The Silence of the American Church Is Deafening

The Silence of the American Church Is Deafening August 5, 2019

Where are the strong Christian voices, standing on what is biblically right, rather than politically expedient?

That’s a question the church in the United States needs to be asking herself.

When did our witness to the world become secondary to political gain?

This is a theme that I’ve visited often in my work. Anyone who has read my writing for any length of time can affirm this.

I hit on this because it is simply that important, and I didn’t recognize it myself for far too long, unfortunately.

The church has often failed to be up front in calling out the more prolific evils in the world. On any given Sunday, you may hear from the pulpit condemnation of the sins of man, as it pertains to the Word of God. If you’ve got a really spirit-filled pastor, you may hear the accompanying message of grace, as we seek to draw the lost to new life in Christ.

It didn’t begin with Donald Trump. From the issue of slavery to even Hitler’s march through Europe, American Christians dragged their feet about responding from the pulpit.

Were those issues too political? Or was the church complicit?

That’s a discussion for another day. What needs to be addressed in the here and now, however, is the rise of white nationalism under Donald Trump’s presidency.

To begin, I’m not going to blame Trump for everything white nationalists do. I’m not even going to call our dull witted president a white nationalist. That would actually require he commit himself to an ideology that encompasses more than simply his own, personal interests.

What I will say is that his rhetoric acts as the perfect siren song for the hate-filled and gutless racists that make up the white nationalist movement.

Is Donald Trump a racist?

I don’t know the man’s heart, but by his fruit – or lack thereof – I am sure his heart is far from God.

From reported past comments and documented court cases of discrimination brought against his family business, we know he harbors bias towards certain ethnic populations.

A week ago, the president turned his ire on Democrat Representative Elijah Cummings, as well as his district community, Baltimore, Maryland.

In what can only be described as vicious (and typical of Trump’s un-Christian nastiness), the president tweeted out that Baltimore was “rat infested” and that no human being would want to live there.

That’s what set this attack above the usual petty Trump attack. Human beings do live there, so what was he saying about them?

The condemnation from the left was swift and scathing. That was to be expected.

Even some corners from the right moved to distance themselves from the comments, recognizing that there are some lines that you don’t cross.

Personally, I was glad to see there were still some members of the GOP with a conscience.

Not enough of them stepped forward, nor was their stand strong enough.

But what about the church? What about the church “leadership” who have been so vocal in supporting Trump? Would they stand with the president or on the grace and civility we’re called to display in honor of our God?

“He does not judge people by the color of their skin,” said the Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the Southern Baptist megachurch First Baptist Dallas and a frequent guest at the White House.

“He judges people on whether they support him,” Jeffress said. “If you embrace him, he’ll embrace you. If you attack him, he’ll attack you. That’s the definition of colorblind.”

First of all, that, in itself, is so very wrong and not the behavior anyone should expect from the nation’s president. He was elected to lead a union of many people, from many backgrounds and varied life experiences.

Second of all, how petty, immature, and intellectually stunted must he be, a man in his 70s, lashing out like a child? Why is this acceptable to these Trump-friendly church leaders?

Some church leaders, however, did feel the need to call out President Trump’s hurtful words.

“Enough of the harmful rhetoric that angers and discourages the people and communities you are called to serve,” the leaders wrote.

A similar message came the same day from leaders of the Washington National Cathedral, designated by Congress as a non-denominational National House of Prayer.

“As leaders of faith who believe in the sacredness of every single human being, the time for silence is over,” said a statement from three cathedral leaders. “We must boldly stand witness against the bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and xenophobia that is hurled at us, especially when it comes from the highest offices of this nation.”

They further challenged Trump’s evangelical base to step up and condemn what they saw as a racist attack.

Of those they called out, perhaps the most disappointing is Franklin Graham, son of America’s pastor, the late Billy Graham.

Graham suggested the word “racism” had been devalued, before echoing the attitude of Jeffress and other Trump-friendly pastors.

