During a service attended by Vice President Mike Pence and his wife on Sunday morning, a pastor in Prince George’s County denounced remarks made by President Trump earlier this week.
“I stand today as your Pastor to vehemently denounce and reject any such characterizations of The nations of Africa and of our brothers and sisters in Haiti,” said Pastor Dr. Maurice Watson of the Metropolitan Baptist Church.
In his speech, the pastor mentioned that some congregation members were from Haiti and African countries. He called the president’s comments “hurtful” and “dehumanizing.” He went on to call for the president to be held accountable for his words.
The Vice President reportedly became visibly red-faced at times throughout the speech.
Following his comments, members of the congregation rose out of their seats in support.
Not only pastors, but all leaders of institutions hosting the president, vice president and senior officials should follow Pastor Watson’s lead. There are numerous benefits when figures such as pastors speak out.
First, his example underscores that community and political leaders should not disinvite the president, vice president and others. The administration’s most senior figures need to hear what Americans think of their conduct and need to understand others won’t politely ignore the elephant in the room. If this means they go out less frequently, the portrait of a president and administration under siege will be powerful. At any rate, in the battle for the hearts and minds of Americans anytime you can turn a photo op for members of the Trump administration (“Look, Pence in church, how nice!”) into a rotten story for them (“Pence shamed in church on MLK Day”) is a success.
Second, it is important to personalize the president’s actions so officials understand there are specific victims of his words and policies, in this case members of the church who are likely present in the room. Pence needs to look the Haitian and African immigrants in the eye, or at least feel their anger. Only when Pence and others understand that those affected have been mobilized and other Americans have taken their side will there be any inclination to change course.
Third, it works! Pence reportedly became embarrassed or enraged or both. The same should happen to President Trump and others who spew racist rhetoric. Trump wants adoring crowds, but each time he ventures out is an opportunity to convey he is not loved, but rather reviled, by a large segment of Americans.
Fourth, this pastor and others who speak out will put pressure on and reveal Trump’s clique of evangelical Christian apologists to be frauds, anti-Christian and enablers of racism. Others in the religious community can apply pressure as well. A group of clergy from the Evangelical Immigration Table, which supports a fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, put out this statement recently:
Immigrants from various countries within Africa as well as from Haiti, El Salvador, Norway, and every country in the world have contributed to the greatness of this country. We have brothers and sisters in Christ who are integral parts of the universal Church within and from each of these nations, each of whom the Bible tells us will one day gather around the throne of God in worship. The Scriptures teach us that each human person— regardless of their country of origin—is made in the image of God, with inherent and infinite dignity. Jesus emerged from the despised and disregarded town of Nazareth, a reminder that we ought never pre-judge any person based on his or her community of origin.
These biblical values inform our national values as well. The United States was founded upon the conviction that all people are created equal—though, as Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded our country, we have not always lived up to that truth.
Our president reportedly made statements recently that stand in opposition to these core biblical and American values. The President has now denied some of the reported language. We would hope that nothing approaching what was reported would ever be said by an American leader.
Perhaps Watson’s message will encourage others to speak out.
Finally, it is important to impose a cost — professional, reputational, social — on those in the administration who remain and continue to defend the administration. They are not victims; they remain voluntarily and enable the administration by, in some cases, lying, and in other cases by defending inexcusably inhumane policies. Only when they feel there is a cost to their continued association will they consider leaving and/or speaking out.
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