What Will It Take?

Photo Source Denise Krebs | CC BY 2.0

What will it take for faith leaders to publicly condemn and call for the removal of President Donald Trump, whose toxic hate speech and policies are dividing Americans and inciting violence?

Faith leaders profess belief in the fundamental Christian ethic of welcoming the stranger.  Jesus is recorded as teaching: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” (Matthew 25: 35)  Yet there is silence from many Christian faith leaders themselves as President Trump continues to demonize as “invaders” a thirsty, hungry, destitute caravan of Central American men, women and children migrants fleeing poverty and gang violence, mostly on foot, and seeking to apply for asylum in the United States.

The caravan started from Honduras, has reportedly shrunk to “less than 3,500,”and is “still weeks away from reaching the United States.”  Yet President Trump is manufacturing a national crisis by calling the impoverished migrants’ struggle to find safety in the U.S. an “invasion.” Without proof, he said that        “ ‘Middle Eastern’ people [i.e., terrorists] are part of a dangerous mob of migrants threatening to surge into communities here.  . . .  an invasion of ‘a lot of bad people’ and gang members, and said the migrants are wasting their time because the troops will block their entry.” (“Trump Sending 5,200 Troops to the Border in an Election-Season Response to Migrants,”My Michel D. Shear and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, The New York Times, Oct. 29, 2018)

First President Trump was reported to be sending 5,200 troops to the border to turn back this “horde of invaders.”  But as the midterm elections near, far more troops are “needed,” which number has now soared to 15,000.

President Trump promotes a precarious situation.  One day he says the troops can shoot immigrants who throw rocks.  The next day he denies saying it, and stresses rock-throwers will be arrested. (See “Trump reverses claim that US would shoot rock-throwing migrants,”By Maegan Vazquez, CNN, Nov. 2, 2018)  Trump is a master of mixed-messaging, of having it both ways.

The Nigerian Army heard President Trump’s first message, and reportedly killed 40 fleeing Islamic Shiite activists, who, in a protest, had “hurl[ed] rocks at heavily armed soldiers who then shot fleeing demonstrators in the back.”  Faced with criticism from “human rights activists and many Nigerians,” the Nigerian military posted a video on Twitter with the statement: “ ‘Please Watch and Make Your Deductions,’ showing Mr. Trump’s speech on Thursday in which he said rocks would be considered firearms if thrown toward the American military at the nation’s borders.” (“Nigerian Army Uses Trump’s Words to Justify Shooting of Rock-Throwers,”By Dionne Searcey and Emmanuel Akinwotu, The New York Times, Nov. 3, 2018)

This grave threat of “invaders at the Gate” is intended to get President Trump’s base to the polls.  It also provides a convenient distraction from how Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut is primarily benefiting corporations and wealthy Americans, and not, as he promised, those lesser off, including people in his base.

Republican leaders said the tax cuts would pay for themselves, but have not.  In fact, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the deficit “will add $1.8 trillion to the deficit over the coming decade.” (“Tax cuts, spending to raise U.S. deficit to $1 trillion by 2020, CBO analysis shows,”By Andrew Taylor, Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, April 9, 2018)  Thus countless millions of Americans – including many in Trump’s base – could be left holding the bag.  Republican leaders are talking about paying for the deficit by cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  Obamacare, which guarantees medical coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, was and also remains a target of Congressional Republicans if they retain power.

Thus a midterm campaign-stomping President Trump is trying to divert everyone’s attention from the threat to security and health he has created within, to the threat he has concocted from without: his demonizing of the latest “tired and poor huddle masses yearning to breathe free.” This time the woman he chooses to assault is the Statue of Liberty.

To keep the national conversation away from the threat Republican Party policies pose to the health, education and security of American children and their families, President Trump is also talking about using an executive order to end the constitutionally-guaranteed birthright citizenship of American-born children of non-citizens.  More xenophobia to rev up his base for the midterm elections.

In the face of President Trump’s dehumanizing, hateful, violence-inciting behavior, where is the prophetic judgement of the heads of Christian denominations?  The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church?  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops?  The heads of other mainstream Christian denominations?  These and others are assumed to be the moral leaders of the country.

