Publisher's Letter - September 2017

Robert Ellsberg

As I write, the echoes of Charlottesville—the tiki-torch-lit march of white men shouting Nazi slogans; the murder of Heather Heyer; the President’s defense of “good people” who were only trying to defend their heritage--still reverberate. Perhaps by the time this is posted some new distraction will have claimed our attention. But let’s not be too quick to move on.

Many Americans delight in the leadership of Donald Trump, relish his unvarnished assertions of American power, and believe in his vow to “Make America Great Again.” There are, on the other hand, a growing number who find themselves incredulous before the daily displays of intemperance, dishonesty, self-aggrandizement, and school-yard bullying that have marked the past seven months.

In his speech before Congress in 2015 Pope Francis memorably laid out the qualities--embodied by Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton--that make a country “great”: a commitment to equality and justice, a concern for the poor and marginalized, a capacity for compassionate dialogue. These are qualities that Donald Trump holds in contempt. What does that mean for our country? And what challenge does that pose for people of faith?

These are among the questions that inspired Faith and Resistance in the Age of Trump. Edited by Miguel De La Torre, this volume gathers reflections by a range of religious scholars, pastoral leaders, and activists, to ponder the meaning and challenge of our current situation. Last November, when we signed up this project, it was impossible to foresee every scandal, depredation, or casual cruelty “tweeted” to the world. But the preceding campaign offered a remarkable preview of what was to come.

Among the many assaults on truth, decency, and the common good, the promotion of white nationalism provided a crucial bellwether. It was present in the charge that our first African American president was really a foreigner; in the calls for a total “Muslim ban;” in references to “Mexican rapists”; in the cry to “take back our country”; in the call to “beat the crap” out of demonstrators at Trump rallies; in the description of urban neighborhoods as “hell holes,” and a hundred other “dog-whistles” to his aggrieved white followers. This is not just the problem of Trump. Nor is it merely the problem of his white nationalist followers. The sin of white supremacy leaves a stain on everything and everyone it touches—including bystanders who try to close their eyes and ears.

There are dark and toxic forces present in the American soul. Those who summon or manipulate or simply tolerate such hateful currents for the sake of political expediency cannot pretend to wash their hands of the violence that inevitably ensues. Those who claim to follow the Prince of Peace must speak out clearly and be ready to pay up personally.

Meanwhile, some other books that speak to this crisis:

• Jeannine Hill-Fletcher, The Sin of White Supremacy: Christianity, Racism, & Religious Diversity in America. This timely work, by a white theologian, shows the connection between claims that Whites are superior to other races to the claim that Christianity is superior to other religions.

• James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. A modern classic shows how these two symbols—of racist violence and salvation—illuminate each other, exposing the hypocrisy of “White Christianity,” and highlighting God’s identification with the oppressed.

• Drick Boyd, White Allies in the Struggle for Racial Justice, tells the stories of white Americans who broke with a racist culture to join the struggle for radical justice. In the line that includes John Woolman, Angelina Grimké, and Viola Liuzzo, we can now add Charlottesville’s Heather Heyer. May their names, and not the heroes of the Confederacy, be honored in our land.

Some may feel it is unseemly for a religious publisher to wade into such “political waters.” But in taking a clear stand against the sin of white supremacy we follow the pope, the leadership of the US Catholic bishops, and the gospel teaching that our very salvation is tied to our treatment of the least and most powerless among us. Christians must leave no doubt about where they stand: with the victims of hatred and prejudice, or with the “good people” who stood aside and watched as Christ marched toward Calvary.

May we find our way to the values of truth, compassion, and the sacred dignity of all God’s children.


Robert Ellsberg

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