National Cathedral: “Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous”

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The spiritual leaders of the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. have had enough.  Here is their recent press release titled “Have We No Decency?:  A Response to President Trump:

The escalation of racialized rhetoric from the President of the United States has evoked responses from all sides of the political spectrum. On one side, African American leaders have led the way in rightfully expressing outrage. On the other, those aligned with the President seek to downplay the racial overtones of his attacks, or remain silent.

As faith leaders who serve at Washington National Cathedral ¬– the sacred space where America gathers at moments of national significance – we feel compelled to ask: After two years of President Trump’s words and actions, when will Americans have enough?

As Americans, we have had such moments before, and as a people we have acted. Events of the last week call to mind a similarly dark period in our history:

“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. … You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”

That was U.S. Army attorney Joseph Welch on June 9, 1954, when he confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy before a live television audience, effectively ending McCarthy’s notorious hold on the nation. Until then, under the guise of ridding the country of Communist infiltration, McCarthy had free rein to say and do whatever he wished. With unbridled speech, he stoked the fears of an anxious nation with lies; destroyed the careers of countless Americans; and bullied into submissive silence anyone who dared criticize him.

In retrospect, it’s clear that Welch’s question was directed less toward McCarthy and more to the nation as a whole. Had Americans had enough? Where was our sense of decency?

We have come to accept a level of insult and abuse in political discourse that violates each person’s sacred identity as a child of God. We have come to accept as normal a steady stream of language and accusations coming from the highest office in the land that plays to racist elements in society.

This week, President Trump crossed another threshold. Not only did he insult a leader in the fight for racial justice and equality for all persons; not only did he savage the nations from which immigrants to this country have come; but now he has condemned the residents of an entire American city. Where will he go from here?

Make no mistake about it, words matter. And, Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous.

These words are more than a “dog-whistle.” When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human “infestation” in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation. Violent words lead to violent actions.

When does silence become complicity? What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president’s sense of decency, but of ours.

As leaders of faith who believe in the sacredness of every single human being, the time for silence is over. We must boldly stand witness against the bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and xenophobia that is hurled at us, especially when it comes from the highest offices of this nation. We must say that this will not be tolerated. To stay silent in the face of such rhetoric is for us to tacitly condone the violence of these words. We are compelled to take every opportunity to oppose the indecency and dehumanization that is racism, whether it comes to us through words or actions.

There is another moment in our history worth recalling. On January 21, 2017, Washington National Cathedral hosted an interfaith national prayer service, a sacred tradition to honor the peaceful transfer of political power. We prayed for the President and his young Administration to have “wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties that they may serve all people of this nation, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person.”

That remains our prayer today for us all.

The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar BuddeBishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington
The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
Dean of Washington National Cathedral
The Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas
Canon Theologian of Washington National Cathedral.

25 thoughts on “National Cathedral: “Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous”

  1. give sanction and permission from on high to Do What Until Now Has Been Forbidden

    I have found two other applications of this, but this blog apparently rejects any comment with embedded links so I’ll have to reference them the hard way.

    1) In their summary and analysis of Frank Herbert’s Dune Extra Sci-Fi Channel on YouTube referred to it as “Rule through Vice” in the context of Dune‘s House Harkonnen. To see/hear it:
    1.1) Search YouTube for “extra sci-fi dune”. This will bring up all four episodes.
    1.2) Click on and run “Dune – Muad’Dib – Extra Sci-Fi – #4”.
    1.3) The description of “Rule by Vice” starts 3 /12 minutes in.

    2) Around 1970 there was this type of pop psychology called “Transactional Analysis” which actually made a lot of sense; it’s best known for its bestseller I’m OK, You’re OK.

    I’m OK, You’re OK had two lesser-known companion volumes titled Games People Play and Scripts People Live. It’s the former volume (probable origin of the term “Mind Games”) we’re looking at.

    One of the “Games” covered in GPP is called “Tough Guy”; it refers to a small/weak individual hanging out with and generally “fanboying” REAL “Tough Guys” (which could range from Navy SEALs to violent criminals; the latter is their type example). “SEE? I’M TOUGH! SEE? SEE? SEE?”

