Over the last few weeks, our nation has been fixated on the unlikely candidacy of Donald J. Trump. For some, he seems to be the straight talking, outside-of-the-establishment leader that we need. Others see him as careless and divisive. What seems clear is that his message resonates with a significant number of people. Never mind that he is willing to use race to divide, or that he is eager to exploit fear of outsiders, making Muslims and undocumented persons convenient scapegoats. It is particularly chilling to watch African-Americans roughly removed from his campaign events, events in which white participants in the last couple of days have looked eerily like those at Fascist rallies from another time with arms raised in fealty to a leader.
I have simply assumed that this would go away as we came to ourselves and rediscovered our common principles. Mr. Trump, however, does not appear to be going away. And the reason he is not going away is that he is not the problem. He is the symptom. The reality is that the leaders that we choose reflect us. Too many of us have been silent. And far too many are being fooled into believing that others are to blame for their woes and that by diminishing others we shall find salvation.
These tactics might win elections, but they will not heal a broken world or improve a nation. Mr. Trump proposes to make America great again, but he suggests doing it at the expense of others. He would wall out migrants, raise tariffs, build walls, and bring back torture. He postulates a world of desirables and undesirables, and he is banking that enough of us will imagine ourselves in his lucky pot and will vote accordingly.
What is particularly vexing is his assertion that he is a great Christian. His recent dust up with the Roman Catholic pope does not even seem to dent his assertion. As a bishop of the church, I have for too long shaken my head and remained silent. No more! As the old hymn says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” To be a Christian is to follow Jesus in fearless love. To be a Christian is to be one who offers that love to all, who sees Christ in all others, who shows Jesus’ preference for the poor, the outcast and the stranger. How does Mr. Trump’s rhetoric of division and blame reflect the way of Jesus? We should ask Mr. Trump that famous question asked of Jesus: “who is my neighbor?” The Christian definition of neighbor will never tolerate walls or torture or any form of disparagement and division.
My Christian faith requires that I reject what Mr. Trump espouses. This moment, however, is an opportunity for us to ask, as a nation, what our core values are. In the words of the first Republican president, we are invited to discover the “better angels of our nature.” As a nation of immigrants that is increasingly coming to terms with our complex history around racism, sexism, and homophobia, we can claim a generosity of spirit that transcends our individual religious identities. It begins and ends with the premise that we are indeed created equal, as scripture says, “in the likeness of God.” All carry the potential of the divine. All are to be respected. Each person is neighbor to every other person. Black lives matter and all lives matter, and we are going to do something about all lives. In the end, unity is stronger than division; hope is stronger than fear. And always, love wins out over hate. It is up to each of us to change this political campaign, this country and this world. We do it by how we treat the least in our midst; we do it by how we vote.