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If you follow this blog, you know that I hoped Secretary Clinton would be elected President. More than that, I really didn’t want Mr. Trump to be elected President. That hope and wish were not fulfilled. Instead, a man who I have seen as misogynist, racist, and dangerous (his denial of climate change, his openness to using nuclear weapons) has won enough states that, assuming the electoral college votes as they are pledged, he will be the next President of the United States.
I’ve been told that in 1960, after John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Richard Nixon, staunch Hollywood conservative John Wayne declared, “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my president and I hope he does a good job.”
I’m having a hard time following John Wayne’s lead. Yes, I hope Mr. Trump does a good job, but based on his campaign and the signals coming from his transition team, I don’t think he will. I’ve read his plan for this first 100 days in office. If he follows through on his plan, he will wreak havoc on the economy, the environment, the Supreme Court’s protection of freedom, our public schools, the incomplete health insurance net that’s being stitched together through Obama Care, families that include at least one undocumented worker, and the national debt.
While the plan does not say anything overt about removing right of religious, ethnic, or sexual minorities, the rhetoric surrounding the Trump campaign and the people he has named to his transition team is frightening. Since election day, many people – especially women, minorities, immigrants, and members of the lgbt community – have felt vulnerable. Not surprising, since the Southern Poverty Law Center has noted as significant spike in acts of “hateful harassment and intimidation” since the election. And now, with the naming of white nationalist Steve Bannon to be “Chief Strategist to the President,” the pit in my stomach that had been slowly dissolving has re-solidified. White male privilege is, I fear, solidifying in our culture, right along side the pit in my stomach.
Bishop Dwayne Royster’s words in this blog post posted late on election day resonate with me – particularly when he rights about his anger that people who say they follow Christ voted for a person whose words during this campaign paint him as sexist, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, homophobic, and not someone to be trusted with nuclear weapons. And I like that he calls us to be “Prophets that will speak truth to power unequivocally and will speak truth to the people as well.”
Senator Bernie Sanders (the presidential candidate I supported in the primaries) issued this statement the day after the election. In four sentences he says where I want to be politically.
Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media. People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids – all while the very rich become much richer.
To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.
And while I want to be ready to work with Mr. Trump where I can (and vigorously against him where his proposals and policies are harmful), I am worried about how we respond to people who are vulnerable now, as attacks continue. I turn to my Twitter feed as I write this, knowing that there are other people who have posted things that have inspired me or at least given me hope, but what I’m reading about are instances of people of color being threatened by whites, of people of Muslim faith afraid to express it. Trump has turned a populist anger into hatred for “the other” by turning economic resentment into racial, religious, and gender resentment.
As a pastor, I wonder what my congregation can do. My greatest personal fear about the Trump presidency is that the little progress we’ve made as a nation to combat climate change will be reversed and the struggle to address this (the most important moral issue of our day) may be too late. Others have different primary fears as they try to imagine the coming Trump presidency – and with good reason; check out “Day 1 in Trump’s America.” The Rev. Michael Denton, Conference Minister of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ, identified how the Trump presidency will make the lives of so many less safe and more traumatic – and some ideas for churches on his Facebook page:
For millions of people in our country and beyond, this world is suddenly and significantly less safe. Hate crimes had already increased in recent months and will even more, now. Many hard fought for laws that had protected the rights and lives of the queer community are in danger of being rolled back. Survivors of sexual assault will have to look into the eyes of someone who bragged about assaulting others every time they turn on the news. Those with disabilities will have to look into the eyes of someone who has mocked them. Migrants and refugees who found a home here are wondering if they’ll have to be migrants and refugees, again. People of color who already knew the life threatening daily reality of systemic racism are faced with one more blatant systemic expression of it. Those whose religious expression does not fall into a relatively narrow expression of Christianity can expect to be treated as suspect. Someone who has talked about his intention to use military force preemptively and often now has the ability to do so.
The idea of providing sanctuary is not a new one. It is the idea of opening up our churches and making them a safe space for people who are feeling threatened by the world. Over the coming hours, days, weeks, months and years more and more people are going to be asking for us to provide some sort of sanctuary; everything from providing a space for prayer and a listening ear to a place where they can find physical safety from a world that endangers them. We need to start that conversation of how to do that within and between our churches, now.
