A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics
Dr. Martin Luther King declared in a speech exactly one year before his death: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late . . . Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’”1
As a nation we are barely beyond the morning after the longest and darkest night in recent history when we witnessed the dawn of the unthinkable: Donald Trump elected as president of the United States. Now we Americans of this beloved land are facing an outcome that far too many welcomed and far too few sought to dispel.
A self-infatuated, heedless, reckless, unstable, and impulsive authoritarian has become captain of the ship of state, surrounded by what may be the most regressive and repressive coterie of advisors and administrators ever to be put in charge of federal agencies.
In view of this ominous development, multitudes of socially conscientious Christians, who are also earnest and committed patriots, are asking the most solemn of moral and ethical questions. What are our Christian communities of faith and our Christian leaders preparing to do right now in response to a potential national and international calamity, before it is too late?
Dr. King also said: “A time comes when silence is betrayal. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”2
Given that a prolonged silence becomes a protracted betrayal, what are Protestant, Catholic, Pentecostal, and Orthodox clergy, who are first and foremost accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the gospel of God’s Kingdom, openly proposing to their congregations?
In addition to the importance of reassuring words of providential sovereignty (“God is still God despite Donald Trump”) and offerings of healing solace amid appeals for calm in the midst of the storm (“fear not, faithful ones, for God is present in the tempest”), what specific calls to action must emerge from pulpits, ecclesiastical boards and agencies, and ecumenical bodies across this country? Are we Christians effectively organizing for a potential nightmare in the worst-case scenario that events turn dismally dark under the aegis of President Trump and Vice President Pence?
Among the most pressing concerns collectively before us as Christians are these:
(1) The vulnerability of Muslims, Jews, Latinos, African Americans, LGBTQs, and women as the most likely populations to experience private and public intimidation and the imposition by the Trump administration of repressive measures—
Are we Christians and our churches prepared to stand in solidarity with such persons whenever they are the objects of social disparagement or political recrimination?
(2) Mr. Trump’s threat to institute a national registry of American Muslims, in effect placing them under government surveillance as they practice their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of assembly and religion, and as they live their lives peaceably with the same rights to equal protection under the law as the rest of Americans—
Are we Christians and our churches prepared to close ranks with American Muslims for their defense and protection, doing so as the mutual children of Abraham, with Jesus as our prophet-in-common?
(3) Mr. Trump’s slander of Mexicans as “rapists and criminals,” and his repeated threats to deport potentially millions of undocumented persons and workers, most of them being of Latino origin—
Are we Christians and our churches prepared to act in solidarity with such undocumented persons and, if necessary, embark upon movements of massive resistance in the event even small numbers of them are subjected to draconian methods of arrest, detainment, and deportation?
(4) The increased incidents of social vilification and defamation of Jews by virtue of their being Jewish, subjected to disdainful words and repugnant acts of anti-Semitism as a consequence of the election of Mr. Trump as president—
Are we Christians and our churches prepared to act in spiritual solidarity with Jews for their defense and protection, doing so in the name of the One God whose life-giving love and justice we share in common?
In consideration of these concerns, and for the simple reason that we are Christians and Christian communities, it behooves us to raise among ourselves the matter of our willingness to join with those Christian churches that have already opened their doors as sanctuary congregations. And, to do so by offering safe harbor for men, women, and children, including secular and religious minorities, people of color, and LGBTQs whose safety and wellbeing may be at risk due to unjust governmental intrusion upon their lives.
Thus as pastors, preachers, lay leaders, and members of congregations, being aware of the inherent dangers posed to us by such actions, it nonetheless behooves us to declare openly before civilian, military, and police authorities who may be commandeered by Mr. Trump, his administration, the governors of states, or local officials, stating to them boldly: If you attempt to arrest or remove from our presence any of these our beloved sisters and brothers, youth and children, to whom we give Christ’s shelter, then you must also take us with them as fellow captives of your unjust dealings; for we, unlike you, will not abandon them.
We declare that if President Trump, Vice President Pence, their administration, congressional legislators, or state and local authorities set about to decree and carry out various and sundry laws and directives to alienate, isolate, incarcerate, or extradite unjustly targeted persons and communities under the guise of “national security” or for the pretense of “making America great again,” then in the name of the universal God of love, justice, and mercy, and in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, we American Christians and Christian communities, given all our God-given human capacities, stretching from coast to coast, unite our hearts, minds, voices, souls, and bodies as shields and protectors of those sisters and brothers among us who are exposed to imminent peril or harm due to ill-begotten, inhumane, or merciless schemes and actions instituted and undertaken by federal or state governmental authorities, so help us God.
Let it not be said of us by future generations that as American Christians we were among those who waited until it was too late.
Rather, let it be said of us that we solemnly sought to be faithful servants who heard and obeyed the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”3 “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”4 “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”5
Taking Dr. King’s words to heart, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.”
It is time to act.
1 “A Time to Break Silence” in I have a Dream: Writings and Speeches that Changed the World, James M. Washington, ed. (Harper San Francisco, 1992), 151.
2 A likely conflation of elements of several speeches.
3 John 14:15, NRSV.
4 Matthew 25:40, NRSV.
5 John 15:13, NRSV.
© Copyright 2017, Charles Davidson
Charles Davidson is a retired Presbyterian pastor, psychotherapist, and professor of pastoral theology, care, and counseling.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preaching to his congregation at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in 1967 (Associated Press)