Bishop Wayne T. Jackson of Great Faith Ministries in Detroit welcomed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to his church with open arms last weekend. As a minister of the gospel of Jesus, I cannot object to the bishop’s hospitality. The doors of the church are always open. But whatever else we do, the church must tell the truth.
After a year of verbal brutality, racially charged speeches, and regressive policy proposals, Trump attended a black church in an effort to convince African Americans he is not racist. His trip to Detroit with Ben Carson was the photo op that such an effort demands. Though he did not say the words, the whole spectacle seemed designed to say, “some of my best friends are black.”
We’ve seen similar efforts before in American politics. George Wallace, famous for saying, “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” as governor of Alabama, tried to pivot away from the stigma of bigotry in his 1968 presidential bid. In a speech at Madison Square Garden, Wallace said, “… we would like to have the support of people of all races.”
Trump wore a mask of humility to the church house in Detroit — a different one than we’ve seen throughout his whole public career.
The Justice Department sued his company twice for housing discrimination against African Americans. Trump led the racially tinged clamor that President Obama was not an American citizen, and lied that his investigators had found evidence for his claims in Hawaii. And his comments attacking opponents because of their race or gender is well documented.
But beyond the heart of candidates, and the rhetoric of their campaigns, is the heart of their policy. Systemic injustice is never corrected by sentiment; it takes legislation.
In my home state of North Carolina, where the U.S. 4th Circuit Court ruled that new voter suppression laws targeted African Americans with “near surgical precision,” Trump did not condemn the racist law, but claimed that striking it down would allow people to vote “fifteen times,” even after the courts found claims of fraud fraudulent. Anyone who wants African-American votes must tell us how they plan to support the restoration of the Voting Rights Act.
We want details about the jobs Trump promised to bring back to Detroit. If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with inflation, it would be over $21 an hour — a living wage almost anywhere in America today. But Trump has gone back and forth on whether he supports any increase in the minimum wage. Since coming to this country as chattel slaves, we’ve fought 400 years to get from $0 to $7.25. We cannot wait another 400 years. What's more, the kind of infrastructure investment needed to support rebuilding Detroit is not possible with the tax base Trump's plan would afford.
The Affordable Care Act enabled 20 million Americans of all ethnicities to obtain health insurance, lowering the uninsured rate among Latinos by 25 percent and among black people by 50 percent. But many in the Republican Party have said they would repeal it. Would Trump expand Medicaid to cover the 3 million poor Americans — most of them white —who would have insurance if Republican governors stopped blocking it?
It is these policy questions that a moral agenda brings into the public square. It’s not really news that hypocrisy is in the church house — any cynic can tell you that. What’s more noteworthy is that in churches and synagogues across America, black, white, and Latino people have been coming together for Moral Revival services. Fifteen hundred faith leaders and more than 10,000 people have responded to the “altar call” at these services and signed the Higher Ground Moral Declaration, which asks candidates of both parties to embrace a moral agenda on education, health care, employment, criminal justice, voting rights, and equal protection under the law. Inspired by God’s politics, we are ready to move beyond the left/right attacks of this campaign to policies that promote the common good, in keeping with our deepest faith and constitutional traditions.
On Sept. 12, coalitions in 25 states across the country are mobilizing to march from the church house to the state house, delivering this Higher Ground Moral Declaration to sitting governors and all candidates for public office. We are not content to decry hypocrisy; we’re pressing on to higher ground, and we hope all Americans will join us in this fight for our future.