Certain people of faith in these denominations are addressing the plight of the Central American immigrants.  The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society strongly advocates for immigrant families at the Mexican border, with its latest statement opposing the sending of U.S. military to the border.  The Board sent a delegation to the border “to better understand the root causes of the immigration, the right of asylum and the criminalization of immigrants.”  The members report that all of the leaders they met with expressed “great concern and fear about U.S. troops being deployed.”   The Board members also “denounce and oppose the rise of xenophobic, racist and violent reactions against migrants in the United States,” and “support all efforts to build relationships among people, instead of building walls among diverse ethnicities and cultures.” (“Board opposes military at U.S.-Mexican border,”Church and Society, The United Methodist Church, mail.google.com)

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released the statement of Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA in response to the threat posed by the U.S. military at the Mexican border.  The statement recognizes nations’ “right to protect their borders.”  But “this right comes with responsibilities: governments must enforce laws proportionately, treat all people humanely, and provide due process.”  The statement also provides an important reminder: “An enforcement-only approach does not address nor solve the larger root causes that cause people to flee their countries in search of protection.”(“CHAIRMAN OF THE USCCB COMMITTEE ON MIGRATION AND PRESIDENTS OF CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES AND CATHOLIC CHARITIES USA ISSUED STATEMENT URGING HUMANE ACTION TOWARDS THOSE SEEKING PROTECTION,’United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Oct. 29, 2018)

World Relief, an evangelical relief agency, is reported to have presented a similar statement as United Methodism’s General Board of Church and Society, “retweeting a post they had issued in August saying, ‘U.S. gives the right to any person seeking asylum in the U.S. to access a designated port of entry.’ ” Thus World Relief is “committed to protecting the right of immigrants lawfully seeking refuge in the      U. S.” (“Christian Organizations and Churches Defend Asylum Seekers amid Deployment of 5,200 Troops to Border,”By Kayla Koslosky, ChristinHeadlines.com, Editor, Oct. 30, 2018)

Similarly, numerous faith leaders have criticized President Trump’s “zero tolerance” border policy that has led to the separation of some 2000 immigrant children from their parents.  Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski was quoted as saying, “Basically the administration has, in deciding to separate children from their parents, [tried] to weaponize children, using them as leverage against the parents applying for their asylum applications.” (“Faith Leaders Oppose Trump’s Immigration Policy of Separating Children from Parents,”By Sasha Ingber, NPR, June 16, 2018)

These responses of faith leaders are timely and greatly needed.  However, their responses seek to put out certain fires of injustice, not stop an incendiary, pyromaniac president who started them, and who is bent on torching any individual or group to defend or divert attention from his narcissistic delusions of grandeur.  If President Trump’s perception of and reaction to an impoverished caravan is that distorted and extreme, how can Americans relying on his judgment regarding the motives of Iran or North Korea, or what will “Make America Great Again?”

How many lies will it take before faith leaders realize that nothing President Trump says can be trusted?  CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizzareports: “As the 2018 midterm election nears, President Donald Trump is disseminating false and misleading statements at a pace that leaves even his own past prevarications in the dust.  . . . Trump is averaging – AVERAGING – 30 false or misleading claims a day in the last seven weeks.” (“Donald Trump didn’t tell the truth 83 times in 1 day,”Nov. 2, 2018)

For the sake of the country, what will it take for faith leaders to demand the removal of President Trump from office?

In Pittsburgh, Anti-Semitic Robert Bowers was paying attention to President Trump’s fanning the flames of hatred toward the Central American caravan and sending the Troops to the border to stop the “invaders”.  Bowers, who is white, had his own target in mind:  the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which, as reported, aids “refugees and asylum seekers,” and has a local affiliate, “Jewish Family and Community Services of Pittsburgh.”  Hours before Bowers entered the Tree of Life synagogue and massacred 11 Jewish congregants and wounded four police officers and two others, he posted on social media: “I can’t sit back and watch my people get slaughtered .  Screw your optics.  I’m going in.”  And, “in another post, he wrote, ‘You like to bring in hostile invaders to dwell among us? We appreciate the list of friends you have provided.’ ”  With his post “was a link to information on the National Refugee Shabbat Event, celebrated on Oct. 20 at more than 300 Jewish congregations in 33 states.” (“HIAS, the Jewish Agency Criticized by the Shooting Suspect, Has a History of Aiding Refugees,”By Miriam Jordan, The New York Times, Oct. 28, 2018)

