Election restrictions lifted, US clergy speak candidly

10 November 2016

ELIJAH BAYLIS/THE CLARION-LEDGER/AP

Guidance: People from Philadelphia lift hands and sing at a prayer meeting before the national and state elections, at the Capitol in Jackson, Mississippi, on Monday

Guidance: People from Philadelphia lift hands and sing at a prayer meeting before the national and state elections, at the Capitol in Jackson, Mississ...

THE presidential election in the United States has been likened to “an 18-wheeler driven over the bridge of American social and political life”, by the Bishop of Texas, the Rt Revd Andrew Doyle.

His was one of many analyses by church leaders of the fractures that they identify in American society, and calling on Christians to help to mend them.

The election had not created, but revealed, division, he wrote.

“When an 18-wheeler passes over a bridge and leaves cracks in its wake, we don’t blame the truck. The truck reveals a structural unsoundness already present in the bridge. The current presidential election has been an 18-wheeler driven over the bridge of American social and political life. It has revealed deep cracks in our community, and it has exposed our deep need for healing and reconciliation at the social and political level.”

Reconciliation was “not just an idea or an important theological doctrine”. It required “real racial, social, and economic reform”.

The Revd Barbara Williams-Skinner, who co-chairs the National African-American Clergy Network, told the Religious News Service on Wednesday that “It’s like a mourning; it’s like a funeral in some parts of America, in black America, among Muslim Americans and among immigrants I’ve talked to this morning.”

The President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Cornell William Brooks, said that the campaign had “regularised racism, standardised anti-Semitism, de-exceptionalised xenophobia, and mainstreamed misogyny”. He called on Donald Trump to “speak and act with the moral clarity necessary to silence the dog-whistle racial politics”.

Mr Brooks’s statement also warned that voter suppression had become “rampant and routine”. This was the first election to take place since the Supreme Court invalidated portions of the Voting Rights Act, designed to ensure that states with a history of voting discrimination could not make changes to their laws without federal approval. Laws have been passed repealing measures to facilitate access, including early voting and same-day registration.

The Bishop of Newark, the Rt Revd Mark Beckwith, recalled that, during the campaign, “veiled threats have been made to African Americans, open threats to Muslims, sexist references to women, denial of civil rights to transgendered people, verbal eviction notices issued to Hispanics, gun access to almost anyone. . . It is a time-worn practice of ‘othering’, which inevitably generates fear and resentment. Jesus wouldn’t stand for it, and neither should we.”

The marginalised now included a “relatively new group of Americans” who had had “the disorienting and disturbing experience of feeling pushed from the centre of American life into the shadows”, he said. They had not been adequately heard, and must be listened to.

Bishops in states that proved pivotal to Mr Trump’s victory spoke of the presence of fear.

“There are children of God who are scared,” the Bishop of Pennsylvania, the Rt. Revd Daniel Gutierrez, said. “Let’s embrace them. . . Christian community and unity are now the most important places of centering and strength.”

The Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt Revd Robert Hirschfeld, spoke of “fractious and anxious, even dangerous, times”, which might seem “strange for a certain class or segment of American Christians, who have for many decades enjoyed access to privilege, wealth, and power”. They had not been so for Christians throughout history, he said, nor were they for “a majority of Christians in the Holy Land, in China, and in many other places on the planet”.

Michelle Obama's advice to her children — "When they go low, we go high" — was recommended by the Bishop of Michigan, the Rt Revd Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr. He advised people to "be a positive witness for good for the next generations, and know that you do not walk alone: you walk wiith Jesus."

The Bishop of Arizona, the Rt Revd Kirk Smith, spoke of the anxiety experienced by both sets of supporters.

“For many of those supporting Mr Trump, there was much anxiety about being overwhelmed by outside forces threatening their families and way of life,” he said. “Now after the election, supporters of Mrs Clinton worry about the loss of gains they may have towards a more just society.”

He called on people to “reach out those who may be feeling especially vulnerable right now: Muslims, African-Americans, Hispanics, the LGBT community, women, and others”.

