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Why reconciliation with President-elect Trump may be impossible for some Christians

By Gay Clark Jennings, Religion News Service
On November 17, 2016

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a church service in Detroit on Sept. 3, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Carlo Allegri/File Photo *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-JENNINGS-OPED, originally transmitted on Nov. 15, 2016.

(RNS) For months, as the Republican nominee for president spewed hatred and contempt for women, people of color, and immigrants, the white church stood by and watched. The Twitter hashtag #whitechurchquiet bears witness to our silence.

But on Election Day, white Christians — not just an overwhelming number of evangelicals, but also majorities of Protestants and Catholics — spoke by electing Donald Trump president of our country.

I fear now, as I have feared for months, the impact of his presidency on vulnerable people — including the white and working-class voters in places like my home state of Ohio who lent him their support.

Christians always have disagreements about policy proposals or party platforms during election seasons. But this year, I wonder how white Christians who read the same Scriptures and hold many of the same beliefs that I do could support a man who in word and deed has flaunted the core teachings of our faith.

People who say they follow a poor, itinerant savior who came to bring good news to the poor and freedom to captives have elected a president who speaks contemptuously of women and people of color, and whose election has sparked celebration by the Ku Klux Klan and outbreaks of violence and harassment against Muslims, Jews, Latinos, women, immigrants and LGBT people.

Christians who voted for Trump may claim policy or economic reasons for having done so. But by electing a man whose words and actions support and incite hatred and violence, the church has failed the country, and we have a lot of soul searching to do.

We might begin by examining our default response to conflict. The desire to foster “reconciliation” is deep in Christians’ bones, and it crops up in just about every statement about the election I have seen from a mainline church leader, but too often the church preaches reconciliation when what we really want is to avoid unpleasantness or get approval from worldly powers and principalities.

President-elect Trump’s rhetoric and his behavior indicate that he does not regard significant numbers of other Americans as his equal, or even as fully human.

His vice president, Mike Pence, believes in a form of conversion therapy for gay and lesbian people that has been repudiated by every mainstream psychological organization in the country and outlawed in five states.

Reconciliation, then, may be out of reach, and it may be pastorally inappropriate for the church even to suggest it to people who now have legitimate reasons to be afraid.

Thankfully, our national elections do not rewrite our catechisms or revise our Scripture. What our faith requires of us remains the same today as it was on Election Day.

For Episcopalians, like me, our faith is well-summarized in our service of baptism, in which we are asked to promise that we will “persevere in resisting evil,” “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” “love our neighbors as ourselves” and “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.”

If we make these promises, if we join what the Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop, Michael Curry, calls the Jesus Movement, we will inevitably come into conflict with secular power.

When we are making progress toward justice, it is easy to forget this. When we are comfortable, it is easy to become complacent and lose touch with the pain of people whose race, class, gender identity or sexual orientation are different from our own. It also is possible to dismiss the legitimate concerns of those who embrace an ideology we abhor. These are just some of the sins for which we Christians need absolution.

But our own limitations do not free us from our promise to resist evil. When the agendas of the president-elect and the new Congress scapegoat people of color and Muslims, deprive our fellow citizens of control over their lives, desecrate God’s creation or enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor, we must oppose them. This is not a partisan political statement; it is a confession of faith.

When Mary was pregnant with Jesus, she visited her cousin Elizabeth, who the Gospel of Luke tells us hailed her as “blessed among women.” Mary’s response is entirely out of character with the meek and mild image that the white church subsequently crafted for her. By choosing her to give birth to Jesus, she says, God “has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Reconciliation is holy work. Resistance is too. We need to watch and wait to see what God is calling us to do.

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings is president of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies

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