Bearing Witness in Trump’s Time

bell-tower-with-fall-leaves

By Amy Carr

I want to begin with the words of John Dorhauer, President and General Minister of the United Church of Christ:

“Because this election sharply separated us over matters of race, gender, human sexuality, faith, economic inequality and political persuasions we all bear a heavy burden moving forward. It is our call, our shared mission, to heed the call of God’s Spirit and to work to repair damages in our deeply wounded and fiercely broken body.

“Mr. Trump was able to win this election in spite of clear evidence from him of racism, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, and Islamaphobia. This was so blatant that many of his own party’s leaders could not endorse him. Many who voted for him knew this, and yet their fears about what is happening in their lives overrode their distaste for his bombast. In their search for a leader not connected to the power base of a government that has been perceived as corrupt, inefficient, and out of touch – his populist rhetoric appealed to them. He must now lead a country where people of color, women, Muslims, immigrants, the disabled, and an LGBT community all feel the sting and impact of his public speech.”

In these past few days since the election of Donald Trump as our country’s next President, the surge in hate crimes against people of color, sexual minorities, and Muslims reveals how powerfully this particular face of the demonic can take hold of us.

I wish I understood it better. I get the pull of the demon of despair, among so many others — which is why I will always love Michelangelo’s painting of St. Antony with the monsters. I get that America’s original sin of racism has a long history and deep roots — though I also recognize that I have taken as too certain the worldview I absorbed as one having been born in the 1960’s, into a world in which so many doors were opening up for women and people of color. Spirit-driven, providential changes, I have always regarded them.

So I am not sure I know how to understand what compels someone to lead a group of kids to chant in a cafeteria, “Build that wall! Build that wall!” as they did in my friend’s daughter’s school in Moorhead, Minnesota on election day. I do not know why someone would forcibly try to pull hijab off of a Muslim woman. I don’t know why a white boy would tell a black boy this week, “Now you have to get back in your place.” I do not know why University of Oklahoma students might send text messages to students in Philadelphia with a photo of a lynching and the words, “I love America.”

Such acts seem to involve a glee in feeling one’s own power to try to erase another. As a woman I knew once put it: “It feels powerful to push someone else away.”

The 80% of white evangelical Christians and the majority of Catholics who voted for Trump may have done so out of a hope for economic change, of feeling that rural communities and the white working class are forgotten, of hoping for conservative appointees to the Supreme Court that will reverse the legality of abortion and same-sex marriage. More people of color themselves may have voted for Trump than for previous Republican candidates (though still voting far more often for Clinton) because they too hope for improved economic conditions. Whatever the reasons, it is dismaying to me that it did not seem to matter to half the country what insidious forces Trump was allowing to come forth  — or did not matter enough to vote for Clinton as the better choice for our country.

J. Kameron Carter calls Trump an “avatar” of the nation’s racism and nostalgia for whiteness. Maybe this is a time of exorcism. Certainly anyone following the news this week is more aware of how much the demonic face of racism is thrashingly showing itself.

You may weigh the relative evils differently than do I. But I am confident that most reading this post want to resist the power of racism and other forms of hate (not to mention indifference to the environment). And that is what we as Christians are surely called to do, as we figure out how to live with the choice we have made as a nation.

It is a time of bearing witness. And as my friend and fellow theologian Aristotle (“Telly”) Papanikolaou puts it, “What Christians need to struggle to realize, and this is an ascetic struggle demanding spiritual commitment and discipline, is a politics of empathy” that resists perpetuating the instinct for demonization.

Telly is Eastern Orthodox; his sensibilities are akin to those of Benedictines. You can read here more of what he said in a Public Orthodoxy blog site about “Being Christian During a Trump Presidency.”

The day after the election, I suddenly felt I was beginning to finally understand why Jesus made no defense at his trial. It was not then, is not now, a time when good arguments matter. Pontius Pilate and Jesus’ accusers would not be able to let go of their rationalizations for their actions. Jesus’ silence meant he felt the truth of his situation.

But the church exists because his followers, encountering Jesus on the other side of disaster, moved out of that silence into bearing witness.

 

 

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Bearing Witness in Trump’s Time

  1. Amy, Here’s a wonderful article from James Martin, SJ. I think it reflects your concerns–shared by so many–and offers a sound Catholic response. Blessings, Sister Sandra

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    • Yes, James Martin’s essays articulates in more depth what Telly (Aristotle P.) was saying. Christians as a whole disagree, of course, on the legality of abortion and same-sex marriage, but few Christians today will openly support racism, at least in the name of their faith. And very often naming systemic social sins is experienced by some as personal name-calling, rather than as a cry for engagement and conversion. Likewise, it is the oldest challenge in Jewish and Christian traditions, at least since the time of the prophets: how to hold together the call to practice forgiveness and reconciliation with the prophetic demand (reflected so often in Jesus’ own expressions of anger) to address social injustice. I wonder how we as oblates can participate in both. That Trump has just appointed Stephen Bannon, the head of alt-right (openly racist and anti-Semitic) media outlet, as his chief strategist does not bode well, even if Trump held back from naming him chief of staff. How and where shall we apply a mix of reconciling and prophetic voices (amid and alongside our own ongoing journeys of spiritual conversion)?

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  2. Thanks for your insights, Amy!

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  3. Amy, You make some very valid points…I am still not clear on the rationale behind many voters…do they really want change or just to be “entertained” by the show of hatred, anger, bigotry as in so many of our TV talk shows and YouTube shows? Congress and the Supreme Court and the Cabinet will have a constant battle on their hands trying to “lead a non-leader” in the right direction. Pray for our people…our country.

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    • Sister Marlene: Trying to “lead a non-leader” has been what I too have been thinking. And as I voiced with my oblate group this past month, I have been more aware of how much I love my country, and the values I have believed are cored to it. I am aware too that this feeling of love and betrayal of values may be what some feel in past elections–among those whose values may differ from mine. I wonder what values we can see and feel holding together, across the divide? Yes, I am praying more often for our country (as such an influential actor affecting the rest of the world, too), and for Trump, who seems to me to be a man only half-aware of his vulnerability. He’s got a soul there, that is clear; he longs to be seen and admired, and puts that need right out there.

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  4. Amy, I am very impressed with your letter/comments on Trump, on your very articulate comments on his ideas, etc. I “resonated” with it 100 percent. I find it discouraging that so many voted for him. Still don’t understand it and find it frightening in many ways. I am trying to read widely, discuss, etc.

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