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US Episcopalians pledge resistance to hate crimes

18 November 2016


Walk-out: students from several high schools in Los Angeles left their classes on Monday to join a protest against Mr Trump

Walk-out: students from several high schools in Los Angeles left their classes on Monday to join a protest against Mr Trump

RESISTANCE, not reconciliation, may be God’s calling to the Church, in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, a senior figure in the Episcopal Church in the United States said this week.

Amid calls from bishops for unity and healing, the President of the House of Deputies in the Episcopal Church, the Revd Gay Clark Jennings, suggested that it may be “pastorally inappropriate for the Church even to suggest it [reconciliation] to people who now have legitimate reasons to be afraid”.

“Too often the Church preaches reconciliation when what we really want is to avoid unpleasantness, or get approval from worldly powers and principalities,” she wrote in a comment for the Religion News Service, an independent website.

“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.”

She invoked the promise to “persevere in resisting evil”, and concluded that “Reconciliation is holy work. Resistance is, too. We need to watch and wait to see what God is calling us to do.”

In the wake of an election campaign that was described by the Archbishop of Canterbury as “savage”, Episcopalians have been targeted by, and offered refuge from, attacks. At the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, Silver Spring, Maryland, a sign advertising Spanish services was torn and daubed: “Trump nation whites only.”

Protests against the result of the presidential election have taken place in cities across the United States.

In his first interview as President-elect, on CNN, on Sunday, Mr Trump said that he did not regret the campaign. “I wish it were softer. I wish it were nicer. I wish maybe even it was more on policy. But . . . it really is something that I’m very proud of. . . It was a tremendous campaign.” People need not be afraid he said, before urging supporters who had been issuing racial slurs and personal threats to desist.

The President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Cornell William Brooks, said last week that the campaign had “regularised racism, standardised anti-Semitism, de-exceptionalised xenophobia, and mainstreamed misogyny”.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that the campaign had “stirred up emotions of hatred from deep within people” which were “a thousand times worse than they have ever been in our past”.

During the campaign, Mr Trump said that he would build a wall along the US-Mexico border and immediately deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. In his CNN interview, he suggested that a fence could be used in some areas. He pledged to deport or imprison those with criminal records: “It could be even three million”. Once the border was secure, a decision could be made about other, “terrific”, migrants.

The Bishop of Arizona, the Rt Revd Kirk Smith, said on Wednesday that the wall would be “logistically nearly impossible, astronomically expensive, and economically disastrous to the United States, since a huge part of its labor force and tax base would be lost. It would also be morally reprehensible, since it would break up families and communities which have, in many cases, been in this country for years.”

Numbers crossing the border had dropped, he said, and there were “better, humane” approaches available. He called on Mr Trump to “disassociate himself from statements that pander to hate groups”. He said that the Church would “promote a safe space for those who are feeling vulnerable and afraid, and for good reason”.

The Bishops of Virginia sent a message to Latino members of their congregations in support of a “just immigration policy that allows families to stay together and provides a path to citizenship. . . We stand with you not only symbolically, but will be there to stand with you literally if and when the time comes.”

The diocese of Oregon pledged that its churches would be “sanctuaries for those whose safety and security is threatened”, and promised to work with “those whose race or religion is threatened by the vitriolic and violent language and action of white supremacy in American society”.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre said that it had received 200 hate-crime reports since election day. After vandalism had been reported, the congregation at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, in Silver Spring, was attended by 250-300 people, up from the usual 100. Members and supporters received coloured chalk as they left, which they used to write messages of welcome on the street in front of the church. 

They were joined by the Bishop of Washington, the Rt Revd Mariann Budde, who said on Friday: “Healing from such a bruising campaign is not accomplished with one call to unity. Things have been said in this election that cannot be easily unsaid or forgotten. The President-elect made promises that, if fulfilled, would be devastating to our country.”

The words “Heil Trump” and “Fag Church” were found written on the walls of St David’s Episcopal Church, Bean Blossom, Indiana, on Sunday. The Bishop of Indianapolis, the Rt Revd Catherine Waynick, said that “the kind of language used during the recent presidential campaign has emboldened some people to become openly abusive and insulting.”

The Bishop of Iowa, the Rt Revd Alan Scarfe, reported last week that a priest in his diocese had awoken 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 one’s 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.”

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

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 is a member of the Advisory Board, and chairs the Faith and Freedom Coalition, told the press.

“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.”

Mr Trump has listed his priorities as jobs, health care, and a “really great immigration Bill”. In his CNN interview, he repeated his promise to appoint anti-abortion judges to the Supreme Court, and agreed that women might have to travel to another state to get an abortion. His support for same-sex marriage was “irrelevant” because it had been settled in the Supreme Court.

Before his inauguration on 20 January, he will have to fill about 4000 government positions. He has appointed the chairman of the Republican National Committee and a Greek Orthodox Christian, Reince Priebus, as his chief of staff. His transition team is being led by the Vice-President-elect, Mike Pence, who is an Evangelical Christian: Bishop Jennings has highlighted Mr Pence’s support for conversion therapy for gay and lesbian people.

On Saturday in New York, the interim leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, became the first British politician to meet Mr Trump as President-elect. Theresa May’s spokesman rebuffed Mr Farage’s offer to act as a go-between, and said that Mr Trump had told the Prime Minister that he “looked forward to enjoying the same close relationship that Reagan and Thatcher had”.

With two months to go until inauguration day on 20 January, Episcopalian bishops are clear about the scale of the task ahead.

“The current presidential election has been an 18-wheeler driven over the bridge of American social and political life,” the Bishop of Texas, the Rt Revd Andrew C. Doyle, wrote in a blog last week. “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.”

The Bishop of Olympia, in Washington State, the Rt Revd Greg Rickel, invoked another Republican President in a blog: “We are not enemies” — a quotation 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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