Dear President Trump, You could make things a lot easier for preachers

Dear President Trump:

I am sure you are getting letters from groups that feel like they are being mistreated. Muslims, Hispanics, African Americans, women, Jews, the poor, and the LGBTQ community have legitimate concerns, but have you thought about how you are making life difficult for preachers? Ministers are not usually considered an oppressed group, but preaching was easier before you became president.

Most preachers are not looking for trouble. We do not want to offend church members. We have little interest in partisan politics. We try to be respectful of those who do not vote as we do. Preachers say things like, “We are not all going to agree,” “Good people have different opinions,” and “My mother never votes like I do and she’s a fine person.”

But you are making it hard. On the Sunday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I was preaching on racism. I finished preparing the sermon on Friday afternoon. On Saturday you sent a tweet insulting John Lewis: “All talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!”  How could I preach on bigotry on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend and not mention the president picking a fight with a civil rights hero? If you feel like you have to do things like this, it would be helpful if you would do them early in the week so preachers do not have to rewrite their sermons on Saturday night.

You may not even recognize that you keep doing this. The first lectionary reading for January 29 was Micah 6:8: “What does God require of you, but that you do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?” On Friday afternoon, you enacted an executive order that suspended entry of refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries. How could preachers ignore you coming out against justice, kindness and humility toward these people?

The first reading for February 5 was Isaiah 58:6-7: “Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free?” On Saturday morning, you tweeted about a federal judge: “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” How could a minister preach on the oppressed going free without mentioning that the president is trying to force the oppressed back into bondage?

The Gospel reading for February 12, Matthew 5:21-37, was Jesus saying, “If you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council, and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” Lots of ministers spent Feb. 11 worrying that you would call someone a fool. You have, according to The Mirror, insulted over 100 brothers and sisters on Twitter including Meryl Streep, Jeb Bush, Ronda Rousey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Samuel L. Jackson, Megyn Kelly, Nordstrom’s, Mexico and the musical Hamilton.

How can ministers preach on telling the truth without using the phrase “alternative facts”? How can we preach on equality without noting that you have said horrible things about women? How can we preach on caring for the hurting without pointing out that you plan to cancel health insurance for 20 million people? How can we preach on the biblical command to welcome strangers without commenting on the wall?

Preachers do not have a choice. We have to preach that God loves all people and does not believe in America first. If we preach the Gospel, some are going to think we are taking shots at you. You are forcing preachers to mention you or look hopelessly out of touch. If we do not respond to the things you say, then some will assume we are asleep in the pulpit. Do we risk offending church members or feel like cowards?

You could make our lives easier. You could replace the Affordable Care Act with the More Affordable Care Act. You could work to alleviate hunger. You could strengthen our commitment to education. You could diminish the spread of terrorism by lessening the causes of terrorism. You could make the lives of so many people better. Some of them are preachers.

The Gospel text for this coming Sunday, Matthew 5:38-48, is, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’… But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Please do not give us anything to preach about.

Sincerely,

Rev. Brett Younger
Plymouth Church, Brooklyn

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The Many Things I Do Not Know about Racism

Two years ago, Carol and I started attending a nearby African Methodist Episcopal Church.  One other white person came from time to time.  I liked it more when she was not there, because I enjoyed saying, “We were the only white people at church.”

The gracious congregation tried to teach me to sing, clap, and sway, but my swaying still needs work.  One Sunday, the pastor surprised me by calling me to the platform to lead the morning prayer.  Everything I said brought a response.  I am not sure if “Help him, Holy Ghost” is encouragement or critique.

On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof went to a prayer meeting at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston and murdered nine people.  People like me thought it was an isolated incident, but my African American friends knew better.  Dylann Roof had been taught to hate.  He breathed the air of racism.

Two days later I got a call from the pastor of the church we were attending:  “The minister who was killed is a member of my family. I’m going to Charleston.  Could you preach this Sunday?”

What I said was, “I’m so sorry, but I’m in Texas right now for a conference.  I’ve agreed to preach at a church here on Sunday.  I’m very sorry.”

But what I thought was, “What would I say?  What could I possibly say?  What could a white preacher say to broken-hearted African Americans who have fears I can’t even imagine?”

I have an easier life because of the color of my skin.  I have privileges I do not recognize.  I breathe the air of racism.  I was taught to have a sense of superiority and to consider condescension charity.  When I reach into my wallet, ignore the twenties, and get a dollar bill to drop into a poor person’s hand, I do not think about the part privilege and prejudice played in that person’s homelessness.

Last week as we felt the anguish of victims’ families at Dylann Roof’s sentencing, I wondered what I would say if I had another chance to preach at the AME church.  At least this:

I want to understand what you deal with, but I also know that it might break my heart.

I do not know what it is like to have nightmares of a church service that ends in murder.

I do not know what it is like be the mother of a teenage son who is afraid because her son’s skin is the same color as the skin of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Jamar Clark, and Tamir Rice.

I do not know what it is like to be an African American in a country where the next president has a history of racist comments, including insulting heroes of the Civil Rights movement.

I do not know what it is like to be an African American and know that the next Attorney General suggested that a white civil rights attorney was a traitor to his race for taking a voting rights case.

I do not know what it is like to be an African American and wonder if our congress is so excited about cancelling health insurance for 20 million people because of the race of a disproportionate number of those 20 million.

I do not know what it is like to be complimented on how articulate you are and wonder if that is a compliment only black people receive.

I do not know what it is like to drive knowing you are more likely to be pulled over by the police.

I do not know what it is like to be looked at with suspicion by store clerks because of the color of your skin.

I do not know what it is like to know that some people who have never met you do not want you living next door.

I do not know what it is like to fear that your child’s teacher expects less of your child.

I do not know what it is like to realize that some of the churches that sing “in Christ there is no east or west” would not welcome you.

I do not know what it is like to truly hear the shameful silence of white Christians.

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