The media is focused on the state of the political race; but many of us in the faith community are focused on the state of race in America.
The press is concerned with polls and primaries, numbers of delegates, and the reporter's hopes for exciting contested conventions. But many faith leaders are concerned with the moral quality of our national discourse -- how much fear, division, and even hate are dominating over trust, compassion, and even love. Who is going to win is the ultimate and sometimes only media question. Our moral questions are about the health of the country. What about social justice, what about racial healing, what about reconciliation, what about unity -- on anything?
This has become a 'race election' because of the use of bigotry for political gain. The concerns of faith leaders that I am hearing are not limited to one candidate, but one voice - Donald Trump's voice -- has been most hateful and divisive. Therefore, some of us came together to speak out.
The writings of 20th century German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer are experiencing a renewal among many Christians, especially younger ones. This German pastor once said, "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."
More than 50 faith leaders from across the political spectrum have joined to issue a powerful new statement on the current state and alarming rhetoric of the 2016 election cycle, which, we argue, "threaten[s] the fundamental integrity of Christian faith and the well-being of society itself."
Our statement, "Called to Resist Bigotry -- A Statement of Faithful Obedience," expresses our deep concerns about the use of racial and religious bigotry by Donald Trump, and his statements of disrespect for women--as gospel issues, and not merely political matters. The statement says:
"This is no longer politics as usual, but rather a moral and theological crisis, and thus we are compelled to speak out as faith leaders. This statement is absolutely no tacit endorsement of other candidates, many of whom use the same racial politics often in more subtle ways. But while Donald Trump certainly did not start these long-standing American racial sins, he is bringing our nation's worst instincts to the political surface, making overt what is often covert, explicit what is often implicit. Trump's highly visible and vulgar racial and religious demagoguery presents a danger but also an opportunity--to publically expose the worst of American values. By confronting a message so contrary to our Christian values, our religious voices can help provide a powerful way to put our true faith and our better American values forward in the midst of national moral confusion and crisis." (Emphasis added)
Racial tensions have indeed undergirded this campaign season, with Trump and other candidates launching attacks on Mexicans and other immigrants, calling to refuse admittance to all Muslims entering the country, and other instances of intolerance. The faith leaders, speaking on behalf of ourselves and not our organizations, call for "confessional resistance" to alarming disrespect for racial minorities and women. Many local faith leaders have expressed a pastoral concern for the fear in the country and even within their own congregations that has been caused by such racial rhetoric.
Trump's ugly attacks, including his questioning whether the first black president of the United States is really an American or one of "us," have poisoned the political atmosphere. There are far too many examples of Trump statements that single out people based on race, religion, or gender. The statement says, "Inflammatory messages of racial, religious, and nationalist bigotry compel confessional resistance from faithful Christians who believe that the image of God is equally within every human being ... Donald Trump is exploiting the legitimate economic grievances of marginalized white Americans with false and ugly racial blame."
Those who signed this statement and all those now sharing it on social media come from across the theological and political spectrum. For us, this is not a political or partisan statement. "This is not merely an electoral debate in which Christians hold legitimately differing policy views from one another. Rather, it is a public test of Christian truth and discipleship," the statement reads. It ends by pledging "refusal to cooperate, in word and deed, against actions of intolerance and hate, not as a political group or partisan voice but as disciples of Jesus Christ."
The statement is signed by a wide swath of faith leaders including Dr. Iva Carruthers, General Secretary, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference; Rev. Wes Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary Emeritus, Reformed Church in America; Dr. David Gushee, Professor, Mercer University; Rev. Carlos Malave, Executive Director, Christian Churches Together; Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, Senior Pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ; Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, Senior Pastor, Ebenezer Baptist Church; Dr. Reggie Williams, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics, McCormick Theological Seminary; and Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-Chair, National African American Clergy Network.
I hope you will read the statement, share it with your own networks, and - most importantly - take it to heart. Read the full statement and list of signers here.