Sunday, January 15, 2017

Continuing Moral Witness: Churches and Their Apologists Offer Language of Healing in Face of Trump Presidency. We Need Language of Resistance.

Things I have read Trump supporters/apologists saying on social media today:

1. Fall into line.

2. Shut the protests down.

3. Put a throttle on the press.

4. The protest nonsense has to end after inauguration day.

Jack Jenkins reports on pushback Washington National Cathedral is now experiencing — from fellow Episcopalians — for participating in a very public way in the Trump inauguration: 

[Gary] Hall [former Dean of Washington National Cathedral] said he believes Trump "violates any possible norm of Christian faith and practice" and argued that participating in his presidential inauguration contradicts the example of Christ. 
"I think we're just at a watershed moment in American Christianity in our relation to the state as a culture," he said. "I would not have held the inaugural prayer service, nor would I have allowed the choir to sing because the positions Trump has taken are so inimical to the gospel. I know it has been our tradition to do it, but this is a really different kind of candidacy and presidency—and it's a time, really, for the church to be the resistance to this kind of authoritarianism instead of legitimizing it by allowing it to use the symbols of Christianity."

I have spent much of my life reading and writing about American politics, but nothing I’ve seen before has prepared me for what happened this week. Increasingly, it feels as though the country is careening out of control and heading straight off a cliff — and nothing can slow it down. . . . 
Taken all together, this confluence of events represents perhaps the most profound political crisis that this country has faced since Watergate. We have a president-elect fully prepared to violate the Constitution. We have allegations that his advisers might have worked directly with a foreign government to win the presidential election and who could also, potentially, be blackmailed by that same government. We have a Congress indifferent to these potential crises and focused instead on repealing legislation that will literally cause the premature deaths of thousands of Americans. It's almost hard to take all of this in. It’s a disorienting and surreal moment in our history and the worst part is that last week might have represented the calm before the true storm.

In New York TimesMichael Paulson offers a report on Jennifer Holliday's decision to cancel plans to sing at the Trump inauguration, after she received widespread criticism, including from her large LGBT fanbase, for that decision. Holliday initially sought to justify her decision to take part in the inauguration by saying she is a "bipartisan songbird." As Paulson says, she also noted that she wants  her voice to be a "healing and unifying force for hope" in a deeply polarized country.

In sharing this story on Facebook this morning, I wrote, 

Kudos to Jennifer Holliday for realizing belatedly that participating in events that throw roses at Hitler's feet is a political act. But we're going to be hearing a lot of this language that abuses religious or moral values like "healing and unifying." It's being used by Catholic centrist media gurus to provide cover for Cardinal Dolan as he comes to the inauguration to throw roses at Hitler's feet on behalf of the U.S. Catholic bishops. 
You know what religious and moral words these folks don't use regarding Trump and his presidency? Words like resist. Phrases like stand together and stand against. Words like repentance. 
They are totally silent about the need for 60 percent of white Catholics to repent of their actions in placing the nation in this situation, and of the need of the bishops to repent for the abysmal moral and pastoral leadership that has brought American Catholics to this point.

As Gary Hall says, we're at a watershed moment in American Christianity. One wing of American Christianity is showing us with irreversible clarity how far it is willing to go to collude with massive evil like ripping healthcare benefits from millions of poor people, even as this wing of Christianity claims exclusive ownership of the label "pro-life."

That wing of Christianity is being given cover by media gurus, many of them professing to be "liberal" Christians, who offer us words like "healing," "unifying," "praying for everyone," "blessing everybody" in the face of this massive evil. Inevitably, this response brings to mind for many of us who remember history the appalling response of most German and Austrian Catholics, including the bishops of the German and Austrian Catholic churches, to Hitler and the Nazi regime.

The liberal-centrist media gurus within U.S. churches including the Catholic church want us to think that comparisons of Trump and his presidency to Hitler and the Nazi regime are overdone, dramatic, paranoid. They do not want us to resurrect critiques of the moral vacuity of German Christians as Hitler came to power.

We need to get beyond all that now, they say. We need to pull together. Jesus blessed and prayed for his enemies.

What they do not say to us: we need to resist. What they do not day to us: white American Christians need to repent of what they have done (Donald Trump was placed into office by 4 in 5 white evangelicals and 3 in 5 white Catholics and Mormons) in electing Donald Trump, of their collusion in massive evil already underway in the assault on healthcare coverage for millions of people, an assault spearheaded by "pro-life" Christians.

The language of repentance, resistance, and standing together against evil will have to come to many of us who have ties to the white churches in the U.S. from outside our church communities. It will have to come to us from another wing of American Christianity than the powerful establishment wing that is now jubilating in Trump's victory, with its "liberal" apologists giving it cover with words like "healing," "blessing and praying for everyone," etc. Just as happened in the Nazi time in Germany and Austria . . . .

As Joachim Fest, who came of age in a Catholic family in Germany during the Nazi period, recounts in his Not I: Memoirs of a German Childhood, trans. Martin Chalmers (NY: Other Press, 2012):

But the ten million or more . . . [enthusiastically supporting Hitler] didn't want to see the means by which Hitler achieved his successes. They thought he had God on his side; anyone who had retained a bit of sense, however, saw that he was in league with the Devil (p. 118).

Fest notes that his Catholic family had hoped Catholic Austria would resist Hitler, but when Nazi troops marched into Austria in March 1938, Austrians greeted them waving flags, crowds lining the streets, cheering, throwing flowers, shouting enthusiastic Heils!, singing. Women swooned and fainted at the sheer joy of the spectacle (pp. 118-9).

As Fest sadly concludes, regarding the inability of German and Austrian Catholics and their pastoral leaders to resist Hitler,

In short, conservative, Catholic politics were much closer to and forgiving of Hitler's policies than of anything that might have aided the godless atheism of the political left (p. 157, n. 6).

We're going to hear a lot of language now about falling into line, shutting down protest, throttling the press, ending the nonsense of opposition movements after inauguration day. As we hear that, the best and brightest of many of our church communities will offer us the panacea of pseudo-religious language about healing, blessing, coming together, overcoming divisions . . . 

When the language they should be offering us, if they remember the Nazi days, is the language of repenting, resisting, standing together, and pushing back against massive evil.

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