“The left has weaponized it and uses it against their opponents,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday. “The president is not afraid to go after anyone — their color has nothing to do with it. It’s the person’s ideology and politics.”

Graham contended that Trump was justified in his criticism of Cummings’ district encompassing much of Baltimore.

“The president is right — it should be investigated,” Graham said. “Billions of federal dollars have been given to this area. It certainly hasn’t helped the people of Baltimore.”

Nothing said there lines up with a godly response. How does this draw nonbelievers to hear the message of the cross, if Graham is so quick to condemn an entire community, while defending the one who insulted them?

Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. went to bat for Trump, declaring that he was “not racist.”

Citing her family’s credo, King said, “When we dealt with racism, it was in prayer, not condemnation.”

“I don’t have to pray for President Trump for being a racist, because he’s not,” she said. “He’s not colorblind —he can see and appreciate ethnic differences. But he’s going to treat everybody with the same regard.”

The Southern Baptist Convention leadership have declined to wade into the fray, thus far.

Their strange silence stands side by side with the response from other segments of the faith community.

Another conservative denomination, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this week declined to comment on the racial discussion triggered by Trump’s recent tweets. Spokesman Eric Hawkins instead cited a July 21 speech by church President Russell M. Nelson at the NACCP convention in Detroit, where he urged people to love one another no matter their differences.

“We are all connected, and we have a God-given responsibility to help make life better for those around us,” Nelson said. “We don’t have to be alike or look alike to have love for each other. We don’t even have to agree with each other to love each other.”

All of this is true, but if you listen to “leaders” like Jeffress and Graham, you have to be a Trump loyalist, or you can expect to be attacked and demeaned. The notion of “love one another” is foreign, at best.

Where is the grace?

Most importantly, how does this response make the church appear to those who need to see us as different than the rest of the dark and harsh world?

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  • chemical

    From Susan:

    But what about the church? What about the church “leadership” who have been so vocal in supporting Trump? Would they stand with the president or on the grace and civility we’re called to display in honor of our God?

    I had to re-check whose blog I was on, because those are the kinds of pointed questions that I would ask. Welcome to the Dark Side, Susan! Your copy of The God Delusion and Das Kapital is in the mail, courtesy of George Soros. (/s)

    On a more serious note, my answer to this is that these pro-Trump church leaders claim to speak for God (aka the guy that knows everything and never lies). To admit error would be letting the mask slip, i.e. it demonstrates to their audience that they do not, in fact, speak for God. When you claim to speak for God, it makes it very difficult for you to backtrack your comments when they are proven false.

    Graham suggested the word “racism” had been devalued, before echoing the attitude of Jeffress and other Trump-friendly pastors.

    It’s worth noting that conservatives and liberals have different definitions for the word “racism”. It’s not that the conservative definition is wrong, but liberals expand it to include systemic issues that primarily affect minorities (for example, a liberal would criticize a voter ID law as racist since it mostly prevents minorities from voting, even though nothing in the text of the law specifically mentions the race of potential voters).

  • Alpha 1

    There have been Christians and churches opposed to Trump since the beginning. The thing is that they’re the liberal Christians and liberal churches. Liberals and leftists in America are less likely to publicly mix religion and politics, so their opposition is often framed in secular terms. Even then, you have liberal and leftist Christians here on Patheos speaking out against him right now. Non-Christian religious and cultural groups like Jews and Muslims have also been opposed to Trump and what he represents since the beginning.

    A better way to look at this question may be to ask why the conservative church in America has been silent. I’ve talked before about how conservative Christians like the least Christian man of all time because he gives them what they want. But I think another important factor is that conservative churches and Trump both embody the last gasp of a declining hegemon. Conservative Christianity, particularly conservative Protestantism, used to enjoy near total cultural power and could wield it against their enemies. It’s a very similar situation to well-off suburban whites: they both used to know a country that catered to them alone, but now they’re faced with the prospect of sharing and it’s driving them insane. When you combine these two strains of fear and resentment you get Trumpism, a movement whose base is older, well-off, white suburban conservative Christians and whose platform combines kicking out Mexicans with forcing retail employees to say merry Christmas. No matter what conservative Christian leaders’ reservations are about the former, they won’t speak out against Trump because it would undermine their last chance at cultural hegemony.