President Trump’s reported response to the loved ones and friends of those Jewish worshippers massacred in Pittsburgh?  “This wicked act of mass murder is pure evil.  . . . If there were an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop them.  . . . Maybe there would have been nobody killed except for him, frankly.” (“Trump’s Response to Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting and His Obsession with the Word ‘Frankly,’ “By Katy Waldman, The New Yorker, Oct. 28, 2018)

Here is President Trump’s payback to the National Rifle Association for its generous financial support of his campaign and presidency.   If it were up to Trump, there would be armed guards not only at schools and houses of worship, but at playgrounds and senior citizen centers.  Calling for armed guards is also Trump’s way of distancing himself from the violence that he himself helps to inflame.

What will it take for faith leaders to speak moral truth to President Trump’s ingrained destructive behavior and call for his removal from office?

In Florida, Cesar Altieri Sayoc Jr., a zealous supporter of President Trump, was arrested and charged with mailing pipe bombs to over a dozen critics of the president.  Those targeted include former president Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rep. Maxine Waters, Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, billionaire Democratic donor George Soros, and actor Robert De Niro.  Explosive devises were also sent to CNN offices.

Cesar Sayoc lived out of his van, which is plastered with pro-Trump stickers and those of his critics: “Mrs. Clinton’s face [is] in the cross hairs of a rifle scope”; another said “CNN Sucks”; and a third “depicted a heroic Mr. Trump standing in front of flames and the American flag.” (“Outspoken Trump Supporter in Florida Charged in Attempted Bombing Spree,”By William K. Rashbaum, Alan Feuer and Adam Goldman, The New York Times, Oct. 26, 2018)

President Trump condemned the political violence, saying, “No nation can succeed that tolerates violence or the threat of violence as a method of political intimidation, coercion or control . . .  We want all sides to come together in peace and harmony.”  Trump them attributed much of the political violence to the media, stating:

A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News.  It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description.  Mainstream Media must clean up its act.  FAST!  (“Supreme Leader Trump Brushes Off Terrorist Plot to Murder His Political Adversaries,” By Ryan Bort, Rolling Stone, Oct. 25, 2018)

During the time a fervent President Trump supporter mailed pipe bombs to Trump’s critics and an anti-Semite killed 11 Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh, there was also the shooting and killing of two older black persons by a white man in Kentucky – after he unsuccessfully tried to force his way into a secured predominately black Baptist Church.  Following a week filled with such violence, Trump winked to his base about “toning down” his rhetoric.  At a reported “rally in Illinois,” Trump “told the crowd: “If you don’t mind, I’m going to tone it down, just a little bit.  Is that okay?”  When “the crowd responded with a ‘No,’ he said, ‘I had a feeling you might say that. So we had a great rally in Illinois.’ “ (“Trump on toning down his rhetoric: ‘You should go about your life,’ “By Morgan Gstalter, TheHill, Oct. 29, 2018)

President Trump’s greatest concern in response to his political enemies being mailed explosive devises and the horrible massacre of 11 Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh?  He lamented the fact that the pipe bombs and Pittsburgh killings “ ‘had stopped the tremendous momentum’ for Republicans ahead of next week’s midterms.”  Washington Postwriter Allyson Chiu writes, “Speaking to an energized crowd in an airplane hanger decorated with American flags on Columbia, MO., the president took time at the end of his speech to brag about the ‘tremendous numbers’ of Republicans going to vote.”  But it hasn’t “exactly gone smoothly.”  Trump complained: “Now, we did have two maniacs stop the momentum that was incredible, because for seven days nobody talked about the elections . . . It stopped a tremendous momentum.’ “ (“Trump mourns loss of ‘tremendous momentum’ for GOP due to Pittsburgh synagogue shootings, pipe bombs,”Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 2, 2018)

If President Trump loses all of his “momentum,” it is within him to encourage his base to act out by rioting.  How many in his base are prepared to do so?

President Trump lacks the basis humanizing quality of empathy, which is the heart of The Golden Rule.  What will it take for faith leaders to publicly speak moral truth to power and demand his removal from office?  What will it take for faith leaders to urge their constituents to join them?


Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His newly published book, The Minister who Could Not Be “preyed” Away is available Amazon.com. Alberts is also author of The Counterpunching Minister and of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review of the book in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.