Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Reprehensible and Wrong
distributed 7/19/19 - ©2019

This has to stop.

The President of the United States has told four members of the US House of Representatives that they should return to the countries from which they came -- when three of the four were born in the US. He has stated that those four "hate our country."

There are many reasons why this kind of language is reprehensible and wrong. It has to stop.

Clearly, appealing to Mr. Trump to tone down his language won't work. He benefits from his outrageous tweets and comments, and many in his base love it when he goes off like this.

The political system seems incapable of policing itself. Few Republicans have objected to Trump's comments in any way, and certainly not in a passionate denunciation. The resolution passed by the House of Representatives condemning Trump's words -- with only four Republican votes -- looks to me like it was intentionally worded to keep the minority party from joining in a statement of conscience. Along with the condemnation of Trump's "racist comments" the resolution was a broad affirmation of immigration and asylum that would be politically toxic to most Republicans. Both parties are contributing to the fight.

The only way it will stop is if the general population -- if people like us -- denounce the hate, denounce the racism, denounce the totalitarian tendencies. Editorial writers need to publish blistering critiques. And, speaking specifically to the primary audience of these Eco-Justice Notes, pastors and faith leaders need to provide moral leadership in rejecting the politics of division.

I challenge all pastors to speak up this Sunday -- in a sermon, in prayer, in a preface to the worship service, in a bulletin insert -- and call out the unacceptable political discourse of this week, and in particular the statements of Mr. Trump. This is not a matter of a controversial political policy, where people of faith and ethics can take opposing positions. This is a case of outlandish and unacceptable behavior which we cannot condone within our society.

Pastors, speak out. To my other readers, in addition to your own ways of speaking, I ask you to forward this email to your pastor and to other church leaders, with your encouragement that they speak boldly and clearly.

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I won't try to summarize the news about Trump's tweets, and the controversy around it. If you've somehow missed out on all that, a commentary by Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, provides a recap of the essential details.

For today, I will name two of the central moral problems with Mr. Trump's egregious pronouncements, and I'll offer a biblical context for the behavior we should be affirming.

(1) Trump's initial tweets were directed at four freshman members of the US House, outspoken and controversial figures who (I believe) refer to themselves as "the squad." Importantly, all four are women, and all four are people of color. That's essential to the wording from Trump that they should "go back" to other countries.

Implicit in the "go back" message is the idea that people of color are not real Americans. (Remember that Mr. Trump, for years, was a ringleader in the "birther" claims that President Obama was not born in the US. This is familiar ground for him, and racial resentment seems to be at the heart of his campaign strategy for 2020.) The assertion that these members of the House, all US citizens, should "go back" is an objectionable -- and I would say, clearly racist -- dismissal of their identity and their legitimacy.

(2) The "love it or leave it" perspective is anti-democratic (small "D"), regardless of any racism. Rep. Liz Cheney, the chair for the Republican Conference, said:

So no, our opposition to our colleagues' beliefs has absolutely nothing to do with race or gender or religion. We oppose them and their policies because their policies are dangerous and wrong and will destroy America. The issue here is the content of their policies and we will continue to stand up and fight against what we know is wrong for this nation.

Ms. Cheney may be open to this battle of ideas continuing within the House, albeit with a harsh and divisive approach. But Mr. Trump is advancing the dangerous notion that there's a very limited range of political ideas that can be considered "American," and that anybody who can't live within that range should leave.

Distressingly, but not surprisingly, Mr. Trump's public attack against Rep. Ilhan Omar's political positions has relied on distortions and mistruths. His lies are pouring fuel on an already dangerous fire.

The silencing of political debate, and the exclusion of opposing voices, is a violation of any legitimate political ethics.

Mr. Trump has told honorable members of the US House that they should "go back" or leave the country. Whether his statements are grounded in racism or intolerant politics, or both, they are unacceptable.

An editorial from the National Catholic Reporter decried, not just this week's tweets, but the ongoing pattern of this "president who so regularly tears at the fabric of democracy and decency." They continue, "Some will say this is politics as usual. But it isn't. This is something quite unusual, a trampling of norms and behaviors that are the unlegislated but essential elements that hold democracy together."

This violation of decency by Mr. Trump, and the complicity of his party in the ongoing destruction of civility and democracy, must be stopped.

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The New Testament letter of Galatians is directed to an early church in conflict. For those of us who call ourselves Christian, Paul's words of theological instruction are accurate and meaningful about how to live in community.

Paul sketches out two opposing perspectives: the works of the flesh and the fruits of the spirit. (Gal. 5:19-22) Among his long list of the works of the flesh are many that are apt descriptions of current US politics: "enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions." He then notes, "By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."

Christians must seek the fruit of the Spirit -- in our congregations, our communities, and in our political system. As people of faith, people who seek the inbreaking of the realm of God, we must reject lies, factions and division. We must call for peace, kindness, gentleness and self-control.

Mr. Trump's reprehensible behavior will only stop, or it will only lose its power to inflame, when there is a broad-based, community-based outcry. Leaders from faith communities can, and must, be at the forefront of that moral movement.

This has to stop. So we have to speak -- right now, and clearly.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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