Christians Leave Trump in Droves

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church condemned it. Trump “used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes. This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in a statement.

The Episcopal Bishop of Washington condemned it. “I am outraged,” the Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde, bishop of Washington, told The Washington Post. “Everything [Trump] has said and done is to inflame violence. We need moral leadership, and he’s done everything to divide us.”

The Catholic Archbishop of Washington condemned it. “I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people, even those with whom we might disagree,” Archbishop Wilton Gregory said about Trump’s visit to a Saint John Paul II National Shrine. Gregory said Pope John Paul would “not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”

The President of the Southern Baptist Convention, J. D. Greear, condemned it. “Our only agenda should be to advance God’s kingdom, proclaim his gospel, or find rest for our souls.” Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Religious Liberty and Ethics Convention, elaborated, “The murder of African-American citizens, who bear the image of God, is morally wrong. Violence against others and destruction of others’ property is morally wrong. Pelting people with rubber bullets and spraying them with tear gas for peacefully protesting is morally wrong.”

The Presiding Bishop for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America condemned it. Elizabeth Eaton decried Trump’s decision (“The president used federal troops to clear a path through peaceful protesters in order to stand before an Episcopal church, make a statement, and hold up a bible…Not only was this manipulative, it was desecration.” She said, “Denouncing this outrage cannot, however, distract us from the deep wounds of structural racism and white supremacy that have been reopened by the killing of George Floyd.”

My own Bishop The Rt. Rev. Phoebe A. Rolfe issued a lament to her flock: “The nation’s collective heart is full of disease. 400 years of terror inflicted upon persons of African descent have not evoked a sense of compassion among many well-meaning Americans. Others have also been denied the full stature of their humanity – Asians, Native Americans, Latinos, women, poor whites, members of the LGBTQ community. The protests we are witnessing aren’t just about the death of George Floyd – they are a collective cry of pain after generations of mistreatment.”

(Note: The Presiding Episcopal Bishop is African American. The Catholic Archbishop is African American. The Episcopal Washington Bishop is a white woman. My Bishop is an African American woman. The President of the SBC is 45 yrs old and was nominated to bring greater inclusivity and racial diversity to the denomination. The Evangelical Lutheran Presiding Bishop is a white woman. Who you have in leadership positions matters. If you want to know why, just ask me in the comments—this post is long enough already.)

Yet, the overarching story in the media is that Trump’s Evangelical base has stayed loyal to him. I think the media does this to pander to liberal outrage that leads to clicks on stories (“How can they? They are such hypocrites!”) The media needs to shift the story, but until they do, we have to.

Why does it matter? Four reasons:

  • It’s true, and people need to know it. We don’t usually see shifts as they are happening unless someone points them out. The statements by these leaders are extraordinary. (We are so tired of unprecedented, but the Archbishop’s statement was called exactly that.) And once people see shifts, they think, oh, shit, I’m about to get left behind, and they shift too.
  • If you live in a conservative area, it can be hard to speak up for your values. If you know your church supports you, you can say, “My church says it’s wrong.” It gives you a shield, an excuse. That might make you a weenie, but so be it. On the other hand, if you don’t know where your church stands, you can’t say it. People need to know.
  • People who might be on the fence or uncertain of their position need this information. Not all Episcopalians are as liberal as Michael Curry; I’m sure that goes for the Baptists, Catholics, and Lutherans, too. They need to know that if they take a different stance, it is against the leadership of their church.
  • We need to support these leaders. If you think their statements will be the end of it, you’re wrong. Even now a Trump-supporting opponent is challenging Greear for the SBC Presidency. The voices extolling these leaders need to be as loud as those deriding them.

So kudos to the Atlantic for this story issued yesterday. But the title is wrong. It implies Christians support Trump, but these sects don’t. (Odd stance to take when Rev. Dr. William J. Barber and his extraordinary coalition with millions of followers has denounced Trump from the get-go.) I like my title better: Christians Leave Trump in Droves

ps if you know of other religious leaders who have spoken out about this, please let me know.

