Segregated Faith: America's First Sunday

“I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

MLK

Today was America’s first full day of church services since candidate Trump became president-elect Trump. The outcome of the election has been received quite differently depending on the racial makeup of a church’s congregation. The data shows 80% of self-described White Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump while Black support for Trump was between 8-10%. The old aphorism about 11:00am Sunday morning being America’s most segregated hour was evident in the way Christians voted.

As I walked towards the lectern in the pulpit this morning I knew the words I chose wouldn’t and couldn’t do an adequate job of placing this moment in a proper biblical or historical context. This election magnified the racial divide in America’s churches. The truth is: many churches haven’t made any substantial progress in desegregating that segmented hour of our week dedicated to worship. As I prepared and meditated on my remarks, I was (once again) forced to face the reality that due to our aging congregation and the racial demographics of our area the only way our church can survive is to bring more of our white brothers and sisters into our fellowship. We are one of the two historically black churches left in our county. I often find myself wondering how can we grow our church in a Republican enclave surrounded by Christians who don’t understand why Donald Trump is anathema to a majority of our members?

Since Tuesday, I’ve read social media posts and watched videos by White pastors who have likened the election of Donald Trump to an Old Testament prophecy coming to fruition. As an ordained member of clergy and a student of human history I find myself questioning what matters most to some of my fellow Christians: nationalism or their membership in the kingdom? I don’t know how so many pastors were able to overlook the obvious racial undertones, xenophobia, misogyny, and overall vindictive rhetoric Donald Trump uses. I can’t understand how the Christian right was able to so easily embrace a candidate who embodied so many of the actions they’ve spent decades worth of lip service fighting.

I’ve been assured by close to a dozen of my fellow Christians that their support for Donald Trump wasn’t based on any racial, religious, or national calculus. They assured me they want “real change”. I’ve been told that Donald Trump won’t govern the way he talked on the campaign trail. I was told that we need to give him a chance. I was told that Donald Trump isn’t a racist, “he just puts Americans first”. I was told all of this by people who assured me they aren’t racist. I had someone tell me how bad they feel that so many racist organizations have aligned themselves with their movement. I’ve come to the conclusion that none of their reasons really matter to me. I don’t have the time or energy to analyze each and every motivation people used to make their decision. It almost feels like some of them are looking for absolution. I know all Trump supporters aren’t racist, but that won’t help me if, and when, I’m subjected to state sanctioned discrimination.

It’s deeply upsetting listening to pastors provide religious cover to a man who hasn't shown the ability to engage in civil discourse with anyone he disagrees with. Donald Trump speaks worse about his political opponents than Dr. King spoke about the people who were trying to kill him. Let that sink in! The Religious right have turned ecumenical back flips finding ways to forgive Donald Trump for behavior they would have crucified President Obama for. I can’t help but question what makes family value conservatives embrace a man with 5 children by 3 women, or his womanizing ways. Legendary conservative womanizers like Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani think the Donald has had a good run.

In the 18th and 19th centuries the enlightenment caused the disenchantment with the church. In the 20th and 21st century it’s been our hypocrisy. What it means to be a Christian and who decides is a trap civilizations and cultures have fallen into since the church was founded. The church has survived crusades, inquisitions, reformations, and countless other existential crises; as an institution, it will always be here. I don’t question whether the church will live, I wonder how many people will want to be affiliated with it after we’re done?

I started this post with Dr. King because he has simultaneously been the best tool America has produced for the destruction of systematic racism and for shaming civil unrest. There’s much to learn from his sermonizing and writing. He possessed the ability to weave secular and religious texts from the past into road maps for an egalitarian future. No figure in American history has had their legacy more distorted to the detriment of the people he died advocating for than Dr. King. He has been reduced to the role of Black America’s principal or daddy. The moment there’s racial unrest America would rather dismiss than engage Black people are bombarded with images of MLK and told how we should or shouldn’t conduct ourselves. Almost fifty years after his assassination America has convinced herself and three generations of her children that she loved him when he was alive.

The protesters in our streets have very real issues they’re concerned about, yet the inexcusable actions of some knuckleheads have overshadowed their pleas for help. The electoral process has yielded a President-elect who’s caused some in our country to question how safe they are moving forward. Many of Donald Trump’s most loyal supporters don’t have to worry about the kind of collateral damage that can come from draconian immigration policies or a national stop-and-frisk campaign. When members of the LGBTQIA community talk about losing civil liberties based on the religious beliefs of others they are dismissed as drama queens (double entendre intended). The left and the right are equally guilty of dismissing the concerns of the other side. When we ignore or diminish the pain others are experiencing we don’t make their pain go away; we only show them how little we care about it. Now would be a great time for some understanding and resolve. Maybe we can talk about how we got here without yelling at each other?