When it was becoming clear that Mr. Trump was going to win the electoral college, I honestly wondered if it was time to consider emigrating. I have a friend in New Zealand who said she will take me in while I look for a job if it’s ever needed. But then I read a tweet (I don’t remember who posted it) that called those of us who have privilege and care about justice not to abandon those who do not have privilege. Privilege comes in many forms in the USA. I have gender (I’m a cisgender male), race (I’m European-America of British descent), and economic (within the USA I’m probably upper-middle class) privilege, privileged enough to be able to seriously consider emigration. But I will stay and look for ways to justly use my privilege to protect those who are vulnerable and to dismantle the system that makes this privilege possible.
Those of us with privilege must not abandon those who do not have privilege. Those of us who follow Christ must serve, lift up, empower, and follow the vulnerable who are all the more vulnerable now.
A sermon preached at Niles Discovery Church
a new church for a new day, in Fremont, California,
on Sunday, July 21, 2013, by the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer and
the members of Niles Discovery Church.
Scripture: Micah 6:8
Copyright © 2013 by Jeffrey S. Spencer
The series of events that led to Trayvon Martin’s homicide started because of racism. We live in a society that grants white-skinned and light-skinned people privilege. George Zimmerman is a product of that society. And, based on comments he made to 911, it is clear that Zimmerman’s primary motivation for following Trayvon was the fact that Trayvon was black.[*]
It is also likely that ageism played a role. Trayvon wasn’t just black; he was a black teenager. In a society that gives privilege to people in mid-life (approximately age 30 to 60), Trayvon had two strikes against him.
The next step leading to Trayvon’s homicide brings forth the issue of gun control. An academic cited a study on an NPR program I was listening to this week that shows that carrying a gun leads to people being more likely to risk a confrontation or to make other risky choices. Based on how his lawyers described him during his trial, it is likely that Zimmerman wouldn’t have left his car if he wasn’t carrying a gun.
But Zimmerman did get out of his car, and Trayvon was shoot and died.
Once on trial, economic privilege reared its ugly head. Thanks to access to donations and the fame (or infamy) of the case, Zimmerman was able to hire some top-notch lawyers. Did that play a role in his acquittal? Many people think so.
The first half of Micah 6 describes a trial. God charges Israel with forgetting God’s saving acts through history. God’s case is open and shut, but instead of slamming Israel, God pleads. “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you?”
The trial continues and it becomes clear that making the most amazing sacrifices – thousands of rams and rivers of oil – are not what God wants. “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
There it is – in 6 words: Do justice; love kindness; walk humbly.
There’s a legend that Ernest Hemingway won a bet by writing a short story that made someone cry with just six words. “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”
This legend has inspired many, including Michele Norris. She started “The Race Card Project.” She asked people “to think about their experiences, questions, hopes, dreams, laments or observations about race and identity.” Then, she asked that they take those thoughts and distill them to just six words.
You’re probably figuring out what that 3 x 5 card in your worship bulletin is all about now. But rather than just think about race and identity, I invite you to think about race, privilege, and justice. I’m going to ask you to think about your experiences, questions, hopes, dreams, laments, and observations about race, privilege, and justice, and distill them down into six words. You can start thinking, but I’m going to talk for a little longer.
I asked my Facebook friends to do this exercise, worded a bit differently. I got over 40 responses. Here are a few:
“‘It ain’t right Atticus,’ said Jem.”
Racism exists. Privilege exists. Justice doesn’t.
Everyone has now become a lawyer.
I am afraid for my children.
We have much work to do!
Unnecessary fear of “them” destroys us.
They know not what they do.
In a moment, Jenny will begin playing some music as you think about what 6 words you will write down. When the music concludes, some of you will be moved to come forward, one at a time, to read your six words (and just your six words; not the stories behind them or the context or embellishment). Then, please put your card in the bowl, light a candle, and return to your seat. We will prayerfully listen to you. Then the next person is invited to come forward.
I hope you will put your name on your card. Whatever you write will have some story, some experience behind it, and in the months ahead, Pastor Brenda and I might want to draw on those stories, so it would be helpful to be able to contact you. Pastor Brenda will draw our time of sharing to a close with a prayer.
If you don’t choose to come forward or we simply run out of time before everyone who wishes gets a chance to speak, please place your 3 x 5 card in the offering plate.
So, think about your experiences, questions, hopes, dreams, laments, and observations about race, privilege, and justice, and distill them down into six words.
People were quite excited to come forward and share their six words. In the next two or three weeks, I will post some of those shared on my blog in the comments section to the posting of this sermon.
[*] It was pointed out to me, following the worship service, that gender stereotypes probably played a role in the events that led up to the homicide. Had Trayvon been a female, Zimmerman might never have left his car or even worried about Trayvon. This is not necessarily sexism, since, in our culture, sexism give privilege to men.