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Progressive religious leaders seek meeting with Trump to push for ‘moral agenda’

The Rev. William J. Barber II at a worship service at the Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., on Sept. 4. Barber has been pastor of the church since 1993. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
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A group of clergy members is seeking a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump to press him to support a progressive social agenda and to warn him that they will keep up the pressure if he doesn’t.

The effort is being led by the Rev. William J. Barber II, president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, a group of interfaith activists, who spoke out against Trump’s harsh rhetoric targeting Mexican and Muslim immigrants during the presidential campaign. Barber, who also is president of the North Carolina NAACP, also has spent the better part of the year battling Republican state officials over voting rights and cuts in social spending.

An open letter addressed to Trump and signed by more than 200 members of the clergy, raises concerns about the president-elect’s commitment to serving the poor and minorities, citing the stated positions and past actions of some of his advisers and Cabinet appointees. It asks to meet with him “in a house of worship prior to your inauguration.” A spokesman for the group said a copy of the letter will be sent to the Trump transition team via courier on Friday.

“We are deeply concerned by the policy vision that your Cabinet selections suggest,” the letter reads in part. “After inviting Steve Bannon’s white nationalism into the Oval Office, you nominated Jeff Sessions to head the Justice Department — a man who did not receive Senate approval for a federal judgeship in 1986 because of his long history of racial discrimination in Alabama. If he maintains his past positions on civil rights and voting rights, he could overturn and undermine years of victories and protections secured and signed in the blood of the martyrs. Equally insulting to African Americans is your nomination of Ben Carson, a black man with no experience in government or housing, to head HUD.”

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The letter calls on Trump to “uphold the most sacred moral principles of our faith and constitutional values.” It describes values protecting voting rights, fighting racism and poverty, providing universal health care and quality education, and reforming the criminal justice system.

On New Year’s Eve, Barber and other clergy members who make up a group called Repairers of the Breach, will hold a watch night service in D.C.

The letter and service are a continuation of a series of revival meetings held across the country during the past year to encourage religious and grass-roots activists to challenge the policies and actions of political leaders that could be described as hard-right, including cuts to Medicaid at the state level and threats to repeal the Affordable Care Act, laws that curb rights of LGBTQ people and policies that require voter IDs and reduce early voting.

Despite criticism by progressive clergy leaders, Trump won the solid support of conservative religious leaders, including Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham, and more than 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for the Republican nominee.

Barber, who describes himself as a registered independent, delivered a well-received speech at the Democratic National Convention in late July. He stopped short of a full-throated endorsement of Hillary Clinton, but he made clear his displeasure with the tone and tenor of Trump’s campaign. The week before, he and other members of Repairers of the Breach attempted to deliver their “moral agenda” to GOP leaders at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, but no officials would meet with them, and they were asked to leave the hall where the gathering was held.

Barber argues that Trump should meet with his critics because “the role of clergy is not to make candidates comfortable, but to challenge their conscience and to challenge them with the politics of God and not the politics of any particular party.”

“We challenge persons not because of their party but because of their policies,” he continued. “Those who are fighting to deny people health care and living wages, pass policies that hurt the poor and deny voting rights, deny immigrants their rights, refuse to fix our criminal justice system and who hurt public education, they are engaged in an immoral agenda.”

He said the group will continue to speak out. “In the coming days we will not stand down. We will stand up for these principles of justice and righteousness,” he said.

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Several other civil rights and progressive groups are planning protests around Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration. The Women's March on Washington is scheduled to take place the day after the president-elect is sworn-in, and, on the same day, the NAACP's youth and college division is hosting the People's Inauguration rally at Howard University. The Rev. Al Sharpton has announced that his National Action Network will hold a march and rally on Jan. 14.