I do not agree with Donald Trump’s recent statements regarding Muslims coming to the United States. I am opposed to this idea. As a clergyperson, what should I do about my disagreement? One of the ideas repeatedly hitting my inbox is an “Open Letter from Clergy to Donald Trump”. The letter raises important concerns about dividing America along religious lines. I hold these same concerns. Despite my sympathies, I’m bothered by this letter. If religious leaders started sending such petitions, in their role as defenders of the moral and ethical status quo, to everyone who said something stupid, racist, bigoted or xenophobic; we would spend all day writing letters. The immense volume of correspondence would bring the work of ministry to a halt. Inevitably, we’d have to start sending letters to each other (pastors to pastors and church members to church members or church member to pastors and vice versa) asking our neighbors and friends to repudiate positions we find morally repulsive and religiously offensive. We would be perpetually offended, pissed off at the world and angry at something all the time. Sound familiar?
Welcome to reality, religion, and life in America. In essence, this is the platform Facebook and other social media outlets provide. In an instant, we can alienate our family and friends with instant calls to attack them, they way I’m being asked to condemn Donald Trump. Petitions and open letters aren’t new; we now do them quicker and in 140 characters or less. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” was written in response to an open letter signed by several pastors. Which one do we remember today? Is it the open letter of moral indignation or one man’s thoughtful reply and call to action? Online petitions lack the eloquence of Dr. King’s call to tangible action.
Doesn’t this come back to the essence of the issues raised by Trump and others in world dominated by war and religiously motivated terrorism? How does one remain faithful to their religious tradition without telling someone else their faith sucks and they’re going to hell? How do you condemn others without implicating your own sinfulness? You can’t do it.
One place to start would be universal declaration of non-religious suckiness: Thou shalt not say that anyone’s religion sucks. I could sign that letter. I am also more than willing to sign a letter which bans Hell out of existence and states no one is going there for not believing the way I do. When and if I see such letters, I’ll let you know.
I would love to condemn Donald Trump. I’m not a fan. Although I agree with the premise, “America isn’t America if it’s divided along religious lines”; I can’t sign such a letter. Yes, people of faith shouldn’t remain silent. But this isn’t the way to be heard. I cannot sign the letter because of the log in my eye, the sin in my life, and the grace I’ve received which tells me the best means to reject Trump’s ideas is to love in ways I don’t think I’m capable of loving. I wouldn’t be signing such a letter out of love. It would be out of fear and hate. I can’t change Donald Trump’s mind or heart. Online petitions merely feed his publicity machine. Trump needs to be hated as much as he is loved by his most ardent supporters. This is the fuel on which his campaign runs.
I can take away my hate. At some point, I need to be comfortable in praying for Donald and letting the Holy Spirit do her thing. I can, however, feed every refugee I meet, house those I encounter, clothe the needy, comfort the sick, and visit those in jail. Our positive actions can stand in stark contrast to his dark words. Or people of faith can condemn Trump, with a host of others, online. To paraphrase Dr. Phil, “Let’s see how that’s works out for you.”