Politics and the Pulpit: What is the role of religious leaders in Trump’s America?

(Photo: Freepik Photos)

By NIARA SAVAGE | Nashville Voice

In the wake of a violent string terror of attacks perpetrated by White men, against Jews, Blacks, and liberal politicians, concern over the impact of Trump’s rhetoric on the current social and racial climate has reached an all-time high.

Historically, Americans, especially Black Americans, have looked to religious leaders for political direction, and guidance.

For the Black community, the church has long since served as a place for political discussion, organization, and action.

One week out from what has been called the most important midterm election in recent times, and less than one week after the most violent anti-Semitic attack in American history, we face a great need for such political guidance and organization.

But in the face of an increasingly secular society, and in the midst of a firmly “separation of church and state” society, what exactly does the role of a religious leader look like? Nashville’s religious leaders are somewhat divided on the issue.

Pastor Frank Stevenson of the City of Grace Church believes that during this “Weird time in history,” created in part by Donald Trump. “There is a new void from religious leaders that has to be addressed,” he said.

According to Stevenson, some religious leaders are “missing opportunities to address the ills of society,” and that leaders should come together to protect the “least, lost and left out.”

Coincidentally, recent attacks have targeted those who have historically been regarded as outcasts or marginalized groups.

On Wednesday, two Black shoppers at a Kroger supermarket in Kentucky lost their lives to a White male shooter, who was heard saying, “Whites don’t shoot Whites,” before being captured. The shooting is now being investigated as a hate crime.

Pastor Enoch Fuzz of Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church, who doesn’t believe that Trump’s intense, right-wing rhetoric has influenced the uptick in domestic terrorism, said he feels that religious leaders already do “more than enough,” in terms of their political responsibilities.

While Fuzz believes that religious leaders will be criticized as a result of speaking out against political happenings, Stevenson said that the voice of religious leaders should not be “compromised,” and that their message shouldn’t be “watered down,” in order to avoid potential backlash.

A perceived absence of the presence and influence of the church in times of political and social upheaval is not new. In Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” he criticized White Evangelical leaders for their “do-nothingism,” in the wake of a bloody struggle for Civil Rights and liberation among Blacks.

The Rev. Marilyn Thornton, who leads ministry at the Fisk Wesley Foundation, defines the responsibility of a religious leader as “making people conscious of their ethical responsibilities according to their faith.”

Thornton, who believes that White Supremacists have been emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric, also pointed out that a person doesn’t necessarily have to be in a leadership role, in order to organize and engage in political activism.

She cited college students’ significant role in the Civil Rights movement in the form of bus boycotts and sit-ins as examples.

Regardless of whether you believe that religious leaders are doing too much or not enough in the political arena, election day on Nov. 6 will prove to be a great equalizer, as to which voices can and will be equally heard.

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