This time President Trump lashed out at a target close to home. The city of Baltimore, which Trump recently called “very dangerous & filthy” and “rat and rodent infested,” is just 40 miles from Washington National Cathedral, the seat of the Episcopal Church.
But the response of the Cathedral’s leaders was about more than proximity. Trump’s Twitter attack on Baltimore was just the latest in a long line of attacks considered by many as racist, including tweets this month about women of color in Congress. And to them it raised a question.
“As faith leaders who serve at Washington National Cathedral...we feel compelled to ask: After two years of President Trump’s words and actions, when will Americans have enough?," they wrote in an impassioned statement entitled “Have We No Decency? A response to President Trump.”
We have come to accept a level of insult and abuse in political discourse that violates each person’s sacred identity as a child of God. We have come to accept as normal a steady stream of language and accusations coming from the highest office in the land that plays to racist elements in society.
This week, President Trump crossed another threshold. Not only did he insult a leader in the fight for racial justice and equality for all persons; not only did he savage the nations from which immigrants to this country have come; but now he has condemned the residents of an entire American city. Where will he go from here?
Make no mistake about it, words matter. And, Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous.
These words are more than a “dog-whistle.” When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human “infestation” in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation. Violent words lead to violent actions.
When does silence become complicity? What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president’s sense of decency, but of ours.
The liberal-leaning Episcopal church, a small but historic mainline Protestant denomination with about 1.8 million members, was not the only Christian denomination in the local area to condemn Trump. Others focused largely on his words about Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the House Oversight Committee chairman who was the target of the president’s attacks on his district, which includes parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore County.
In a joint letter, bishops and pastors who head most of the major mainline Protestant and Catholic denominations in Maryland — including the local heads of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore and more — responded to Trump’s tweets about Cummings.
“You publicly slurred our beloved City of Baltimore in a tweet. We will not dignify the slur by repeating it. It was horrible, demeaning and beneath the dignity of a political leader who should be encouraging us all to strive and work for a more civil, just and compassionate society…,” these ministers wrote. “Cities, which bring together diverse races, languages, cultures, economic and social conditions, are frequent targets for those who cannot — or will not — see their beauty through the eyes of God and in their inhabitants. To their detractors, cities are seen only through the lens of social evils such as poverty, crime, violence and racism. To God, however, cities are seen primarily as vessels of hope, lights of God’s reign, and opportunities for living in blessed community.”
The letter was not signed by any evangelical Protestant pastors. Evangelical Christians — who tend to be more politically conservative — have supported Trump in very high numbers throughout his administration, while mainline Protestant groups have criticized his ethics.
Indeed, as Trump continued his days-long Twitter attack on Cummings, he also tweeted Monday: “Looking forward to my meeting at 2:00 P.M. with wonderful Inner City Pastors!” While many might scold him from their pulpits around Maryland, around Washington and across the nation, he seemed to say, other ministers were shaking his hand at the White House.