    So with that in mind I don’t expect them to speak out against Trump any time soon. The only situations I could see them turning on Trump involve them giving up their quest for power or finding another political leader who can give them what they want. Conservative churches have been at the heart of power for too long to give it up without a fight, so I don’t expect that to happen. Finding another leader would require Trump to be primaried, which is unlikely considering how popular he is among Republicans. That means that the conservative church is going to be all in for Trump and his movement, even as it becomes crueler and more psychotic. Conservative Christians need to get out while you still can.

  • Michael Weyer

    As a Catholic, we only think of one Church as “the” Church which complicates matters more. After all, often the Pope takes stands that have Evangecials, Mormons and others claiming “he’s not a true Christian” which muddles the waters up even more. It makes it more difficult to figure things out given the various divisions in the Christian faith.

  • chemical

    Liberals and leftists in America are less likely to publicly mix religion and politics, so their opposition is often framed in secular terms.

    We’re the group that has a huge swath of minority and non-religious voters. The non-religious are the largest liberal voting bloc. For those not in the know, non-religious doesn’t specifically mean atheist, but rather refers to anyone who doesn’t practice a religion. Matter of fact, atheists aren’t even the largest subgroup of nonreligious voters. I’d argue that in order to unite a group of people as diverse as liberal America, you pretty much have to frame everything in secular terms.

    The only left-wing politician I can think of that mixes religion and politics is Pete Buttigieg, and I think it’s part of why he’s gotten a lot of media attention and support in this primary.

  • Michael Weyer

    It’s even more telling in the wake of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton. The El Paso shooter made it clear he thought he was fighting a “Hispanic invasion” which it something Trump, Fox and others on the right have been pushing as a serious fact. Yet now folks falling over themselves to blame “lack of faith”, video games and other stuff rather than Trump’s rehetoric.

    Meanwhile, Trump himself openly said he’s “praying for people in Toledo.” That’s right, he couldn’t even get the right city and yet I’m seeing evangelicals praising him for his “wonderful heart message without making it political.” Is it any wonder non-Christians find it so easy to mock them?

  • Michael Weyer

    You are right on the last point. I know a left-leaning blog that regularly mocks some truly leftist places who act like everything is massively racist at one point or another and “these guys are every SJW cliche the right hate.”

  • chemical

    I used to live in El Paso, and the city is about 90% Hispanic. I checked the demographics not too long ago, and it was still around 60% as far back as 1970.

    The idea that Hispanic folks are “invading” El Paso is absurd. They have been there for a long time.

  • chemical

    It’s something that needs to be considered whenever discussing racism issues. I’m going to have to come up with a racist example, in this manner, that discriminates against white people to get the message across: Imagine if Obama had passed a law that makes it harder for NASCAR fans and country music fans to vote. Also, your gun license is no longer a valid form of ID for voter ID laws (In my home state of Texas, a gun license is considered an acceptable form of ID for voting).

    A few people take this stuff overboard, but it is important to discuss how policies can be shaped to specifically impact a particular minority without specifically mentioning anything about race at all.

  • Principled Conservative

    Your opening is wrong. I’m a conservative christian who reads and believes the Bible. I am not liberal. I have been 100% against Trump from the beginning. I know that I’m not the only one.

  • TomMars

    Church leaders should not have to rebuke specific statements made by specific political leaders. They don’t need to choose sides based upon person or personality, or even individual statements, normally. The rebuke should be to members of their faith who so little believe in Jesus Christ and his teachings that there is little doubt that Christ and his policies could not win an election among so-called Christians today, were he to come by any other name.

    I understand that some Christians may have felt so desperate at the thought of Hillary Clinton being elected that they felt compelled to vote for Trump. That does not come even close to justifying the pass the so-called Christian membership and political leaders have given Trump on so many things. And it does not explain why the Christian membership is not held much more to account by religious leaders. There should be little doubt about how Christ would speak of and treat children of God who are of different shades and origins. The quote from the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, above, is among many he has made to teach the Christian principle. But given a choice between Trump’s words or the words of the leader Latter-day Saints claim to believe is a prophet chosen by Jesus Christ, half or more seem to choose the teachings of Trump while still claiming to be followers of Christ. Big disconnect. And many faiths have an even bigger problem, as noted, as their leaders are all out Trump disciples and don’t even teach the correct principle. Church leaders be bold in teaching correct principles, and Church members need to expect more of their leaders.

  • captcrisis

    Evangelicals like to tout this video of someone falling ill at a Trump rally and the crowd praying for her singing “Amazing Grace”. But it also shows Trump at the podium and it’s clear he had no idea what they were singing.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNBLYJprYxw

  • Pennybird

    They’re being mocked by Christians too. No one takes right wing Evangelcals seriously anymore.

  • Pennybird

    As to voter ID laws, it’s also the intention that makes it racism, especially since in-person voter fraud is ridiculously rare and does not justify the trouble that goes into voter ID laws. Let’s add gerrymandering to your list as well. The fact that blacks tend not to vote Republican is not lost on them.

  • IllinoisPatriot

    There is absolutely ZERO proof that ANYONE one (of ANY ethnicity) is being discriminated against by voter-ID laws.

    There IS proof that illegals are voting as are prison inmates – even those with suspended voting privileges. Despite the Democrat best efforts to hide or ignore the facts, EVERY recent election has had proven voter fraud instances – both people voting in multiple states and people that are not eligible to vote casting votes by pretending to be someone else.

    It’s ridiculous to not even require a person showing up at a polling place to show proof of identity and some form of ID showing that they are eligible to vote in this country – that they are even a citizen.

    The problem the Democrats have with voter-ID laws is that they DEPEND on bussing illegal immigrants from polling-place to polling-place (as has been documented and even video-taped) to vote multiple times for Democrat candidates. That, the cemetery-vote, and padding registrations with fake names to be voted by unidentified paid homeless and migrants seem to be the primary ways that Democrats cheat in elections.

  • gimpi1

    Do you have any citations or evidence for any of that?

    This was for Illinois patriot above. It showed up in the wrong place. Sorry.

  • chemical

    All of that is a bunch of lies, straight out of extremist right wing website.

  • Kyllein MacKellerann “

    It appears that most Church leaders are hoping Trump goes poof without them having to say anything. Perhaps the seminary teaching should include courses on “How to develop a backbone” as part of their ministerial training.

  • fanodan13

    God loves everyone equally! However there are folks who pretend to be Christians. The Bible tells us this, that since you are lukewarm He will spit you from his mouth! I would not want to be thought of as that.

  • CommonSenseModerate

    Unlike Christ, his followers are usually more concerned with who is excluded from the Kingdom than with who is included.

  • guy

    Ok. I’ll sound the alarm. Where is Susan Wright? Is she okay? The silence article got me to wondering, “Has she been silenced?”. This is sort of pulse check to make sure she is still in the game.

  • chemical

    She’s got some new gig going on and doesn’t post on her own blog as frequently as she used to, which is upsetting because she is the only conservative whose writings I can read for more than 5 minutes without wanting to throw my computer out the window.

  • Christiane Smith

    the silence

    for me, the silence of the Church concerning the cruelty shown to small immigrant children in custody is a great sin against God to whom those little ones belong . . . . they are helpless against the abuse, the neglect, the filth, the lack of care, the lack of water to drink, the lack of the right kind of foods to nourish them . . . . .

    we KNOW the reason: the administration feels that by being openly cruel in this way, it will ‘discourage’ others from coming to our country; but the cruelty is somehow not as horrific as the silence of the Church in the face of the suffering of those little ones . . .

