How did we get here, people are still asking? How does a man like Donald Trump become president of the Unites States — tomorrow!
Many people were feeling left out when they voted and just wanted change. Many didn’t like what was happening to them, or to their culture in America, so they blamed “others” for that — especially people of color — and a masterful marketer figured out how to effectively appeal to those racial and xenophobic fears. And he was successful.
I believe at the heart of this election campaign was the deeply biblical, theological, and spiritual issue of how we treat “the other.” Many of the white people who voted for Trump, especially many of the white Christians who voted in majorities for him, are quick to say they didn’t vote for him because of his use of racial bigotry and exploitation of xenophobic attitudes toward immigrants. But many people of color, who voted in overwhelming majorities against Trump have responded, “OK, you say you didn’t like his racism, but it wasn’t a deal breaker; it wasn’t a disqualifier for your vote.” The result of this highly and overtly racialized election and Trump’s early appointees are what make many people of color fearful. It’s what is already happening to them — and their children — on playgrounds, schools, trains, and planes, and just on the street on their way to work or class or church. The personal stories told to me by black church leaders of being verbally abused or threatened have been very disconcerting. A man who clearly capitalized on our divisions now claims he will be a president for all Americans. So that is a commitment he should now be held accountable to — by all of us.
There are two clear and critical roles for the faith community.
First, we are instructed to always protect vulnerable and marginalized people. We are always to include and welcome “the other” — we, the body of people whom our Scriptures instruct to preach and practice racial justice and reconciliation. That commitment is already coming from many quarters, at the grassroots and at many levels of leadership in faith communities. Be watching next week for the launching of the Matthew 25 Pledge — a unifying commitment for those on different political sides to join together to defend those who feel and are most vulnerable as a new politics come to Washington, D.C.
Second, faith communities, and especially congregations at the local level, could become safe and sacred spaces for deeper conversations about race in our history and in our communities today. We should talk about our original sin, how it still lingers, and what repentance from our continuing racial sins might look like. In a divided nation, people of faith must help lead the way, learning and showing how faith can and must triumph over race, that “Christian” must come before “white” and not the other way around.
We have never seen Donald Trump present an agenda beyond himself, and it will be interesting to see what agendas emerge in the new Trump administration, beyond himself or not.
It is, in fact, the narcissism and idiosyncrasies of Donald Trump that most fascinate the media and frighten the world. What I mostly feel from the international crowd is the fear of Donald Trump’s unpredictability beyond pursuing his own brand and self-interest. Perhaps the biggest question for a Trump administration is whether any philosophy or theology of the common good will emerge — or produce a vision for the country and the world beyond the early morning tweets that show more thin-skinned emotional motivations than ideological ones. Of course, the ultimate fear many have is whose hands American military power and weapons will now be in.
So what is the role of the faith community beyond protect, defend, speak the truth to power, and seek to help prevent the most dangerous uses of power and weapons? Perhaps there is a pastoral role here too. Perhaps we have a role in explaining to a new president the nature of sin and salvation and what forgiveness means (which he admits he has never understood or experienced) and how leadership means sacrifice for the greater good, instead of just the personal one.
As the biggest star of the reality television culture that the U.S. is more and more becoming, it is vital that the values of that culture Trump represents not be normalized because of his presidency. The worship of money, sex, and power are the worst values of the world, which faith has always stood up against with counter-values of simplicity, integrity, and the service for justice. And just as the golden Trump Tower must not take over the White House, and the Trump jet overcome Air Force One, the love of money, sex, and power must not overtake the nation in a Trump era. Faith must stand up for itself, for its values, for its standards, and for its priorities.
Columnist E.J. Dionne tells the story of a talk he gave during the hostile election season of the critical need for “empathy” as we discover the meaning of what really makes America great. Someone from the audience made and sent E.J. a new hat reading “Make America Empathetic Again.” We all may need some new hats.
Whatever the politics are or become in Washington D.C., it should be a time for faith to flourish, to be true to our callings and missions, to protect the poor and vulnerable, to evangelize about the genuine meaning of faith, and to lead by example with the values that make us most fully human, as God intended us to be.
And perhaps the value that our country needs most right now, in an age of almost complete cynicism about politics, is the power and promise of hope. We can decide to spend our time, energy, and the gifts of our lives to make this a better world — for those around us, especially for those on the edges, and to be good stewards of the creation itself. That’s who people of faith are supposed to be; that is what we are supposed to do. And there is no better time to do that than right now. No matter what politics says and does, it is always time for faith to flourish and move forward.