The Bishop of Iowa, the Rt Revd Alan Scarfe, said on Thursday that a priest in his diocese had woken to find a "homophobic hate note referencing the Trump election stuck on his car. Many of us are concerned that this is exactly the kind of personal permission to act out ones bigotry that the Trump election would provoke. He set a tone that will be difficult to live down or hold back the dark side of people it unleashes."

He had been teaching on Bonhoeffer for the past year, he said, and "how the Church must live in response to state-provoked social hostility. I began each session with 'What if...?' It seems that what if is in danger of becoming reality." 

There was a six-point swing in Iowa, from Barack Obama to Donald Trump. The result reflected "a growing conservatism among working class whites and rural communities feeling left behind", Bishop Scarfe suggested. "It raises for us as Church to ask about our own potential division between our rural folk and the urban church communities.

"Many of our clergy are receiving pastoral calls from frightened and retraumatised parishioners, especially women forced to relive their own experiences of sexual abuse. The church in Iowa is proud of our inclusive leadership including clergy like our colleague who awoke this morning to face a stranger's hatred." 

The Bishop of Oregon, the Rt. Revd Michael Hanley, suggested that the Church’s record was a blemished one.

“Too often, we have been passive in the face of injustice, bigotry, and oppression,” he wrote. “We confess our complicity in political and religious systems that have perpetuated injustice over many generations. We confess that fear and the desire to keep the peace has often led us to issue statements rather than the harder task of working for a more just and equitable society.”

Issued in partnership with other leaders in the diocese, his statement expressed a commitment “to the protection of bodies and souls in the face of forces that demean, disenfranchise, threaten, and abuse the children of God”. 

Specific commitments included a pledge to “protect and defend the human dignity of immigrants, refugees, and those who fear deportation. Our churches will be sanctuaries for those whose safety and security is threatened.” The statement also pledged work with “those whose race or religion is threatened by the vitriolic and violent language and action of white supremacy in American society”.

The Archbishop of Canterbury told ITV News on Wednesday that there were “huge amounts of fear” as a result of Mr Trump’s election, and spoke of the need to “find calm”.

“You don’t deal with fear by fear,” he said. “A hysterical reaction is unhelpful. A threatening reaction is unhelpful. We have to start by speaking with reason and calm.”

Noting the Prime Minister’s message of congratulation, the Archbishop suggested that Mr Trump “needs to be drawn into the family, the group of global leaders, and to see whether he is going to govern using less inflammatory terms than he did in his campaign. We hope and pray for that.”

The campaign had been “savage”, he said, and had “stirred up emotions of hatred from deep within people” which were “a thousand times worse than they have ever been in our past”.

Mr Trump had said things that “people like myself and others would have been really, really unhappy with”. But, he said, “whatever our views are, we pray for our leaders.”

The Bishop of California, the Rt Revd Marc Andrus, urged people to pray for Mr Trump: “May the Holy Spirit shape him to assume the office as one who will lead us to a just society. May Mr Trump become a president who keeps immigrant families together and creates an equitable path to citizenship for them. May he work in the area of racial reconciliation and to recognise the rights of women. May Mr Trump become a president who will recognise the peril of our planet and seek its healing.”

Members of the Evangelical executive advisory board appointed by Mr Trump in June looked forward to his term in office.

“When it comes to his very strong statements on life, on support for Israel, on the Iran nuclear deal, on religious freedom, and on judges, we fully expect him to keep his pledge . . . to the American people,” Ralph Reed, who chairs the Faith and Freedom Coalition, told the press on Wednesday. “And based on my interaction with Donald Trump, I have found him to be somebody who, when he says he’s going to do something, he does it.”

The Religious News Service reported that another member of the board, Ronnie Floyd, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, predicted that, in his first few days in office, Mr Trump would nominate someone “very conservative, a strict constitutionalist”, to the Supreme Court.

The Bishop of Olympia, the Rt Revd Greg Rickel, chose to invoke another Republican President in a blog, “We are not enemies”: a quote from Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address.

“Perhaps blood is not being spilled as gratuitously as it was during our Civil War, but civil war, in this generation’s country, is still very real,” the Bishop wrote. “If one good thing could come out of this election, no matter if you are celebrating today, or despondent, it would be the realization that if we do not walk toward one another, if we do not aggressively repair our relationships, we are destined for only more of the same.”

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