Over the past several weeks, clergy across several traditions have remarked to me the challenge of speaking up over the election of Donald Trump. Some have remarked that the sting has not worn off (it hasn’t for me either), they fear anger as the response (I do to), but mostly they are focused on their fear of having several members of their congregation who agree with Trump leave. To this I markedly wish to speak out, to give encouragement, and to tell the story of why I believe this is why religious identity is dying.
As an ordained Christian United Methodist (and extremely progressive) clergy, my students often criticize me for not bringing Jesus into the equation enough. And yet, when I talk social justice, this is where my theology truly comes out. I don’t often know why in other areas it doesn’t, but when it comes to marginalization of women, of LGBTQIA persons, of marginalized religious groups, and on and on, my Jesus just shows up.
And when I reflect upon this part of my clergy identity, I start to realize that there’s a clear reason why clergy have to speak out, no matter what tradition you hold to or speak from: the message has never changed. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindu’s, Buddhists, the message has never changed that we are protect and uplift those who are most marginalized. The founders of our traditions talked about the threats that might come if we sought to demonize one another. We are to find respect in the human race, to preserve at every turn those who are being threatened, and to promote a message of peace and love until it wins out. And while politics doesn’t often fully actualize this hope, in many ways it seeks to find a path forward. Donald J. Trump shows no interest in any representation of this message whatsoever.
A campaign built on fear and hate cannot stand as a mode through which any religious tradition can recognize and accept. It may seem to some as though there is a line to be towed, but there is not. The only real question is whether those of us with the privilege to speak will get up and do so. If we don’t, we may see ourselves repeat the past and end up in a more cruel fate than simply having members of our congregation leave.
But this is deeper than simply whether or not one will preach a message of love that is timeless. I fear at times we may have lost our spine, have compromised our very essence as traditions. Certainly Muslims and Jews are more apt in this time to speak up, but the Christians reading this post may continue to ask why it is so important to speak up and risk our congregations. To that, and to anyone religious, secular, or spiritual, I say that if you do not, the integrity of your tradition is lost. You cannot embody the message if you don’t speak up. MLK said, there is always time to do what is right. And it’s time to do what is right.
But institutional religion may have lost itself, lost its spine, because we are afraid to speak up nowadays. Evangelical voters for Trump don’t truly understand the message of the Christian text, and the clergy that led them down this path are not just wrong, they are violating the very principles of the tradition they swear allegiance to. And the generation of doubters, the people who so desperately are wanted by each of our traditions, is seeing right through us.
It used to be that religion held a special place in society. It used to be that we found civility in our differences but also that we knew when and how to speak up and not be afraid of the repercussions. I once knew a fellow pastor who told me regarding the inclusion of GBLTQIA persons in his congregation, “I’ll tell them the truth about Jesus’ inclusion. Those that don’t like it can leave. There are plenty of other congregations where they can go. And we’ll find a new generation of welcoming and affirming people to take their places.” This “all-in” attitude has inspired me throughout my life to not be afraid. And if any of us want our traditions to truly survive and to thrive for the coming generations, it is time that we speak up and no longer be afraid of speaking truth to power.
Overall, I believe in the power of what JFK said in 1960: “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.” This is our time, the moment in which we are faith leaders and participants stand up and speak truth to power. It does not matter the consequence of who leaves; it matters that our integrity remain to the message that has driven us to be a part of our beloved communities. If you wish to declare yourselves a part of a tradition, the message is simple: it’s the same as its always been. Speak up, and declare your voice.