In the wake of an election in which a majority of white Christians voted for a candidate who ran an explicitly racist, misogynistic, xenophobic campaign, what is the role of the church? What is the responsibility of a Christian in a Trump presidency?
My Episcopal diocese has addressed an open letter to Trump, urging him to denounce acts of violence and hate. There’s nothing I disagree with in the letter, but it’s pretty weak tea. Our bishop posted this on his blog after the election, reminding us that we are not enemies but friends. Again, it’s not that there’s anything to disagree with, but I feel like there’s something essential missing.
Where is the call to consider our actions and choices, things done and left undone? How can there be reconciliation if we simply ignore what happened, or pretend that a normal campaign happened? What is our responsibility? What are the moral consequences of our vote?
Some may argue that a vote for Clinton was an immoral vote because of her support for reproductive rights. I agree that a choice about reproductive rights is a moral one; I just disagree that supporting a woman’s agency and autonomy over medical choices is immoral. Because I think that it is a moral choice to support a woman in that choice, I accept other consequences of that decision. I support sex education that enables women to make informed decisions. I support birth control access so that women will find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy less often. I support aid for families and children and support for quality child care, so that terminating a pregnancy doesn’t become an economic choice. I accept that supporting reproductive rights entails responsibility for more than just support for a decision made at one point in time.
I believe a vote for Trump at the very least is a tacit acceptance of racism and bigotry. This was no dog-whistle campaign; Trump began by calling Mexicans rapists, questioned the integrity of a judge of Mexican descent, spoke disparagingly and disrespectfully of women, and consistently scapegoating the vulnerable, going so far as to mock a disabled reporter. None of this was hidden or exaggerated by the media; we all saw Trump do these things. A majority of white Christians voted for him anyway.
In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King calls out the white church, writing
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I feel like I’m watching a church that prefers the absence of tension to the presence of justice, that’s happy to send letters and urge action outside its walls, but unwilling to risk the self-examination necessary for real change, and the upheaval that causes. It is a risk. It is raw and it is painful and nobody ever wants to do it. I just don’t see what reconciliation means without it, and I’m having a hard time sitting in church right now because it feels like nobody sees that.