During the culminating speech of the Republican National Convention, Donald J. Trump took the stage to accept the Republican nomination for the Presidency. As he addressed the nation, the bulk of Trump’s speech was anticipated; a draft had been leaked to the press. Before he took the stage, I read that draft and braced myself to hear many troubling, discriminatory statements. But one remark blindsided me completely.
Toward the close of his speech, Trump’s voice, which had been loud and pointed, slowed and became more quiet. With a serious tone, he personally thanked evangelical Christians for their role in gaining him the Republican nomination. That’s when he expressed a desire I did not anticipate. He said he would like to repeal particular laws which prohibit religious leaders from endorsing specific political candidates from their pulpits and houses of worship. He said:
At this moment, I would like to thank the evangelical community because, I will tell you what, the support they have given me — and I’m not sure I totally deserve it — has been so amazing. And has been such a big reason I’m here tonight. They have much to contribute to our policies.
Yet our laws prevent you from speaking your mind from your own pulpits. An amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson, many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views. Their voice has been taken away. I will work hard to repeal that language and to protect free speech for all Americans.
After a lengthy, incendiary speech, this statement at the close knocked the breath out of me. I’m not trying to be overdramatic, but when I heard his words and the tone that accompanied them, I gasped and had to hold on to something. I almost fainted.
Clearly, Donald Trump spoke these words and meant them sincerely. As a Christian minister, this troubles me deeply. The implications are dangerous.
In WWII era Germany, the German Christian movement of the Church became enmeshed with German nationalism. During that time, the largest part of the Church pledged allegiance to the authoritarian dictatorship of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. The German Church also supported the Holocaust and washed its hands of the death and destruction it unleashed.
It is important to consider this precedent.
During his incendiary speech at the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump spoke dangerous rhetoric about Latin American and Middle Eastern people. At one point he shouted, “We don’t want them in our country!”
He repeated a refrain concerning his commitment to “law and order,” but he said nothing about the violence Black Americans are facing in our nation. That was erased from his speech entirely.
The separation of Church and State is vital. Without it, religious communities can be manipulated or forced to cower to authoritarianism. This can lead to violence. For this reason, it is important to consider the precedent of the German Christian movement. Trump’s speech at the convention made many assertions of white supremacy. We must not repeat the past.
It is not love.
It is not the way of Jesus.
And nationalism is not the way of the Church.
This piece was first published at Smuggling Grace.
Renee Roederer is an ordained PC(USA) minister and the founding organizer of Michigan Nones and Dones, a community for people who are “spiritually curious but institutionally suspicious.” This community in Southeast Michigan includes people who are religiously unaffiliated (the Nones), people who have left established forms of institutional churches (the Dones), and people who remain connected to particular faith traditions but seek new, emerging visions for their expression.