Archbishop of Washington, Bishop Phoebe A. Rolfe, Christians leave Trump in droves, Episcopal Bishop of Washington, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Presiding Bishop for the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

Comments (15)

  • I like this piece because it is full of both passion and concrete information. I think a lot of those of us in the great undistributed middle of American society have longed for the kind of moral leadership that is emerging. nd I agree that we need to find our voices and be heard in this time of crisis. But I don’t think you are right that the evangelicals of various stripes are deserting Trump in droves. I would like to hear what they are saying now, but I don’t think it would track with the leaders you cite. I hope we can learn more in the near future, but I am not convinced that the Trump base is abandoning him

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Joe. I do not think the Trump base is deserting him. I do think the members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church who do not believe Trump’s actions were “manipulative and a desecration” need to know they are taking a stance against the leadership of their church.

  • ‘Archbishop Wilton Gregory said about Trump’s visit to a Saint John Paul II National Shrine. Gregory said Pope John Paul would “not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.” ‘

    As I read this, I thought th Archbishop was being “kinda a weenie”, that he didn’t just stand up and say this is wrong and felt compelled to hide behind JP II. Then you brought up this very idea later in your piece. I then reflected that it doesn’t matter how exalted one’s position, there are all occasions we need to feel supported and am grateful he spoke out.

  • Mary Margaret Hicks

    Ellen, As always thank for your clear, articulate statements about this important issue. The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, the stated clerk for the Presbyterian Church (USA) made a statement condemning Trump and others who support him. Also, the Reverend Dr. Alton Pollard, president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (my seminary) has also spoken out against it. Faculty, staff and students of Louisville Seminary have taken to the streets to protest the death of Breona Taylor at the hands of Louisville police who executed a no knock warrant in the night while she was asleep in bed, along with George Floyd and all others innocently killed by police and others. You are among those I deeply respect and love crying out in the wilderness to God to help and heal us. May we all have the courage to speak up, loud and clear, as you have done so well. Love you and miss you. Prayers for you, Tom and all your family. I am positive your Mom and Dad are looking down upon you with much love and peace.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Oh, thank you, MM! This is so good to know and to broaden the conversation to include Ms. Taylor. As to speaking up, if I am doing anything right, I learned from the best, including you. And thank you for your prayer—your comments about my mom and dad made me tear up.<3

  • I was interested by the comment above about Archbishop Gregory’s statement, so I looked up the actual statement which appears here: https://adw.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2020/06/060220-ADW-Press-Release.pdf along with his much longer statement about the death of George Floyd originally issued a couple of days prior. Taken together, they give you a much stronger impression of his voice on this issue.

    Because I’m Catholic, I am most familiar with the bishops’ reaction to the Trump presidency in general, which has been hesitant to call Trump out by name, even though they criticized Obama by name frequently. The bishops were critical of specific policies, like the horrid immigration policies, but were generally mute on most of the shenanigans, largely, I think, because they wanted the conservative judges and justices. For most of Trump’s term, most of the leadership of the bishops’ conference were “good ole boy” conservatives, not necessarily in line with a lot of the laity. Bishop Gregory has only recently become president of the conference, so I am hoping that he will speak more often for the social justice values of the church in the national context. He was bishop of Atlanta for many years before taking over in DC in the wake of scandal. GIven that there are few RC bishops of color – and, sadly, no women allowed – Archbishop Gregory is an important voice for the church at this time, even though many of his brother bishops still will not criticize Trump by name.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Thank you for this expansion, Joanne. I did not know of his background. I read an interesting article in The Atlantic about what causes those whose ideals have been violated to collaborate with the violators (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/07/trumps-collaborators/612250/ ) One of the many reasons went to “we are otherwise getting what we want.” I think many Christian organizations fall into that slot. The dichotomy between leaders and the laity that you describe, along with the Atlantic article, clearly shows that change has to be from the ground up, as leaders too often have entrenched self-interests in the status quo.

      • As Richard Rohr reminds us, institutions find it difficult to break out of the “first half of life.” I’m sure you are correct that it takes “second half of life” thinking and living from lots of grassroots folks for things to actually change.

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