By Bill Mefford
Dear Rev. Moore,
I remember when I worked for a United Methodist Church agency in Washington DC several years ago, I wrote a letter for my office that was sent to the Chinese government protesting their treatment of evangelical Christian pastors, specifically their refusal to allow the pastors to attend a Lausanne Conference on Evangelism. After years of oppression the Chinese government still refuses to allow freedom of religious expression and my office rightly took a stand against another example of religious repression.
In response to our letter other leaders in the United Methodist Church were outraged, claiming that we were undermining the relationship that progressive groups had been building with the Chinese government and the state-sponsored church. Luckily, my boss at that time backed me up fully. We simply told those who were so outraged that any relationship with a government that has historically practiced repression against religious minorities that does not somehow curb that repression is not an effectively transformative relationship. In fact, we told those who were so outraged at our letter, that maintaining relationship with a repressive government that continues to practice repression is to grant legitimacy to that repression. It is, in actuality, to participate in the acts of repression itself.
With this in mind, I read your recent op-ed on why you refuse to step down from donald trump’s evangelical council. You feel like you can have more impact by remaining on the council than by resigning. Under almost any other president, who could argue?
But not this one. This president, like the Chinese government’s uninhibited repression of religious minorities has consistently engaged in racist attacks and instituted repressive policies towards the most vulnerable from the first day of his campaign until this past weekend when he pardoned confirmed racist and human rights-abuser, Joe Arpaio, ordered the military to no longer accept transgender recruits, and lifted the ban that prevented local police from purchasing military gear. Every day during this time he has repeatedly demonized and dehumanized Latino immigrants and Muslims and as a result, hate crimes has increased against people of color. His actions and speeches towards vulnerable people have absolutely been inexcusable and he remains utterly unrepentant.
More importantly, his policies have been especially devastating to people already at risk. His proposed budget is the most immoral budget ever proposed by any branch of government as he wants to completely slash the social safety net, which would have a horrific impact on millions of poor people, the very people Jesus incarnates himself among and the people he instructs all those who sincerely follow him to be incarnated among as well. He kicked off his time in office by issuing a Muslim ban that has repeatedly been ruled unconstitutional. He has instructed Immigration and Customs Enforcement to dramatically ramp up detentions and deportations, which has resulted in the removal of immigrants who have lived in the United States for decades, and which have now split up families. His administration is effectively terrorizing immigrant communities. In a country where gun shootings has become epidemic he has signed legislation making access to gun ownership even more pervasive. And he has pulled out of the Paris Agreement, placing long-term care for God’s Creation at peril, and ignoring concerns by indigenous peoples by allowing the pipeline to be built through Standing Rock.
And this is a very partial list. There is seemingly no group of people that donald trump does not want to both deeply offend and cause harm, except affluent white people.
Rev. Moore, your presence on this council has obviously failed and failed miserably. Further, your continued presence will only legitimize his unabated oppression towards others. And by legitimizing his actions and policies, your presence only makes you culpable to those acts of repression.
You opened your op-ed by sharing an example of a time when you were prompted by the Spirit to text a worker in the White House an encouraging word and a prayer for the hard work they were doing. I pray you are again prompted by the Spirit to remember what Jesus’ call was, which is the same as God’s call on us, God’s church:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18)
Please do not do what so many U.S. evangelicals have done this past century: focus on individual salvation at the expense of societal justice. It is too important not to make that same old mistake again. Peoples’ lives are at stake. Encouraging a White House staffer is far less important than shutting down the tremendous harm that this administration is engaged in. There are far too many immigrant families experiencing the deep pain of being split up by this administration and they could use your encouraging notes – they could use your voice advocating for an end to the state-sponsored terror – more so than the hard-working White House staffer whose end-product is widespread harm.
But the most shocking reason you give for not resigning from the evangelical council is that you claim that “you make a difference only if you have a seat at the table.” Nothing could be further from the truth! Think about history. All of the most powerful movements in history from the Civil Rights Movement to the LGBTQ movement for full equality (that continues today) to the immigrants’ rights movement – all of these movements were started and led by those directly impacted by injustice – by those specifically NOT seated at the table.
But even more, look at Scripture. God expressly chose those not seated at the tables of affluence or power to bring about liberation for the oppressed. And God’s movements for liberation rarely ended well for those seated at the tables of power when they failed to use those seats to stop oppression. I seem to remember Jesus spending more time overturning tables than protecting his seat at the table of Pontius Pilate. Your presence on the evangelical council has not stopped oppression. It is time to resign.
Rev. Moore, I urge you to step down from the evangelical council first and foremost because this administration is committed to harming people and your presence only legitimates that. But, perhaps almost as important, I urge you to step down because your continued presence makes you culpable for the tremendous harm and injustice perpetuated by this terrible administration. Liberation awaits you.