    My thesis is that Trump (whom Chaplain Mike over at Internet Monk has called “Not an evil man, but a SMALL man”) is playing “Tough Guy” as he fawns over the likes of Putin, Duterte, and other Strongmen Tough Guys. “ME, TOO! I’M TOUGH! SEE? SEE? SEE?” (Duterte brags of having personally shot drug dealers/offenders — Now That’s TOUGH!)

    And Trump’s fanboys play “Tough Guy” in turn, fawning over Trump and taking and running with his sanction from on high to Be Just Like Him. “SEE? I’M TOUGH TOO! SEE? SEE? SEE?”

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  2. Ric,
    The three you mention are all standard works on the subject, albeit from a mostly Protestant bias. Dunn is not known as a general church historian.

    James

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  3. Paul,
    You sound as if you like to read and study. I haven’t read Dunn, but I recommend some others also that deal with the church, theology, and the development of doctrine:

    “A History of Christianity” (2 vols.), by Kenneth Scott Latourette
    “The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine” (5 vols.), by Jaraslav Pelikan
    “The Story of Christianity” (2 vols.), by Justo L Gonzalez
    “Classic Christianity” (1 vol.), by Thomas Oden

    I’m posting this late, so don’t know if you’ll see it or not. If you do, and read these, I attest that you will have much fascinating reading!

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  4. Paul,
    You are going to have to be more specific about what is tangential and what is central. I can’t follow your line of thought without more details.

    I will acknowledge that there is a natural flow to many discussions and that side points occasionally move into the fore.

    James

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  5. Rich,

    So you seem to be saying that these ecclesiastical individuals should be free to represent Christianity without someone questioning their orthodoxy. I don’t. They have every right to speak as citizens but to wrap themselves in the banner of Christian symbology allows others to question what they actually believe. I’d enjoy hearing any one of them explaining his/her theology.

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  6. I’m sorry that I waste my time reading your comments. Notice how you disputed my original point by arguing about something tangential, and within a couple of comments you are arguing the point I was making (theology has changed tremendously over 2,000 years) to somehow rebut me.

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  7. They simply are three senior clergy in one Episcopal diocese that expressed their views on the president’s words. There is no reason why they cannot, as clergy, issue the statement that they did. Christian orthodoxy deals with theology, not political views. Probably more Christians than you think agree with their views. I am a conservative Presbyterian and I agree with their views. The president is out of line. He does not act like a leader. He has to act as president of the whole country, not only those who voted for him.

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  8. Paul,
    I am sorry you don’t see the obvious import of scripture regarding the Trinity and the Incarnation. Most believers do despite the fact that they are not the easiest doctrines in He Bible.

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  9. “The exhilaration not to go and kill, but to go and be violent; to be allowed to do what is normally forbidden”

    For the first time in my 30 years at my church I’ve started hearing kids using the n word… I think this is why. To do what is *normally* forbidden.

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  10. James, you assert things with no basis in fact as if they were facts. The triune nature of God was not on anybody’s radar until the fourth century. It had nothing to do with developing language.

    There was a debate about who Jesus was and what his relationship with God was, but there was no discussion about trinities or Holy Spirits being part of a Godhead in the early church.

    If Jesus was part of a trinity, he would simply have told people. But that’s not what happened. His closest followers remained as members of the Jewish synagogue in good standing for decades. That would have been impossible if they had a different idea of God.

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  11. Hello again Paul,

    The point about Catholic and Protestant scholarship is that it represents the bulk of today’s New Testament and early Church research. The fact that these bodies developed after the 1st Century is not the salient point.

    James Dunn’s research has dealt primarily with St. Paul. He is known as an authority on that subject. The fact that several major schismatic and heretical movements did not adhere to the teachings of the larger church hardly proves your point, Paul. After all, Arianism, Marcionism, Modalism, Doceticism, Socinianism, and various forms of Gnosticism still exist today. They were outside of the orthodox center in the patristic era and they are still outside of the orthodox center today. James Dunn and just about any other serious scholar would acknowledge that.

