One year ago April, I began a facebook group called “Lutherans Against Trumpism.” This closed group page has been my most consistent activity in response to the rising tide of reactionary taunting and trickery. It has simply served as a place to post news and articles without litigating the value of our journalists, our judges, our scientists and our constitutional system. It is a space for posts about my anxious concerns about discrimination against Muslims, scapegoating of undocumented immigrants and demeaning and violent language and action towards women.
Looking back at what I have tried to do, that’s where it started and it may not seem like much but it’s been helpful to me. Like most Lutheran Pastors, I serve a church with maybe as many as half of the members supporting the new administration or thinking that it is better than the alternative. I have heard many stories of the new perils of preaching in these days.
The day after the election I was scheduled to visit an assisted living center and to attend a small meeting of protestant and Catholic clergy. The clergy meeting was postponed due to collective illness. I canceled my visit to the assisted living center for fear of discussions about what happened the night before; I had an excuse in that we were operating with one car at the time. The first thing I did with the congregation post-election was to solicit reactions to the result by email and then to hold an evening prayer for those who wanted to share their reactions. Those who responded to the offer to gather have become the core of a small support group we now call the Social Action Team. The second thing we did was to finally get around to adopting a statement of welcome that celebrates diversity including sexuality and gender identity. We became the first Lutheran congregation in our county to do this and are now listed as Reconciling In Christ. The Social Action Team decided be a place for discerning issues to call or write about. Also, we decided to raise awareness of Christian public theology resources and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA)’s Social Statements specifically to the entire congregation. We had our first Bread for the World “Offering of Letters” (annual advocacy for fighting hunger through public policy: bread.org ) and Palm Sunday featured a longtime member speaking on Climate Change and announcing ELCA participation in the Climate March.
At our first team meeting I was asked if I was afraid of the reaction we were risking from some in the congregation. The short answer was “Yes.” The longer answer was that opposing positions make us more responsible in thinking through what we say. (It was also the inspiration for activating this team.)
For myself, my continued involvement in interfaith activity has been helpful to me. An interfaith social justice book club calling itself “Read Talk Act“, begun by those who gathered for a vigil after the 2015 Charleston shooting, brings together a number of diverse local congregations and other concerned members of the community. From our readings about racism we moved to investigating a way to take action and visited an innovative youth offender program. With those youth and other concerned members of the community we traveled by bus to Albany to lobby for reform. New York was only one of two states not to make an effort to treat 16 and 17 year olds in an age appropriate way and instead processed them in adult courts and adult jails and prisons. That effort brought real reform even in the midst of a budget process that was protracted and uncertain, a highlight of the last six months.
In April, I returned to my (first) seminary for the first time in 20 years for a series of lectures on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His writings have been very prominent in my mind these days and I wondered how I could have been disconnected from that community for so long. Bonhoeffer’s essay on folly (From “After Ten Years”) appeared in my Christmas Eve sermon in a somewhat random way.
I’ve shown up at a number of public demonstrations most notably the D.C. Women’s March on January 21 and the NYC March for Science on April 22. After many years of involvement in a local MLK Day event that was often lackluster I also attended MLK Day events with fellow Lutherans in Parkchester in the Bronx and an Interfaith program in White Plains which were both very assertive in their responses to the election.
Preaching has felt more urgent and more fraught. I’ve spoken about Philip Roth’s “Plot Against America” and rising discrimination and hate. I’ve spoken about FDR’s Executive Order 9066 relocating Japanese Americans to internment camps. Only once have I mentioned the 45th POTUS by name; in preaching on the Good Samaritan I described how this was an encounter between members of two groups who would generally rather die than be helped by the other. For a contemporary example I used Meryl Streep and Donald Trump. I have spoken about the darker side of American history in choices by people like George Washington and the brighter side of bi-partisan refusal to pander and attack Islam by people like Sen. John McCain and Secretary of State Colin Powell, two profiles in courage on this issue. That sermon referred to the lie of Muslims dancing in New Jersey on 9/11/01 and that remark drew a nonverbal response of hands thrown in the air and an email about the need to protect our country.
My ministry will have no greater divide than that which went before and that which went after the 2016 election. I have sought to ground my actions my faith tradition and to use this time for deepening my life as a person of faith. At our first Social Action Team meeting I read a Bible verse:
“Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.’” – Book of Esther, fourth chapter