Everything appeared to be fine, he said, until Donald Trump became president.
“Trump has caused division in every institution and in families everywhere in the U.S.,” Mr. Fenton said soberly. “He has caused division across the board, across all spectrums. My stance is that I go to church to worship and fellowship. What has happened is that the fellowship is now tainted with regards to people’s political views, which has caused a divide. Personal relationships have been broken. We’re just not as close. In one instance, people sent out emails about welfare claiming that the majority of those on welfare is Black, which happens to be a lie. It was circulated by people who should know better.”
“The church is no place for that type of material. I spoke to the person who sent it and he apologized. I didn’t know this person held such a view. Before there was a Trump, they (White parishioners) were more cautious in their speech. They were more covert but they have become emboldened and have revealed their true selves. I find it difficult to associate or fellowship with such people.”
Mr. Fenton said he wonders how White Christians and evangelicals who profess to follow Jesus Christ and the tenets of the Bible are so comfortable supporting a man who is open and unashamed about his support of White nationalists and an agenda that promotes racism and discrimination and xenophobia.
“Trump has used the n-word. How come they don’t condemn him? How come there’s silence on this? How can they support a person who supports White supremacy? Racism has no room in Christianity. That’s not what Christianity looks like,” Mr. Fenton said.
Polls taken during Trump’s reign have consistently shown the support of White evangelicals to be north of 80 percent, despite his numerous affairs, inveterate lies, and coarse unchristian-like behavior such as boasting to then Access Hollywood co-host Billy Bush during a hot mic moment about grabbing women’s genitals and being able to kiss and grab them because he’s a “celebrity.”
The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, has been an unquestioned supporter of the president.
According to the New Yorker magazine, “Franklin Graham has no such qualms about giving his full-throated support to the President. An early advocate of Trump’s candidacy, he has remained stalwart even as scandals have piled up.” Mr. Graham told the New Yorker staff writer Eliza Griswold that Trump’s critics have forgotten that “he’s our President. If he succeeds, you’re going to benefit.”
Of Mr. Trump’s many personal scandals, Mr. Graham says only, “I hope we all learn from mistakes and get better … . As human beings, we’re all flawed, including Franklin Graham.”
Mr. Graham was never as magnanimous to former President Bill Clinton and his failings, and he helped fan the Birther lie that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, saying repeatedly that he thought the 44th president was a Muslim.
It is clear, several Black Christian ministers said, that Mr. Franklin and his other evangelical cohorts made a deal with the Devil in the form of Trump to pursue their shared political agendas, including reversing Roe vs. Wade or a woman’s right to choose, and putting as many far-right jurists on the Supreme and lower courts as possible.
The Rev. Derrick Harkins said another element plays very heavily in what’s happening in the country: Race.
“Race is really the dividing line. Race and an understanding of social justice,” said Rev. Harkins, senior vice president of Union Theological Seminary in New York and a former advisor to President Obama. “One of the key issues is tackling the issue of race. In the White church, there is hesitation to look at and have a substantial conversation around social justice. And in much of Black churches, it’s the understanding of that reality which binds you to the faith you hold onto.”
“We have not tackled the Original Sin of slavery in full measure. What happens is a lot of White people are saying slavery is in the past and that they didn’t own slaves, but if you have the advantage of Whiteness, you’re a beneficiary.”
It is clear, Rev. Harkins asserted, that the actions of certain White Christians in general, and White evangelicals in particular, that their actions “come out of racism.”
“I think one of the reasons you see what’s going on now is that many people understand that the White culture will not be the dominant culture for much longer. You’re seeing the death pangs of people who see the America of an established hierarchy and White control fading. That’s in many people’s minds. This has been exacerbated by Trump. He has exploited those fears and made this a weapon. He knows how to keep the flames burning. MAGA is make America a White, majority Christian country again.”
“I think personally, for the remainder of my life, I will never be able to ever take seriously the evangelical branch unless there’s an amazing apology of some type. They have delegitimized themselves by supporting Trump. I feel he speaks into those fears and gives them the encouragement they need.”
Hundreds of pastoral leaders and members of African Methodist Episcopal churches gathered Sept. 6 in Lafayette Park across from the White House to lambast the Trump administration. Their presence marked the inception of the Call to Conscience: Forward to Action, a national effort to fight back against this administration and its hostile policies being visited on Blacks and people of color and to mobilize the vote in 2018 and beyond. A succession of speakers, including Pastor Jamal Bryant of Baltimore’s Empowerment Temple AME Church, delivered scathing and fiery denunciations.
“We stand in solidarity with the football players who would dare to take a knee,” he thundered. “We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, who thought the church wouldn’t support them. We criticize the environmental racism that has produced the crisis in Flint, Mich. Eighteen months ago, you chanted to lock up Hillary Clinton. Eighteen months later, we tell you that you should resign. Just do it! Just do it!”
Bishop Reginald Jackson, president of the Council of AME Bishops, said during a Sept. 7 press conference at Metropolitan AME Church in downtown D.C., that the Black church had fallen short in its responsibility to the Black community.