    I can’t understand how your story about a small number of Christians fleeing to Pella relates to anything we are discussing. This was not a doctrinally significant body if it existed at all.

    James

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  12. James, Of course it’s not supported by Protestant or Catholic beliefs, because it preceded those churches existence! Are you really that thick????

    The range of Christian movements in antiquity is enormous. Starting with the period immediately after Jesus was executed. Professor James Dunn found embedded within the New Testament literally dozens of different Christian belief systems in his landmark book about Diversity in the NT. Read it. And then the diversity multiplied after that.

    Then Christianity took another turn when Israel rebelled in 63 and Jesus’ followers left the city to hide out in Pella. After the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, the movement naturally wanted to disassociate itself from Judaism. But because Romans were suspicious of new religions, Christians latched onto the Hebrew Bible to prove it was an old philosophy.

    Not long after, forms of gnostic Christianities popped up. Then all sorts of different belief systems popped up. Was Jesus human or a spirit? Was the New Testament God the same as the Jewish God? Justin Martyr said only heretics believed in going to heaven. Ebionites, Arians, Sabellus, the range of belief systems was enormous. And then another exponential layer of diversity happened post-Constantine. I try to be polite, because the professor demands it here, but you take the cake.

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  13. Hello Paul,

    Your stark narrative about the Trinity and the immortality of the soul in the first complete paragraph is not supported by mainstream Catholic or Protestant scholarship. For starters you are ignoring the Trinitarian baptismal formula in Matthew 28 as well as the baptism of Jesus which laid the foundation for later doctrine about the nature of the Godhead. I won’t even go into the additional scriptural references, but they are throughout the New Testament. It is true that the language of “substance”, “essence”, “nature”, “person”, etc. had to be developed theologically, but that doesn’t negate the early belief in the Triune nature of God. The Church simply needed the language to express a very difficult teaching.

    The immortality of the soul is taught in the New Testament. Please see II Cor. 5: 6-9, Phil. 1: 20-24, and Luke 16: 19-31. Patristic thought built upon these passages and others.

    I tried to understand your point about James in the subsequent paragraph and cannot grasp how it relates to the development of Christian doctrine being inconsistent with what faithful Christians believe today.

    James

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  14. Ric,

    That’s a good question. Here is the short answer.

    If these three individuals had made their remarks as private citizens, that would have been perfectly acceptable within the scope of democratic debate. They have as much of a right as anyone to comment. With that being said, however, they acted as official church spokesman from the position of a quasi official U.S. government cathedral. In so doing they have made their Christian orthodoxy fair game. They represent very few Christians.

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  15. James, your ignorance is breathtaking.

    The early church had no concept of the Trinity, of immortal souls, of being human and divine at the same time. I don’t have time to list all of the things they believed that are different today.

    In fact, the early church was led by James, who was simultaneously one of the most respected Jewish religious leaders. If Christianity was a formed religion that it became, that would have been impossible. When James was murdered in the early 60s by the temple leadership, it was written that the destruction of Jerusalem happened as God’s judgement for his death! Not Jesus … James!

    I know that responding to your nonsense is stupid, but … ugh.

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  16. Paul,

    Orthodox Christian belief is no different today than it was 2,000 years ago. Admittedly it took several centuries to formalize the creeds. The real theological breakdown did not begin in earnest until the Enlightenment and was furthered by 19th Century German higher criticism. Your supposition that Christianity is doctrinally a shape-shifting entity is not supported by the facts.

    James

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  17. How did the discussion get so far from the original statement in the post and onto the Christian orthodoxy of Episcopalians? If a statement is true, or false, it remains so regardless of who said it. As the phrase (and book title) goes: “All Truth Is God’s Truth”.

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  18. Recently there was an article I the Atlantic on pretty much this subject (which I can’t find, now that I need it) titled “The Cruelty is the Point”. The point reminded me of a book I read circa 1980 by Swiss psychologist Paul Tournier (I remember the title as The Violence Within).

