“Lock her up, lock her up,” the people chanted. Eternal damnation — it was Old Testament punishment, and for someone who hadn’t been convicted of a crime.
The Rev. Graylan Hagler, pastor of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Northeast Washington, also talks about God. He speaks of need to bring “a moral voice and conscience to the halls of government.” Let politicians know that their policies have life-or-death consequences, and that it’s morally wrong to take from the poor so the rich can have more, he admonishes.
Hagler is a Washington-area coordinator of the Poor People’s Campaign, which is helping to organize a nationwide protest to focus attention on poverty, racism, violence and military excess. Hundreds gathered with him for a mass meeting at Shiloh Baptist Church in the District last week.
“Our so-called religiosity as a country has become so hard, so cold, so hateful that it’s a wonder we can still call it religious,” Hagler told me. “What we are trying to do by supporting the efforts of the poor is to save the spiritual nature of the nation.”
The Rev. William J. Barber II, who is a co-chair of the national Poor People’s Campaign, gave a sermon in New York last month that used words similar to those spoken by Trump at CPAC. But the aim of the two speeches couldn’t be more different.
“We are called not to be the servants of the state, but the conscience of the state,” Barber said. “God demands that we stand for justice.”
In a recent interview, Barber added, “We claim to be a country that believes in certain inalienable rights provided by God. But our greatest religious tradition asks, ‘How are you treating the poor?’ When we talk about our cherished freedoms, we often leave out the most important ones: ‘Establish justice, insure domestic tranquility and promote the general welfare.’”
“There is no greater personal, individual freedom than the right to keep and bear arms, the right to protect yourself, and the right to survive,” LaPierre said. “It’s not bestowed by man but granted by God to all Americans as our American birthright.”
A “birthright” that results in the deaths of so many children. Surely Heaven can wait until they are older.
The Rev. Liz Theoharis, also a co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and coordinator of the Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary in New York, said that more Americans are being “moved by a spirit of struggle” and organizing against hate and fear.
“Despite the desperation and a weeping and mourning that is happening in our society, there is hope that something different is possible,” she told me.
Neither she, Barber nor Hagler bashed Trump. Or their supporters. “Most Trump supporters are whites who are not poor but scared of becoming poor and are trying to hold on to what they have,” Theoharis said. “But many are starting to find common cause with our efforts. The fact is, most of the poor people in this country are white women and children.”
Trump and LaPierre played to the fears. And even as LaPierre calls on God, he seems to put more faith in guns.
“Evil walks among us,” he told the CPAC crowd. “And God help us if we do not harden our schools and protect our kids.”
He was referring to the shooting Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 students and faculty were shot to death and at least 14 others were wounded. A 19-year-old former student was arrested and charged with the slayings. Police say he was armed with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, part of a class of firearms that gun-control advocates would like to see banned.
LaPierre reminded the audience of his solution to stop school shootings — arming teachers. Or, as he likes to say: “To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun.”
He’d been making the claim since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. At that school, 20 children, ages 6 and 7, along with six staff members, were slaughtered by a 20-year-old man armed with a semiautomatic rifle.
“I said five years ago, after that horrible tragedy in Newtown, and I wish . . . ” LaPierre paused. “Oh, God,” he started up again, “I wish more had heeded my words.”
But there had been an armed deputy sheriff posted at Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, and the good guy with a gun had been unable to stop the killer.