    “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.” (Proverbs 31:8)

  • Sophotroph

    You’re 100% right, and posts like yours rarely survive conservative blog comment sections.

    I regret that I have but one upvote to give.

  • Sophotroph

    Wow, a list of talking points squeezed from the barmat of the internet, with no citations, no evidence, and zero ability to keep your seething emotional rage from dripping all over the page.

    I’ve never seen that before. I’m totally convinced of your point by your angry lack of argument. Congrats, true believer, your penthouse in heaven just got a few more throw pillows.

  • silicon28

    There’s proof that illegals are voting? OK, where is it? Your point, your responsibility to support it. We’ll wait…

  • Ron Swaren

    Americans, religious or not, have always been free to vote for whomever they want. And hardly anything a President does has anything to do with religion. And actually if Trump suddenly died or was otherwise incapacitated standard issue evangelical Mike Pence would step in. So, all in all, the system has worked the way you want it, right?

    I doubt that FDR would have passed any muster as an evangelical Christian, but IMO his actions were right for the time, too.

  • mudskipper

    David Thornton over on the Resurgent is pretty reasonable and nontribal. Although he is more quiet about it, he is hardly a Trump fan.

  • White nationalism isn’t on the rise. The socialist mainstream media picks an issue and hammers on it with every Republican president. With Reagan it was homelessness. With Trump it’s white nationalism. White nationalism has existed for over a century but the media refused to report on it until Trump was elected so they have convinced the gullible that Trump caused it to explode. A person has to know history to not be a sucker for the media’s tricks.

    There are plenty of things to gripe about Trump, his trade policies being chief. But criticizing Trump for telling the truth about Baltimore is ridiculous. He wasn’t criticizing the people who lived there but the Democrat party who has ruled there for a century and caused the horrible living conditions.

    The socialist media claim Trump lies a thousand times a day, but all I see is the media lying daily about what Trump has said. If you are a sycophant of the socialist media, you’ll agree that Trump is evil. But if you can think for yourself you’ll see he is just an average politician.

  • mudskipper

    What self-serving codswallop. I assure you I can think, read, and listen for myself. I can read Trump’s tweets and listen to his speeches and count the numerous, often childish, lies all by myself. I don’t need the “socialist media” to point them out.

    So why don’t you hear them? I suspect you are the same kind of liar as Trump–you make up facts to fit your narrative. For example, your “fact” that the media refused to report on white nationalism until Trump. This is so manifestly untrue to beggar belief. They have been reporting on the rise of white nationalism for years–all during Obama’s administration as a matter of fact. Every time a white nationalist hit the news–such as Anders Breivik in 2011 and Dylan Roof in 2015–there were a spate of articles about rising white nationalism.

    Every organization that tracks terrorism and fringe groups, including Trump’s own justice department, says white nationalism is on the rise. It’s on the rise in the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand–all the white Western nations. That is why it is important that we have a President that speaks against it and doesn’t feed it. Unfortunately, we don’t.

  • kenofken

    “When did our witness to the world become secondary to political gain?”

    In 380 AD, when the Edict of Thessalonica made Christianity the official state religion of Rome.

  • guy

    What is the new gig? I can read it all, but usually resolved the noise through her writings.

  • guy

    Thornton is good as well.

  • John225

    Trump is one of a brotherhood of world political leaders chosen by a worldwide secret “Christian” movement (the fellowship) and it is a brotherhood (no women chosen for leadership). Note the frequent reference to each other as brothers amongst some political leaders and the disdain shown to women in power. Membership doesn’t require a person be Christian or even particularly moral but tows the line on certain policy choices such as shutting down immigration. The movement is exploiting the flagging population of the church as a voting block while they remain relevant. Influence is exerted through a network of small fellowship groups to which one can only gain access by being recommended by existing members. Conservative Christian organizations become fundamentally undemocratic when they install a so-called theocracy. Installing Christian values requires the unwinding of some human rights. Show me a theocracy and I will show you a man who claims to speak for god. Note Trump has now refered to himself as “the chosen one” (to deal with China).