    In the first chapter, Tournier used the example of Fascist Italy going to war to make a point about (from memory) “The exhilaration not to go and kill, but to go and be violent; to be allowed to do what is normally forbidden”. And I see the same dynamic at work. Trump’s words (intended or accidental) give sanction and permission from on high to Do What Until Now Has Been Forbidden; in this application, indulge pent-up rage against The Other and possibly do violence for a Higher Cause.

    In the fantasy short where I got my comment handle, I referred to the French Revolution and its 200 years of imitators “from Paris to Phnom Penh” as “The Cause so Righteous that it justifies any atrocity whatsoever to bring it about.”

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  19. Sean,

    How do you define a “Christian leader?” Do you think that these three ecclesiastical figures speak for a majority of believers? A plurality of believers? Do you know how many active members fall within their pastoral care at the parish or diocesan level?

    It might be safer to call them ecclesiastical spokesmen rather than viewing them as national “Christian leaders?” The fact that they are working officially within the National Cathedral hardly makes them representative of many American believers.

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  20. Don’t take the bait, John. Everyone knows there are no restaurants in Grantham.

    The rest, blah,blah, anyone who doesn’t believe the way I do is not a Christian.

    Christianity has redefined itself so many hundreds of times, to speak of “orthodox” beliefs on a site about history is shameful.

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  21. John,

    I appreciate you engaging me in this subject. It is a subject with which I am well acquainted.

    As someone who spent several years in a traditionalist Episcopal parish with an historic, orthodox, Anglican rector, I will be the first to admit that there is still a national scattering of spiritual clerics at the parish level. This phenomenon does not extend to the diocesan level any longer; in fact, officials at that level generally marginalize parish priests who follow an orthodox path. For the most part traditionalist priests are tolerated for fear of causing unrest within their parishes, but they are not placed on the “fast track” for higher roles. In fact, they are largely kept out of sight and have scant chance of career advancement.

    It is good news that a tiny remnant of historic Anglican spiritually does survive at the lower levels; the bad news is that the larger priest intake system for the entire denomination has pretty well closed off avenues for the entry of orthodox clerics. Accordingly, how many years of even a handful of spiritual priests remain? All of the official seminaries are promoting liberal or at best heterodox theology. Furthermore, the multiple-session interview process for prospective priests effectively forecloses the ordination of orthodox clerics. I can cite at least two examples of this deck-stacking against those who still adhere to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.

    All of this brings us to the unwarranted and gratuitous political remarks of the three officials at the National Cathedral. I don’t personally know any of them, but will treat you to dinner at your favorite restaurant in Grantham if it can be shown that one of these figures adheres to the historic creeds and the Thirty-nine Articles. They did not reach their current jobs by being faithful to traditional Anglicanism.

    Of course, the numerical decline of The Episcopal Church is a statistical fact. If the bishops were held accountable for the demise of the church, it would be just. Unfortunately, these individuals are blind to the effects of their theology, and no one is going to hold them accountable. They know that, and their pension funds are secure. To call the situation a tragedy would be an understatement.

    James

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  22. I’m glad that some Christian leaders at least aren’t afraid to tell it like it is: Trump is racist and his words encourage racist violence. I wish more Christians were willing to do as these leaders have done.

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  23. Several things, James. First, I know Episcopalians are some of the most serious and spirit-filled Christians I know. As Katelyn Beaty, former managing editor of Christianity Today, recently tweeted in light of a similar statement to the one you made above: “I was under the spiritual leadership of an Episcopal priest for 7 years, and that man had more of Jesus in his pinky toe than most of us have in our whole bodies. I can’t understand the following comment as anything but bearing false witness, which God hates. (Prov. 6:19).” Second, America IS being run in such a way that we need to resurrect the Founding Fathers to try to staunch the bleeding.

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  24. It is curious that three senior figures within the dying Episcopal Church feel free to comment unselfconsciously on public policy and to pose as guardians of the public morality. If the country were run in the same manner as this particular denomination, America would need to resurrect the Founding Fathers just to try to staunch the bleeding.

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