I landed in the midst of a movement this week that is concerned with the candidacy of Donald Trump. This is the kind of thing that out of principle, I don’t talk about in church. I am particularly cognizant of how the church is more and more clearly divided into Red Church and Blue Church. Resisting the national division is perhaps of one of our most important callings as a church that gathers all humanity into the family of God.
But we cannot always remain politically neutral, even in our sanctuaries. The candidacy of Donald Trump is alarming people to the point of sensing that some kind of line has been crossed, some straw has broken the camel’s back, some kairos moment has arrived. Trump may not be our Hitler moment, at which we dare not find ourselves repeating the mistakes of the German Christian movement. But Trump may be closer to a Mussolini, or a Berlusconi, or (not to pick on the Italians) a Putin. Some of us are wondering if people will ask us, years from now, “What did you do to resist Trump’s rise?” And we don’t want to stare in silence. Besides, whether Trump wins or loses, he has already had a marked effect on American politics, although we are only beginning to grasp what that effect is.
So I sent an email out to the Hampshire Clergy Association of the UCC, asking if others share my sense of urgency. They do, as it happens. Peter Ives even invited me to talk about it on the Bill Newman show (somewhere around minute 35). I can’t say my first appearance on radio was a great success. I regressed to being all professorial. But my sense is that the Hampshire Clergy is just getting started on this issue.
There are two reasons I feel that I can take overt political action with this group but not my congregation (even though there is a risk of my external political action spilling over into my congregation, something I will address head on tomorrow in worship). For one, there is a political fellow feeling among the Hampshire Clergy, which allows us to discuss this as a body and not feel like we are marginalizing some in the group. (Although perhaps we are being presumptuous about our consensus.) Second, we are all equal as clergy. So we can discuss this as peers, whereas if a pastor speaks politically with a congregation, she is involved in a power differential (she holds more power and authority than the laity).
So for now I am comfortable with my anti-Trump moonlighting. What I really want to do is interrogate our evangelical brothers and sisters about their overwhelming support for Trump. Now is as good a time as any to confront this terrible split within the church, a split between two radically different ways to see the political implications of the Gospel. Seen with charity, I want to advance a dialogue between mainline progressives and evangelical conservatives. That means mutual accountability, and mainliners will have to answer for why they take the political commitments they do. Seen more confrontationally, I want to defend the honor and holiness of God against what to me look like blasphemous invocations of God’s name to support xenophobic, racist, and nationalistic posturing by a narcissistic man with fascist tendencies who represents the ugliest underbelly of capitalism freed of all virtue and compassion. I’m glad there’s a more charitable way to see it.