It is instructive that leading voices of the Christian right support someone for president who believes in nothing more than himself. To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, imagine a virtuous man and you have imagined everything Donald Trump is not.
The religious conservatives, however, are interested in power more than virtue. To be sure, trusting a pathological person like Trump is risky. But Trump promises to appoint anti-abortion Supreme Court justices and repeal the so-called Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations from endorsing political candidates.
America’s religious pluralism has always included people who use their freedom to infringe the freedom of their neighbors. Every zealot with a Bible seems to feel deputized by the Almighty to climb the nearest platform and issue damning decrees. Our shield against them is the Constitution, as long as we don’t allow fundamentalists to rewrite or reinterpret it.
Nothing is more pernicious than people asserting the authority of Holy Writ. This is not just because it is obnoxious and presumptuous, but because it has such bloody consequences. Just last week, the handiwork of American evangelicals like Scott Lively was on display in Uganda, where police brutally raided a Uganda Pride event, a fashion show dedicated to the Orlando massacre victims. One of the young people present was so terrified that he jumped out a window and suffered a fractured spine.
Like Lively, the Christianist zealots deny any role in fomenting such violence. But hate speech inspires hateful acts. Multiple cases have occurred recently in which Muslims were removed from commercial airline flights simply because their presence made others uncomfortable. If you want more of that, vote for Trump. If not, vote against the party that has put itself in thrall to the most ignorant, fearful, and intolerant element in this country. Vote against it up and down the ballot.
Some among us do not care about these threats. Their privilege will shield them even if the Constitution does not. The rest of us must stand together and take our civic duty seriously. If our complacency leads to a Republican win, its fruits could include loss of reproductive choice, recriminalization of gay sex, abolition of marriage equality, and ramped-up persecution of religious minorities.
Any discussion of religious bullies is incomplete without due recognition of our own countless religious leaders, from Bishop Gene Robinson to Imam Daayiee Abdullah to Rev. Irene Monroe to my late friend Barrett Brick, past executive director of the World Congress of GLBT Jews. Barrett’s graceful, erudite, and politically charged derashot (homilies) at DC’s Congregation Bet Mishpachah were matched by his evangelism for full integration of the faith community in the LGBT movement. That integration was crucial to winning marriage equality in DC and Maryland, where affirming ministers effectively countered adversarial colleagues.
One thing that amazed me during the marriage battle in DC was the stout opposition by many of our ministerial opponents even to allowing women ministers. When I saw how stuck in the past they were, I was more confident that we would win; but we did not slacken our efforts. Those who think we should stay in separate silos ignore how our opponents link us, and how our own diversity links us. If we work together, the GOP will have to change if it is ever again to win a national election. If we fail, massive resistance will have to be organized against the repression that will follow.
The virtues needed are not the monopoly of any faith. Humility, charity, justice, courage, integrity and love brought our Ugandan brothers and sisters together last week, and have sustained them since the raid. If bellowing and bluster are the keys to victory, Trump will win. But there is no low road to greatness.
Fifty-one years ago, John Lewis put off attending to his own fractured skull as he saw to his wounded comrades who had followed him over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The seed of true greatness lies in the simple virtues that drove those patriots in the 1960s and the pioneers in Uganda last week. Chief among them is the virtue observed in the early Christians, however misshapen it has become in some of their latter-day heirs: “See how they love one another.”
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at [email protected].
Copyright © 2016 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.