world, which, naturally, will mean the return of good jobs ... never mind that it's all wishful thinking about a vision of the past that never really existed.
What the GOP has done, essentially muck up the whole concept of government as serving the needs of constituents, has created anger THEY deserve that gets deflected onto everyone else and that anger is what fuels the desire for a dictator to "fix' things ... that is Trump's appeal and it is powerful.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Roxanne. Happy to be able to help in a positive, constructive way.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I do not disagree with you. No one who supports Trump is ever going to read much less believe what I say. My prayer is that more of us show up at the ballot box than them. In the meantime, I think the church has a role to play in all of this and it's to get people talking about what it is they say they believe. I think it might help. I don't think it will hurt. And, as I said, I think, the church has a role to play. I mean, besides sending "thoughts and prayers."