President Donald Trump Monday night welcomed a large group of prominent right-wing evangelical leaders to the White House. Though it was the night before we celebrated one of the greatest religious leaders in our nation’s history, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the 55th anniversary of his speech at the March on Washington, there was no mention of it by Trump or the evangelical leaders.
There was also no mention of the discrimination being done in the name of religious freedom against women by their employers in denying them the right to reproductive control of their lives. There was no mention of the discrimination being done in the name of religious freedom against LGBTQ people by business owners who want to deny services by masking their homophobia with a false interpretation of Christian scriptures. There was no mention to the increasing xenophobia and Islamophobia in the form of an unjust Muslim ban, barring refugees fleeing real persecution from entering the United States.
I read the remarks from the dinner, and it was like reading the notes from a meeting from another reality. Trump congratulated himself repeatedly (with evangelical leaders promptly applauding each time) for how he has ended the ruthless attacks on Christians. Of course, as a Christian, I have been entirely unaware that I was being persecuted all these years (or that it has recently stopped)!
It’s like we’re living in completely different realities – and the fact that Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board has been meeting in violation of federal law and operating in secret – and that this board represents only a narrow slice of the American faith community – makes this even worse.
I look at the things that the folks I know are up to, and this is the world I want to be a part of. Here are a few examples:
* A Rabbi and Buddhist priest in Maine have co-written an op-ed warning of the dangers to religious freedom should Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed to the Supreme Court.
* Dozens of faith leaders in Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Carolina stood up together against state legislation that would provide taxpayer money to foster care and adoption agencies that discriminate against LGBTQ families.
* A Franciscan and a Presbyterian teamed up for an opinion column to denounce efforts by this administration to undermine the Johnson Amendment and politicize houses of worship.
* Networks of leaders in Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Oklahoma and elsewhere are being created to stop the privatization of schools and to instead strengthen public education
These are just a few of the things that members of Americans United’s Faith Leaders United (FLU) network have been doing. And there is more to do – so much more.
Our work becomes harder when these kinds of White House gatherings take place where faith leaders mask their biases and elitism behind the guise of Christianity and pat each other on the back for the harm they are causing. But those of us in FLU believe that religion that is used to harm and discriminate against others is not religion at all. We believe that it is our calling to work for freedom for all people and that our most important work is not to defend ourselves but to serve others.
I know a lot of evangelicals and other people of faith who are as sickened by the president’s remarks on Monday night as I am. They want to be a part of a collective effort to defend the rights of others. They want to be a part of a movement that addresses discrimination in the name of religion, that provides rightful access to resources for the people who need them and that works to allow the religious and nonreligious to believe anyway they choose.
I'm sure many faith leaders from various backgrounds want to help us. They are simply waiting for someone to invite them. Would you reach out to faith leaders you know and invite them to join us as we seek to build a movement that works for authentic religious freedom for all people?