The Episcopal Church has been my spiritual home for seven years now. It breathed new life into my faith at a time when I wasn’t sure I wanted any more to do with church.
Its liturgies, its willingness to engage the world, its ability to embrace orthodoxy without rigidity, its commitment to welcoming all people—these are just a few things I love about the Episcopal Church.
Add to this our presiding bishop, Michael Curry, who’s brought renewed passion for a big, robust gospel—for what he likes to call the Jesus Movement.
There is a lot to love about the Episcopal Church.
My denomination is about to welcome Donald Trump into the presidency with a prayer service in his honor at the Washington National Cathedral.
We’re about to sanctify a man who exhales hate, arrogance, and greed. