Dear President Trump:
I am sure you are getting letters from groups that feel like they are being mistreated. Muslims, Hispanics, African Americans, women, Jews, the poor, and the LGBTQ community have legitimate concerns, but have you thought about how you are making life difficult for preachers? Ministers are not usually considered an oppressed group, but preaching was easier before you became president.
Most preachers are not looking for trouble. We do not want to offend church members. We have little interest in partisan politics. We try to be respectful of those who do not vote as we do. Preachers say things like, “We are not all going to agree,” “Good people have different opinions,” and “My mother never votes like I do and she’s a fine person.”
But you are making it hard. On the Sunday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I was preaching on racism. I finished preparing the sermon on Friday afternoon. On Saturday you sent a tweet insulting John Lewis: “All talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!” How could I preach on bigotry on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend and not mention the president picking a fight with a civil rights hero? If you feel like you have to do things like this, it would be helpful if you would do them early in the week so preachers do not have to rewrite their sermons on Saturday night.
You may not even recognize that you keep doing this. The first lectionary reading for Jan. 29 was Micah 6:8: “What does God require of you, but that you do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?” On Friday afternoon, you enacted an executive order that suspended entry of refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries. How could preachers ignore you coming out against justice, kindness and humility toward these people?
The first reading for Feb. 5 was Isaiah 58:6-7: “Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free?” On Saturday morning, you tweeted about a federal judge: “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” How could a minister preach on the oppressed going free without mentioning that the president is trying to force the oppressed back into bondage?
The Gospel reading for Feb. 12, Matthew 5:21-37, was Jesus saying, “If you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council, and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” Lots of ministers spent Feb. 11 worrying that you would call someone a fool. You have, according to The Mirror, insulted over 100 brothers and sisters on Twitter including Meryl Streep, Jeb Bush, Ronda Rousey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Samuel L. Jackson, Megyn Kelly, Nordstrom’s, Mexico and the musical Hamilton.
How can ministers preach on telling the truth without using the phrase “alternative facts”? How can we preach on equality without noting that you have said horrible things about women? How can we preach on caring for the hurting without pointing out that you plan to cancel health insurance for 20 million people? How can we preach on the biblical command to welcome strangers without commenting on the wall?
Preachers do not have a choice. We have to preach that God loves all people and does not believe in America first. If we preach the Gospel, some are going to think we are taking shots at you. You are forcing preachers to mention you or look hopelessly out of touch. If we do not respond to the things you say, then some will assume we are asleep in the pulpit. Do we risk offending church members or feel like cowards?
You could make our lives easier. You could replace the Affordable Care Act with the More Affordable Care Act. You could work to alleviate hunger. You could strengthen our commitment to education. You could diminish the spread of terrorism by lessening the causes of terrorism. You could make the lives of so many people better. Some of them are preachers.
The Gospel text for this coming Sunday, Matthew 5:38-48, is, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’… But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Please do not give us anything to preach about.
Rev. Brett Younger
Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, N.Y.