Last week Donald Trump announced that 100 Black pastors will endorse his candidacy. Many of us were not happy about it and took to social media to express our disappointment. Well, after multiple posts, shade and two-cent think pieces, most of the pastors have backed out.
EBONY magazine posted an open letter from other Black pastors, community organizers and teachers, addressing the matter with them and the rest of us:
We write to you as fellow clergy, community organizers, scholars, socially aware Christians, and/or concerned voters who are deeply confounded by your decision to participate in an upcoming telecast meeting with Presidential contender Donald Trump.UPDATE the conference has been cancelled.
Mr. Trump routinely uses overtly divisive and racist language on the campaign trail. Most recently, he admitted his supporters were justified for punching and kicking a Black protester who had attended a Trump rally with the intent to remind the crowd that “Black Lives Matter.” Trump followed this action by tweeting inaccurate statistics about crime prevalence rates in Black communities — insinuating that Black people are more violent than other groups. Those statistics did not reflect the fact that most crimes are intraracial, meaning that most people do harm to people of their own race. They also did not speak to the crime of neoliberalism, capitalism, and white supremacy which kill thousands of black and nonblack people each day.
Trump’s racially inaccurate, insensitive and incendiary rhetoric should give those charged with the care of the spirits and souls of Black people great pause. As people of God, you are surely aware of the emotional, spiritual, and physical toll continued structural and state violence takes on Black people. Being continually reminded of reckless police disregard for Black life through the circulation of videos that show them murdering our young people, like 12-year old Tamir Rice, 7-year old Ayanna Stanley Jones, and 17-year old Laquan McDonald are both heartbreaking and stress-inducing.
Moreover as people of God, you know that our theology shapes our politics, and politics are a great indicator of our theology. What theology do you believe Mr. Trump possesses when his politics are so clearly anti-Black? He routinely engages in the kind of rhetoric that brings out the worst sorts of white racist aggression, not only toward Black people, but also toward Mexican-Americans and Muslim-Americans, too. Surely, we can agree that this kind of unloving and violent language does not reflect the politics of the Christ we profess?
We are urging the Coalition of African American ministers to return to the revolutionary politics of our religious roots. Historically, the Black church has fought for the livelihood of Black communities. Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner’s cries and religious protest during enslavement, Maria Stewart and Garfield T. Haywood’s preaching about the moral responsibility of the church to fight for racial justice during Reconstruction, Zora Neale Hurston’s prophetic ruminations on the problems that Black women faced during the Renaissance, and Ella Baker, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Howard Thurman and so many other preaching men and women’s unwillingness to sit and die while facing the beast of Jim Crow is a testament to the influence and power of the Black church to enact social change in our communities.
Further, if we take James Cone’s words, “The gospel is found wherever poor people struggle for justice, fighting for their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” we must ask if the ‘gospel’ will be present at your upcoming telecast with Donald Trump? Will you speak to the experiences of your congregants who often pay their offerings and tithes with what little money that they have? Will you rightfully divide the word of truth on the behalf of the Black children in your congregations who attend lackluster schools, or the Black women who struggle to find reasonable health care, or even the elders who live from social security paycheck to paycheck?
We are concerned that your choice to meet with Mr. Trump, particularly in such a visible way, will not only de-radicalize the Black prophetic political tradition, but will also give Trump the appearance of legitimacy among those who follow your leadership and respect your position as clergy. Mr.Trump will use that legitimacy to gain Black political support, while using that support to govern in a way that harms Black communities. Surely, Black people have been misused and abused by politicians long enough. Surely we can count on our clergypersons not to actively facilitate this kind of treatment of our people, many of whom are the “least of these.”
Beyond the immediate issue of your choice to meet with Mr. Trump, this movement moment is a moment of great reckoning for the church at large, and the Black church in particular. Will we be a church that centers the love of Christ and service to the least of these at the core of our mission? Or will the integrity of the Black church be ruined because it is primarily concerned with creating alliances with powerful people who care more about buying votes than they do securing material equity? Will we be a church that openly welcomes without shame, blame, and harm all Black lives, including the lives of queer and trans Black people, or will we be a Church that only cares about the Black lives of people who look, think, act and talk like us? Will we be a Church that thinks actively about the ways that unregulated capitalism brings great harm to the communities we serve, or will we pursue powerful alliances — under the guise of a “prosperity gospel” some prophets profit from — with capitalist chieftans like Trump? Or will we insure that the capitalism that hurts the most of us won’t hurt the least among us?
What kind of Church will we be? And whose servants are we?
This Movement Moment is about far more than the police-killings of Black people. It is also a charge and challenge to all of us who work actively on behalf of and in service of Black lives. This moment invites us to imagine new possibilities for how we can liberate our people. The movement for Black lives “goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes” as Alicia Garza, one of the co-founders of #BlackLivesMatter, has argued. “It centers those that have been marginalized within Black liberation movements. It is a tactic to (re)build the Black liberation movement.”
By siding with a presidential candidate whose rhetoric pathologizes Black people, what message are you sending to the world about the Black lives in and outside of your congregations? Which Black lives do you claim to be liberating?
To stand with Jesus is to have great skepticism about systems of power and a willingness to question the motives of the powerful. Or, as James Baldwin once penned to Angela Davis: “If we know, and do nothing, we are worse than the murderers hired in our name. If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own—which it is—and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night. Therefore: peace.”