A conservative evangelical national leader called me during the election campaign. He reminded me how much he cared about abortion, religious liberty, and the Supreme Court. Then said, “But in Christian conscience, I cannot help put a man in the White House who is intellectually incompetent, has lived an amoral personal and public life, is dangerously immature, and is a racial bigot. I just can’t do that.” This evangelical leader’s refusal to support Donald Trump was genuinely prophetic, unlike the 81 percent of white evangelicals for whom Trump’s incompetence, immorality, immaturity, and racial bigotry was not a deal breaker.
Donald Trump masterfully turned economic resentments and genuine grievances against a rigged system into blame, fear, anger, and racial resentment. Pundits called it populism. And because the majority of white Americans, and white Christians, decided Trump’s great defects and dangers were not disqualifiers, he will soon be inaugurated president of the United States.
Power always produces accommodation, and already Trump is being normalized by the media and political world — with the elites adjusting to the new situation of power as they always do. Celebrity has replaced leadership, chest pumping has replaced unifying, tweeting has replaced press conferences and international policymaking, and profiteering looks to become a presidential business. The president-elect’s denials of facts — like intelligence community reports of Russian intervention in an American election — are breathtaking.
Many of us in the faith community have real moral concerns as we enter into this new administration, so how do we relate to it? Accommodation and compromise are not the only responses to power. And we cannot just sit with hope that the president-elect’s words and promises are not to be taken seriously — or that he doesn’t really mean all of his attacks on people for their race or ethnicity, their faith, their gender, their physical abilities, or their identity as Americans. A better response is resistance to all those things, in defense of vulnerable people in particular, in the hope that such resistance might deter, or obstruct, or defeat such behaviors and policies.
The response we have to the new administration is: faith, resistance, and healing. We will need all three. Of course, members of the faith community should always be willing to talk with those coming into power and speak directly about the protection of vulnerable people in particular. But the compromise of our principles and commitments must not be part of those conversations. Just yesterday a group of African-American leaders met with members of the Trump transition team in what became a “listening session.” One leader at the meeting told me that a multitude of moral issues were clearly raised — including poverty and a moral budget, voting rights, criminal justice, jobs, the alarming appointments of both Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general and Breitbart’s Steve Bannon for chief strategist in the face of serious civil rights concerns, and much more. “Now the ball is in Trump’s court,” the black church faith leader told me after the meeting.
Our resistance to the political language and proposals that concern us must go beyond prophetic utterances and symbolic actions. Resistance must include a strategy to block dangerous and destructive public practices and policies and turn public opinion against them.
Here are six points for a resistance strategy.
1. Engage Legislative and Legal Decision Making
This past Tuesday proved in just over 12 hours how righteous outrage can be channeled to change the minds of members of Congress. House Republicans were ready on Monday night to gut the independent office in charge of investigating ethics complaints against members of Congress. By Tuesday at noon, they had been flooded with so many calls from outraged constituents that they reversed course and decided to keep the office the way it is. We need to generate and channel that same energy from our grassroots constituencies and direct it at our own members of Congress any time they contemplate actions that would harm society’s most vulnerable people.
Just next week, the Senate plans to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act without, at the same time, replacing it with a comprehensive alternative. Repeal without replacement would endanger the health care of up to 22 million people who were uninsured before the passage of the ACA, and jeopardize many others with pre-existing conditions or other vulnerabilities. We need to mobilize all of our constituencies and allies to flood Congress with calls next week, calling on them not to repeal without simultaneously replacing the ACA.
Republican plans already afoot for the spring will require us to mobilize a fierce fight for the existence of the safety net itself, and the most basic nutrition and health care protections for our most vulnerable citizens. Legal battles against expected efforts to disenfranchise minority votes will also become imperative, and will need support from the faith community in particular.
2. Mobilize Your Church
It is high time for white churches and pastors to understand and confront why they failed in this election season to teach and preach about racism, and to be faithful to Christian principles about loving our neighbors and welcoming the stranger. Our original sin of racism in America — how it still lingers in all of our institutions and how it was effectively used in this election — was not faithfully addressed in the pulpits of white American churches. There was absolutely no difference between the votes of other white Americans and the votes of white Christian Americans; there was no leaven, no salt, no light from white Christians to the rest of America. Concerns about the other candidate were legitimate, but racism and misogyny needed to be clearly resisted and were generally not in white churches.
Repentance from our sins of racism is deeply needed now for the sake of the gospel in our time. Racial reconciliation depends on the repentance of white Christians for not treating racism as a sin in this election season. That repentance will require “turning around” as repentance always does — including confession, humility, study, listening, and new relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters of color. Clear and public resistance to racism is now central to reconciliation in the churches and beyond.
3. Use Media and Social Media for Moral Purposes
Engage the media, especially in your own communities. Letters to the editor, op-ed opinion pieces, radio show call-ins, and regular feedback to your local newspapers, television, and radio shows are more important than ever. But every one of us has an audience and a sphere of influence; we have relationships with those we communicate with. The tremendous growth of social media expands our voices or reveals our lack of voice on fundamental moral issues of justice.
Sojourners and other organizations provide educational resources, tools, action alerts, and we invite you to share those with your audiences. We all can make a difference by engaging our personal audiences on the moral questions we care about. We can share moral content and stories of ordinary people that speak to the critical issues of this time. And it is also time to engage your friends and relatives and fellow congregants who disagree with you on the issues now at stake in this country in thoughtful, useful, civil, and constructive ways.
4. Stand Up to Hateful Words and Acts
Verbal attacks and physical threats against people of color, including their children, are dramatically on the rise since the election. I continue to hear reports from black church leaders who find themselves under attack, and from African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American young people being assaulted with words and actions, and from believers of other religions being singled out for abuse. That means that we, white people, and white Christians in particular, need to step up and stand up to such attacks. In public places, people from minority groups and religions who are being attacked and abused will need solidarity, protection, and defense — especially from white Americans and from majority Christians. We need to be ready to intervene when we see hate language and crimes happening right in front of us. Resistance must be practical and protective.
5. Prepare for Civil Disobedience
The day after the election, my youngest son asked me, “Dad, how many days before you are in jail?” My 13-year-old understood that such issues were at stake. We don’t begin with civil disobedience; we start by taking personal, public, and legal actions to engage our deepest concerns. But we need to prepare and train for civil disobedience for whenever the times and circumstances call for such moral confrontations. We should enter this administration with the expectation that those who resist the Trump agenda may likely spend time in jail. Actions of nonviolent civil disobedience have historically changed both our culture and our laws because they require both courage and risk, and are often motivated and sustained by faith. Get ready.
6. Take Action
Resistance means putting faith into action. So each week in my column, we at Sojourners will call for action, with others, that will put our faith into action for such a time as this. We pray you will join us in these actions. Pray for the incoming political leaders, as the Scriptures instruct us to do, and pray for our own faithfulness in standing up and speaking out for moral politics and for the people God has called us to protect.