Writing for the New York Times this week, Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne (both white men) confessed that their evangelicalism is complicit in the reactionary racism that has both elevated Donald Trump to the status of “President-elect” and emboldened hate crimes against American citizens. “Evangelicalism was closely associated with the campaign of Donald J. Trump, and more than 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for the president-elect,” said Campolo and Claiborne. “As a result, much of the good that went by the name ‘evangelicalism’ has been clouded over; now a new movement is needed to replace it.”
As an African-American pastor, I’m painfully aware how many of our congregations need to be born again…again through a radical revival of prophetic faith. This revival is needed not only for white evangelicals, but in many respects for the entire faith community in America. In the weeks since the election, I have cringed at over-spiritualized requests to “pray for our President,” “trust in the Lord,” and “wait and see what the President-elect will do.” Faith leaders have actively conspired to silence the moral outrage flowing from tens of millions of Americans who rightly despair the election of Trump and the genuine threat his supporters and policies present to immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, refugees, and poor communities.
Without a strong commitment to prophetic faith in the public square, Christianity risks losing all credibility in the coming Trump administration, and potentially being complicit in the loss of many lives and liberties.
I learned this lesson the hard way. As an organizer for the PICO National Network’s “Live Free” campaign, I brought clergy to Ferguson to march with local activists in the days following the killing of Michael Brown. Wearing a preachers collar, I was greeted with a question from a young man in the community that I will never forget: “What are you preachers doing out here?” he asked. No faith he was familiar with had any relevance to the movement for which he was willing to lay down his life.
Whether we supported his candidacy or not, people of faith in America must take responsibility for the moral vacuum that made Trump possible. Many of us have quietly become agents of the state with decreased moral authority in the public square and a diminished spiritual capacity to exorcise the worst demons in our own ranks. Our spiritual blindness makes room for structural and interpersonal violence against the vulnerable and oppressed.
We blame our moral decline on the private choices of consenting adults rather than the public decisions of greedy individuals and corporations. We fight for the lives of the unborn while sanctioning the drone bombing of families in war torn countries, the breaking-up of families through radical anti-immigrant policies, and the denial of healthcare to both the born and the unborn.
Dr. Martin Luther King said that the church cannot be the master or the servant of the state, but must instead be the state’s conscience. Neglecting our prophetic identity, faith communities have become irrelevant social clubs without moral or spiritual authority.
This Advent season, as America prepares for the Trump years, people of faith must recapture our prophetic zeal and our commitment to the poor. We must listen to the poor and unwed women like Mary, the mother of Jesus, and learn to pray with her to the God who “pulls tyrants from their thrones and raises up the humble.”
As I read and listen to the prophets of scripture, the American church has failed to embody what Mary welcomed into her womb when she gave birth to the “Prince of Peace.” We have over-emphasized encouragement for for individual’s spirits while ignoring the material conditions of a world possessed and over-determined by human weakness. We have done this, in my best estimation, because we have quietly accepted the forms of Christian faith that accommodated America’s original sin of race-based slavery.
Is there any hope for prophetic Christianity to be born again in the Trump years? Can a new faith-rooted movement replace the compromised Christianity which has been exposed?
My faith and America’s history tell me that it’s possible, but only if we look for leadership from communities that have been overlooked and rejected. Nearly a century ago, E.F. Frazier suggested in The Negro Church in America that blacks should leave black churches en masse and join white churches to force a conversation about the moral inconsistencies related to segregation in the early 20th century. Has this moment called for such a radical reciprocal step? My proposal: white Christians who are ready to confess their sin need to show real signs of repentance by going to join the black, brown, Asian-led or woman-led congregation nearest to them.
The faith community has failed to face the principality of race in America, and the rise of Trumpism is the result. White-led multi-cultural megachurches have been lauded as signs of “reconciliation,” but inarticulate if not deafening silent on matters of justice. I am convinced it is because white Christians have not submitted to the wisdom of those prophetic traditions which emerged from the brush arbors of plantations and the storefronts of urban wastelands.
Is this because the average white Christian is too inherently biased to sit and be taught by people of color? Are the ears of the average white Christian incapable of hearing the good news, and the bad news unless it comes from the minds, lips and words of white male sensibilities? Can they not imagine worshipping the unseen God in ways that do not assume white culture, music, art and speech? It is an act of violence for people of faith to continue with business as usual within the institutions that accommodated themselves to structural sin.
Prophetic Christianity already exists in America. It’s time for anyone committed to following Jesus to humble themselves to learn from new teachers, and be born again…again.