The culminating event of 2016 was the election victory of Donald Trump in the United States.
If you’re convinced this development will not touch your life in any substantive way, please pause to ask yourself: Will your own faith life, and faith community, remain the same? Do tumultuous changes in world politics, economics and security issues mean your personal and communal prayer must change, too? Or is our religious practice better seen as an unchanging constant, a timeless refuge from the world and its many, seemingly endless, complexities?
As you are reading these words, the reality TV show host and real estate magnate will have been inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America. (You might have noticed New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan in attendance.) As one religious commentator gently put it, the remarks of Mr. Trump often “played to the darker sentiments of the human soul.” Mexican immigrants were portrayed as rapists and criminals — and the resulting chant at Trump rallies was “Build the Wall!” The thrice-married Republican candidate declared himself “pro-life,” but was heard on tape describing how he sexually assaulted a woman (causing several more women to come forward to allege similar incidents). Trump doubted the science of climate change, while encouraging more coal mining. And his cozy relations with Vladimir Putin have caused international concern and accusations of election meddling by the Russian state.
Despite these negatives, many voters (although not the majority) found his contender, and her platform, to be even more grievous. The rural/urban divide was pronounced, with Republicans winning the small towns and Democrats dominating in the cities. Additionally, the more often voters reported going to church, the more likely they were to choose Trump.
According to the Pew Research Center, “fully eight-in-10 self-identified white, born-again/evangelical Christians say they voted for Trump, while just 16 per cent voted for Clinton. . . . White Catholics also supported Trump over Clinton by a wide, 23-point margin (60 per cent to 37 per cent) . . . Trump’s strong support among white Catholics propelled him to a seven-point edge among Catholics overall (52 per cent to 45 per cent) despite the fact that Hispanic Catholics backed Clinton over Trump by a 41-point margin (67 per cent to 26 per cent).”
Washington’s Jim Wallis remarked in Sojourners Magazine: “Our original sin of racism in America — how it still lingers in all of our institutions and how it was effectively used in this election — was not faithfully addressed in the pulpits of white American churches. There was absolutely no difference between the votes of other white Americans and the votes of white Christian Americans; there was no leaven, no salt, no light from white Christians to the rest of America.”
After the election, the pope’s representative in the U.S. said that the church needs “to assume a prophetic role.” Archbishop Christophe Pierre acknowledged that “the pope is more prophetic than the Catholic bishops here today . . . we have not done much, to be honest with you, on the issue of refugees in the United States. And we could do much more.”
The American Catholic church is split politically along racial and rural/urban lines. Does the same split exist in our Canadian church? Do basic Christian values and teachings now influence a majority of religious voters less than the values of “civil religion” — the status quo society’s acceptance of unbridled capitalism, overt racism and damaging sexism?
My prayer is that pastors will lead us to become active participants in more inclusive communities where we can dialogue about our differences, learn from one another, and reduce the fear that creates perceived friction. Faith communities are among the few remaining social institutions that have the power to bring people together in our individualistic hyper-consumptive societies — convoking discussions leading to values clarification and the growth of charity. It would be a prophetic testament to the power of the Christian message if our churches became beacons of peace, refusing to countenance militarism and war.
Following the example of Pope Francis, our churches should exhibit selfless commitment to welcoming refugees, defending the rights of migrants, and advocating for their security. In the week after the election, 700 hate crimes were reported in the U.S. Faith communities must renounce all hateful speech in the weeks and months ahead.
On a Saturday morning after the election, my wife and I attended a multi-faith solidarity rally in the Machzikei Hadas synagogue, following a spate of racist graffiti being sprayed on a Jewish prayer centre, two synagogues, a mosque and a United Church that has a black pastor. The mayor and police chief, as well as religious leaders, emphasized the need for education toward understanding in our communities. In a letter to the local paper, Anglican Canon John Wilker-Blakley directly linked the racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism “bubbling just below the surface of our society” to the election of Donald Trump. And as Ontario’s premier stated, “People cannot be complacent. We have to stand together.”
Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, a member-driven, faith-based public policy organization in Ottawa focused on ecological justice, refugee rights and poverty elimination.