“The Black church has, historically, been the conscience of the nation. Unfortunately, for the past 25 years, we have not lived up to that,” he said. “The greatest period of growth was when the civil rights movement was active. When we stopped being socially relevant, we stopped growing.”
Consequently, Bishop Jackson said, a generation of young people have little connection to the church. The Call to Conscience, he added, is a way to resist the Trump agenda, but more importantly, to reengage with young people and teach them the importance and power of the ballot box.
“In this new generation, the average age of Blacks in the U.S. is 31. Most weren’t alive when Dr. Martin Luther King was leading the movement. They’re saying, ‘don’t tell me to vote, give me a reason to vote,’ ” he explained.
The Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds, an award-winning journalist, agreed with Bishop Jackson’s assessment. She said she laments the direction Mr. Trump has taken the country and worries about if the Black church is responding too late to what she sees as an existential crisis for the United States and for Black Americans.
“My frustration is that what White evangelicals have embraced is beyond politics. It’s a sin,” said Rev. Reynolds, an ordained minister, an author and co-author of a memoir, Coretta Scott King: My Life, My Love, My Legacy. “They tolerate kids in cages and use the Bible to substantiate and tolerate evil. (Trump) is creating a climate of hate. Republicans or Democrats, whatever race you are, it has to be peace.”
“We have a constitutional and moral crisis. I have two thoughts from Bob Woodward’s and Omarosa’s books, that we have an unsteady person in office who could be insane. He’s not dumb, though. He is the master of deception. And if this touches his family, he will start a war. That’s my fear. Secondly, he is the first president who not only hates Blacks but is using policies for ethnic cleansing—he has made us the ‘other,’ deemed us unpatriotic, called football players SOBs, said we come from shithole countries. We are in a terrible place. I think about it every day. I’m terribly frustrated and upset even though this is the media’s finest hour, especially Black media.”
Adding to Rev. Reynold’s concerns are descriptions of Mr. Trump by psychologists, psychiatrists and other critics as being unstable, impulsive, reckless, ill-informed and wholly unsuited to hold high office.
The Rev. Willie Wilson said the divide between Black and White Christians constitutes a major split but he’s philosophical about what he sees playing out across the country. This type of backlash has happened before, he said.
For the past several years, Rev. Wilson, the senior pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in southeast Washington, D.C. has argued—much as the Rev. Dr. William Barber, II and the Rev. Graylan Hagler have—that America is in the midst of a Third Reconstruction.
“We see the exact parallels. Between 1866 and 1891, 40-plus Black men were voted to Congress. There has always been the fear that Blacks would take over,” said Rev. Wilson, who counts Minister Louis Farrakhan as a dear friend, and who has welcomed the Minister to his church every year since 1977. “What you have now is that a majority of children will be Black and Brown in the coming years. There is a fear of them taking over the country. (Whites) fear genetic annihilation. Seeing interracial couples on TV heightens those fears and as change comes, closer and closer, they get more desperate. That is what Donald Trump is using. He makes Whites think Blacks and immigrants are the source of their problems.”
After Reconstruction, a White backlash led to the establishment of the Ku Klux Klan which terrorized Black people and their White allies, murdering, lynching and burning as a way to reassert control. And as a part of the deal to become president, Rutherford Hayes removed Union troops from the South, leading to the tightening of segregation and a bloody and vicious clampdown on Blacks socially, politically and economically.
Revs. Reynolds and Harkins echoed Rev. Wilson, saying that in 2018, America is witnessing a fundamental shift in its demographics which has prompted a latter-day White backlash, verbal and physical attacks against Black and Brown people, and the introduction of extremist policies from the Trump administration designed to erode hard-earned civil rights and other gains, while shoring up White power and control.
“Those who embrace the Make America Great Again slogan are willing to work hard and cheat to undermine what is evolving in America,” said Rev. Barber in an earlier interview. “This is White hegemony and White nationalism strengthened by enormous wealth.”
Rev. Harkins said he sees conservative Christians’ unblinking loyalty as bizarre.
“Trump gets a pass because he’s more valuable to them. They are like Jacob, selling his soul for some porridge,” he said. “But I’m still optimistic, still faithful that we will endure this. This is nothing new, we have the playbook. We need to outmaneuver them. We have the capacity. I really do believe that on the other side of this, the potential is for leadership and voices to really rise and move us in a different direction although we’ll always have the smallness and bitterness of people like Trump.”
Mr. Fenton agreed.
Mr. Fenton—a federal employee for more than 20 years and union organizer in the public sector for 15 of those years—said he is heartened by the reality that “nothing lasts forever and this is a cycle we’re going through.”
He said he has been busy organizing and working to mobilize people in an effort to drive both a Do-Nothing Congress and Trump out of office.
“The rise of Donald Trump was a reaction to America having its first Black president,” he said. “The majority didn’t think it was possible and they’re trying to guarantee it won’t happen again but it’s too late. They need to know that we’re not going back, will never go back to being subjected to White superiority because it doesn’t exist.”
About Barrington Salmon