In my Georgetown class last week, we got into a lively discussion about President Trump’s refugee travel ban. One of my students has her law degree from Harvard and is now studying for a Master’s degree in public policy at the McCourt School of Public Policy, where I teach. She had been at D.C. airports most of the previous weekend, trying to help many of the international arrivals who had been detained. “This administration just doesn’t accept the rule of law,” she lamented, and said how discouraged she was feeling.
But I told her how encouraged I was just listening to her. Instead of simply focusing on a future lucrative legal career, she — along with countless other lawyers and law students — had spent a weekend trying to help all the confused and fearful people whose lives were suddenly put in jeopardy by an unexpected and badly executed order that caused chaos everywhere.
A New York Times article featured the large-scale response at airports across the nation, focusing on this new legal brigade. Trump’s impulsive and, I would agree, lawless decision has mobilized lawyers everywhere to defend “the stranger,” as our Scriptures call refugees and immigrants. And that is very heartening to me.
This week, I was speaking at another Jesuit school, Marquette University, during its Mission Week on Racism. My partner on the program was Bree Newsome, the young woman who famously climbed a 30-foot flag pole on the South Carolina State Capitol grounds in 2015 to remove the Confederate Flag. Before that moment of international fame, Bree was an artist, filmmaker, and activist. And she has continued to be so since.
At Marquette, Bree spoke powerfully about how to make our movement of change sustainable by all of us doing what we do, day by day. We talked to hundreds of students and people from the Milwaukee community who want to join a movement of resistance. As important as protest is, we both said, we have to build a movement of what we are for and not just what we are against. We must go beyond simply reacting to the crazy and dangerous things Trump says and does every day. That can be exhausting and is, I believe, part of his plan. As important as protest is, each of us has to also be faithful to our own callings in direct response to the crisis we face in America.
That means we need to be lawyers, artists, and activists; or teachers and students; or pastors and preachers; or service providers and advocates — workers of every kind in every vocation, all in resistance now to what we are facing in this country.
I encourage you to read the biblical passage from 1 Corinthians 12:4-31. Verses 4-11 talk about how we are each given unique gifts for unique kinds of service. Verses 14-21 give the body analogy so familiar to many of us — that we are many parts, but one body. People have different God-given abilities to use for speaking, serving, caring, helping, protecting, or healing in any time and in times such as these. Give this text a good meditation this week.
Frodo speaks well to what we are now facing in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and Gandalf speaks well to a biblical response:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
The Trump era clearly promises to be dangerous to many people in our country: to many of our core values and institutions, to our governmental balance of powers, to the rule of law, to a free and honest press and, seemingly, to truth itself. Many will find themselves vulnerable under our new political realities in Washington. But all of us who morally oppose what is going on and fear what is threatened have to each make decisions about how and where and when we will speak and act for the things we know are right, and against the things we know are wrong.
We only have so much control over what happens in the world. As Gandalf reminds us, we don’t choose the times we live in, but it’s often the case that the times choose us. What that means about how we live out faith, resistance, and healing, stance is going to be different for each of us—different gifts and callings, but all for the common good.
But confronting falsehoods with the truth is absolutely crucial, and will have to be done by all of us — not just the reporters who we rely on to do their jobs well. Trump is overwhelming the media AND the public with a dizzying array of actions and statements that are untrue, outrageous, offensive, and fearful, and which endanger vulnerable people. In case after case, the things that Trump says are demonstrably false — but they keep coming almost every day. The running list of perpetual lies is overwhelming and quickly gets out of date.
So it’s time for us all to stop calling the presidency of Donald Trump “unprecedented.” Dangerous is the proper word. Attacks on the judiciary and judges who dare to disagree with him (which even his Supreme Court nominee calls “disheartening”and “demoralizing”), a continual strategy to undermine the press, protests, and polls when they disagree with him, a continual posture of conflict and bullying his opponents — are all the behaviors of authoritarian leaders.
The perpetual lying may be more than his narcissism or incompetence or the inability of White House staff to reign a tweeting president in. It may in fact be a deliberate plan to create an alternative reality out of the many lies that hope to numb a population to lies and even to the truth itself. Resistance from many people and places will be required now. Both Republicans and Democrats must be called to accountability and the press must be encouraged to exercise their integrity. But the willingness to resist this autocratic rule will have to come from a broad and awakened citizenry.
Speaking the truth and acting on behalf of what is right will take all of us, at the deepest levels.
Preachers should preach ever more prophetically, teachers should teach formation and not just information, writers should write ever more honestly, lawyers should fight courageously for those who need their help, reporters should report the facts ever more diligently and speak the truth to power regardless of what the powers think about that, artists should make art that nurtures people and makes them think and inspires them to action. People who know climate change should fight on climate change, people working for living wages and economic justice should keep organizing, people working for human rights, voting rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights, refugee rights, and LGBTQ rights should keep defending and advocating. We all should serve those around us. We all should watch for people being left out and alone.
But even in putting our heads down and doing our work even more diligently, we can’t silo ourselves off from each other — we need to stay connected, communicating with one another, and coming together for larger moments and movements of solidarity. Movements are not just events — they are made from many people doing things in their own places, and being aware that many others are acting just like they are elsewhere.
This radical solidarity is something we are helping to build through the Matthew 25 Pledge movement. Many people from all walks of life are signing the pledge, committing ourselves to protecting vulnerable people — including undocumented immigrants threatened with mass deportation, people of color threatened by racial policing, and Muslims threatened by unjust bans or hate crimes.
Paul speaks to this in Corinthians when he talks about the origins of the Christian movement: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.”
Sojourners aims to be a nurturing, connecting, and sustaining place as we call for faith, resistance, and healing. We want to support and sustain all those who are using their many callings and gifts in multiple ways to push back against bigotry, protect the vulnerable, preserve our values, stand up for the truth, and keep the faith.
We need to live and act in solidarity — together.
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, is available now.