Since November 9th, I have been among many religious leaders who have spoken with clarity and conviction about the collective grief felt over the election of Mr. Trump. Which means I am also among the religious leaders being told to can it – to keep my mouth shut about such matters because “faith and politics don’t mix”, or “you must honor the separation of church and state”, or “you risk offending members of your communion who voted for Mr. Trump.”
I hear all of that and respectfully agree with none of it.
Let us be clear about one thing from the outset: faith and politics DO mix. I hosted a radio show years ago in Phoenix entitled “Relevance’” and the tagline for the show was “Where Faith and Politics Collide”. When they do, more often than not the collision has nothing to do with the separation clause in our founding documents.
The nature and tenor of public speech from many religious leaders who opposed the election of Mr. Trump, and who will continue to speak out against his shameful rhetoric, is not to be understood as the disappointment of those who did not get their way on Election Day. For the record, I am not registered as a member of either the Republican or the Democratic Party – and no one reading this knows for whom I voted - although you can safely assume it was not Mr. Trump.
Religious leaders will always be party to political debates and dialogues that enhance the larger agenda of a nation committed to a democratic process. We belong in the market place of ideas, and will never be silent on things that matter. Whether we are arguing about marriage equality, reproductive choice, the death penalty, the deployment of our armed forces, health care, climate justice, immigration or a host of other issues that require collective and political options to be debated – people of faith have something to say. Excluding their voices from public debate would not only be a great loss, it would be an infringement of the First Amendment and an egregious overreach of governmental authority.
Having said all of that, for those of us in the religious community decrying the election of Mr. Trump – and doing so in the face of greater and greater resistance to it – it is not the political debate that is fueling the intensity of our own responses right now. I’m not saying we won’t continue to have that debate – we will, and we need to. This is not a matter of us disagreeing with Mr. Trump more than we disagreed with other conservative politicians. In other words, the heat that is turned up is not the byproduct of a higher degree of political disagreement, but of something else entirely. It differs not by degree but by category.
It is less the politics of Mr. Trump that draws our ire and enflames our speech than it is the degrading nature of his rhetoric and the embrace of a persona that inflicts trauma, pain, grief, and humiliation on large segments of our population with malice aforethought and without shame or regret.
This is not, for us, a political debate. Yet.
It is a humanitarian cause.
He called Mexicans rapists, murderers, and drug dealers.
He is asking us to convert Muslim in our minds from a connotation of “peace-loving neighbor” to “terrorist”, with no other facts present than that they are Muslim. I didn’t raise my children to think that way; and now he is insisting that we all adopt his paranoia. He is promising to force Muslims to register. Of all the things that are hauntingly reminiscent of the Fascism of 1930s Germany, this one is particularly on point. It, quite frankly, frightens the hell out of me.
He bragged about sexually assaulting women with a tone and a vocabulary that can’t be dismissed as locker room humor – not when you want to occupy the Oval Office and assume the voice of this democratic republic.
He degraded a disabled man in a wheel chair. That was deplorable. Watching footage of that sickens me. I mean, once you leave the schoolyard playground – what decent humane person does that?
No, this isn’t a policy debate or an argument about the political pathways we will opt for in order to build an equitable, just, and irenic society in which the poor are fed, children are educated, neighborhoods are kept safe, or health care is distributed wisely and evenly. This is about basic human dignity and decency being violated almost daily from the highest office of this country.
We can elect whom we want to occupy that office. That we have elected someone whose behaviors have long been known to us and which were on display for all to see says more about our collective will shifting than it does about him. What ever it was that made American want to embrace this style of leadership – THAT is what we now rage on about. In the presence of such deplorable behavior and an audience happy to receive it, we cannot and will not remain silent.
For many of us, religious ideals that compel us to enter into a struggle for basic human decency and dignity require us to respond to what we have endured from the lips of this opportunistic narcissist. That he may have solutions to problems that confound us is debatable. Long after we resolve the dilemma of his bombast, vitriol, pettiness, and adolescent nonsense we will still be wrestling with those matters. But until that time, you can count on religious leaders and organizations insisting that the President of the United States of America speak and act in ways that communicate a baseline of decency, respect, dignity and worth.
You can’t separate religion from decency. And when the art of politics becomes the seedbed of indecency, asking religious leaders to hold their tongue is tantamount to treason.