Dear President-elect Trump,
You are about to assume the mantle of leader of the free world. No doubt this is a time when you will call on your faith and rely on your faith community to help you make critical decisions that will impact not only millions of Americans, but billions around the world.
During your campaign, you tweeted that “People are always amazed to find out that I am Protestant (Presbyterian).” You are in good company. Seven other presidents were affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, including Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Many people do not know that Presbyterians provided the framework for modern democracy. In fact, King George III referred to the American Revolution as “that Presbyterian rebellion.”
I am a Presbyterian Minister, and I want to offer you a public pastoral letter.
You recently proclaimed, “I love God, and I love my church.” Nearly 2 million Presbyterians share this sentiment. As a Presbyterian, my faith has informed me in the roles I have played in the public sector as a presidential appointee to the Commission on National and Community Service, and in the private sector with organizations like the Bonner Foundation, Teach for America, and other organizations.
Most of my ministry has been focused in the same communities you reached out to and the counties that supported you during the election. The Bonner Foundation, which was launched by Bertam Bonner (a contemporary of your father), has provided access to educational and service opportunities to thousands of individuals and families throughout the country, with a focus on the Appalachian region and urban areas in the Southeast. Its spirit, energy and vision was born out of a single Presbyterian congregation (Nassau Presbyterian Church).
I have been formed and informed by the Presbyterian Church’s practice of protecting all people and our commitment to reconciliation. It is my hope that you, too, will draw upon the foundational beliefs and commitments of the Presbyterian Church as president. These tenets of our faith tradition come from the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church, which is comprised of The Book of Confessions (what we believe), and The Book of Order (how we govern, worship, and hold each other accountable).
Presbyterians treat all God’s children with dignity and respect
The Westminster Confession of Faith, a document that’s been defining for Presbyterians for nearly 400 years, describes how people govern and should be governed. It states:
“It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretense of religion or infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance” (6.129).
Presbyterians work for justice and peace
The Presbyterian Church’s beliefs on how one should govern is not simply a relic of the 17th century. Rather, our collective statements are a living legacy of God’s presence in the world and the human effort to serve God.
Also included in our Book of Confessions is the “Barmen Declaration.” Written in 1934 by a group of German pastors who opposed the replacement of the German church by the German state, part of that confession reads, “Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace.”
Presbyterians work for racial justice and economic justice
Thirty years later, in response to the challenges of the day, our church adopted the Confession of 1967. In it we state:
“God has created the peoples of the earth to be one universal family. In his reconciling love, he overcomes the barriers between brothers and breaks down every form of discrimination based on racial or ethnic difference, real or imaginary… therefore the church labors for the abolition of all racial discrimination and ministers to those injured by it… God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ is the ground of peace, justice and freedom among nations which all powers of government are called to serve and defend. The church, in its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace… Because Jesus identified himself with the needy and exploited, the cause for the world’s poor is the cause of his disciples.”
Presbyterians advocate for the vulnerable
In 1983, the Southern and Northern Presbyterian churches reunited and wrote “A Brief Statement of Faith.” It guides our shared life together and reads:
“Jesus proclaimed the reign of God: preaching good news to the poor and release to the captives, teaching by word and deed and blessing the children, healing the sick and binding up the brokenhearted, eating with outcasts, forgiving sinners, and calling all to repent and believe the gospel… In a broken and fearful world the spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in church and culture, to hear the voices of people long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom and peace.”
Presbyterians are a reconciling people
This year, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted the Belhar Confession as a statement of unity and reconciliation. Written by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in 1986, the Belhar Confession outlines the Presbyterian Church’s stance against the South African practice of apartheid. It reads:
“We believe that God has revealed himself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people; … therefore, we reject any ideology which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.”
Presbyterians are called to act with courage, grace and love
These confessions were written out of faithful witness and born out of prayer, reading the scriptures, community worship and engagement in the world. They have been inspired, debated, edited, voted on, and approved through our church governance. They guide and shape our shared faith as Presbyterians. The theology found in them drives the ministry of our denomination and our local churches.
Presbyterian churches are defined by our robust mission, which focuses on the poor and marginalized in our local communities or around the world. Our mission and beliefs are the reason why so many communities have a “Presbyterian Hospital.” It is also why so many schools, colleges and universities have been started and are supported by Presbyterian churches in the United States and around ― including schools and universities for girls in Africa and the Middle East.
These beliefs and practices continue to define us. For decades, our denomination has been active in encouraging our government to resettle refugees, and we have always been ready to assist in their resettlement when they arrive. For example, a number of Presbyterian Churches around the country are current working to resettle and support Syrian refugees in their communities.
May our shared love of the church strengthen each other, and all others as we seek to live out the words of the prophet Micah by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God.
I trust that we will pray for each other and work together to meet the challenges of the world with courage, grace and love, and hold each other accountable.
Rev. Wayne Meisel