Pastors used their Sunday pulpits to speak out against President Trump’s reported vulgarity about less affluent nations. Citing everything from scripture and Martin Luther King Jr. to the Gettysburg Address, clergy representing a wide range of Christianity — even people who usually don’t touch political topics — in references long and brief said church was the proper place to address Trump’s words.
In more traditional services, Trump references were veiled — if biting. Progressive congregations were blunt.
“Ours referenced [biblical heroines] Ruth and Naomi as coming from ‘a hole in Moab,’” Kevin R. den Dulk, a political scientist at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., tweeted about his pastor. “There was detectable shuffling in seats after that one.”
Catholics at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Arlington, Va., across the Potomac River from D.C., continually interrupted the 9:30 a.m. Mass with applause and then gave a standing ovation to the Rev. Timothy Hickey. The priest in his homily said people from the nations Trump referred to with profanity are our “brothers and sisters” who should be defended in any and every way, parishioners said.
That’s the “first time I have ever seen that at that church or at any Catholic Church I have ever attended. I am 55,” one woman, who spoke on condition her name not be used because she is a federal employee and fears professional repercussions of speaking against Trump, said of the congregation’s reaction. Another congregant of Our Lady recalled Hickey urging people to stand up to racism coming from “across the river.”
The scriptural cycle had many congregations poring Sunday over John 1:43-51, in which Philip tells Nathanael he has come across the one of whom the prophets have been speaking: Jesus of Nazareth. “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asks. Nazareth was understood as a tiny, politically backward village. Many pastors seized on the comparison.
“There were some controversial words spoken this week about the value of people. Talk of others who are not deserving. Let me be clear: These words are not of Christ,” the Rev. Chris Danielson told St. Andrew United Methodist on Sunday in W. Lafayette, Ind., according to the notes of parishioner Steve Tally. Trump was not mentioned by name to the congregation, Tally said, which is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Can anything good come out of these nations? You better believe it, and boy do they have gifts to give.”
Some pastors agonized over whether to speak about comments attributed to Trump about El Salvador, Africa and Haiti — even obliquely. American congregations are becoming increasingly politically segregated, and many clergy members see church as a place to emphasize forgiveness, love and scripture, as opposed to specific contemporary political applications. Discussion of current news is seen by some as a distraction from a focus on worship, particularly in conservative evangelical churches. The opposite is true in other spheres of U.S. Christianity, particularly Mainline Protestantism and African American churches, where social gospel is often seen as core.
The question of whether or how much to bring news into church exploded anew after last year’s racial violence in Charlottesville, and the evangelical news site Christianity Today did a Q and A called “Should pastors address current events in Sunday sermons?” The answers were yes and no.
At the evangelical Redemption Church in Augusta, Ga., congregants have become accustomed to hearing from the pulpit about current events from #MeToo to the Charlottesville violence to natural disasters. The church is part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination. Sunday was no different.
At Grace Chapel, a congregation in Lincoln, Neb., that is part of the conservative Presbyterian Church in America, congregants Sunday heard associate pastor Steve Allen characterize Trump’s comments this week as part of a “colonizing of our brains,” said Max Perry Mueller, a University of Nebraska professor who attends.
“There are so many competing voices for our attention today, and one voice is particularly loud and drawing our attention, a voice that is disparaging to underdeveloped countries, calling parts of the world ‘sewage’ — that is not okay,” Mueller described Allen as saying. Jesus “hung with the lowest of the low, the social and economic outcast — the ‘sewage.’ He said we are all sewage and Jesus never turned his back on us, and we shouldn’t turn our backs,” Mueller recalled.
Here are other examples of how clergy responded Sunday before their congregations to Trump’s comments: