Last spring I wrote a blog post “Why I Must Oppose Donald Trump: One Priest’s Perspective”. Many of you reading this are aware that, to my great surprise (and anxiety) it went ‘viral’ over the summer, eventually being picked up by the Washington Post. It was a strange thing to have thousands of people whom I have never met reading my reflection, something I figured would remain in my usual circle or readers. I expected and welcomed both the words of encouragement and words of constructive criticism. I am always willing to be stretched and challenged to see things from another perspective and have my blind spots pointed out. I have plenty.
I was not, however, prepared for the personal attacks.
I received comments and messages that questioned my validity as a priest, my Christianity and salvation. I received personal emails and even phone calls to the church from strangers across the country needing to let me know I was wrong, would be judged, and had no business speaking on this. I even had some fellow Christians and even priests make assumptions about my motivation and put me in categories (“liberal” “leftist” “a tool of the left” – and my favorite – “part of the liberal elite”).
I know this is how things work in the world, but, still, it takes a toll. I was affected by it, and not in a healthy ‘I can look at this criticism and grow from it’ way. To be clear, I also did receive sincere, healthy challenges, asking me to better understand the opposing side, and to examine where the line is for a priest to speak on these things. Of course I was also asked the very valid question of why I didn’t write an equal article concerning Hillary Clinton. I considered all of that seriously and tried to give an explanation as best I could to the sincere folks. Overall, though, this whole episode ended up taking me to a place of doubt. I wondered whether I should have written it at all. I wondered if it just added more noise. I wondered if I was just being partisan. I occasionally wished I had never written it. I actually don’t like dealing with conflict and I had invited it upon myself. Maybe I would be much more at peace if I had just kept my mouth shut.
Now, six months later, I know that I would not have been at peace having not said anything. The latest revelations about Trump’s words and actions towards women are just the latest in continual confirmations that, as a Christian, as a man, and, yes, as a priest, to stay silent about a man of such character, words and actions continuing to gain power, and to even be endorsed as the “Christian” choice, would be to deny something of my calling. I simply could not look my son, my daughter, my wife, my neighbor in the eye with a clear conscience if I did not continue to speak to the very heart of what I find so disturbing – spiritually disturbing about what has developed in the midst of the Trump campaign.
It is well beyond politics.
I re-read my article today. I stand by everything I said, but now I would probably say it more strongly. Over the past six months, the words and actions of this man have become more offensive, his tactics more abusive and dismissive of people and of our democracy, the ‘wink and nod’ he has given to hate-filled, racist, anti-semitic groups who support him not just energized but even normalized their views in certain circles. The ways he has played the Christian card have become increasingly at odds with the Gospel.
I don’t understand Christians’ continual excusing of this man’s behavior, character, and, yes, in many cases policies. I realize arguing about it more will help. I think if someone has decided they can overlook so much already then nothing I can say will change anything. I do not judge even though I do not understand. Perhaps it is selfish, but I am speaking out first for my own conscience. But I am also trying to speak out for people who might be very confused about why Christians would support Trump. I try to speak especially for those who are extremely hurt, anxious, genuinely frightened, and feeling more and more isolated by what is being promoted in this campaign. Something being overlooked and excused, even by Christians. These aren’t ‘groups’ I’m talking about, they are the real people I personally know. Most of those who have expressed great concern and fear are women and racial minorities. As a man, a Christian, a priest, I must listen when I hear people say to me “Do you realize that when Christians overlook Trump’s racism and misogyny it overlooks my actual experience of being threatened and gives a green light to those who want to perpetuate that violence?” I believe them. I see the evidence. So I speak.
I’m sure I will be asked again, “Why, though, no equal time given to Hillary?” It is because, while I disagree with many things about Hillary’s campaign, some things very strongly, I believe I can disagree with her on policy like I can disagree with Obama, or Romney, or McCain, Bush or Gore. However I am not fundamentally opposed to the very ethos, the very spirit produced by those campaigns or candidates. Trump supporters have told me that this is precisely why they like him. He is going to burn down this broken system. Trust me, I know the system is broken, and the idea to tear it down instead of working within it as citizens is tempting. But all I have seen it result in so far is a stoking of the worst of our natures, an appeal to isolation, an appeal to suspicion, an appeal to actual degradation of people, and whole groups of people, without regard for facts or nuance, under the guise of “speaking one’s mind”. Its toxic. And in this sense, it’s not happening on “both sides” as I see it. I’m not endorsing a candidate, I’m not telling you how you should vote, and I’m not telling you how I will vote, but I am saying I would rather have someone in leadership whose policies I strongly disagree with, but whom I can still hope for compromise, allowance for dissent and even protest, who has experience with statesmanship (even if it’s within a broken system) than a person whom has given no indication he will listen to anyone but himself, who demeans and degrades others (especially those who dissent), and who has stoked a spirit that is quite different, and much darker than I have experienced in my lifetime.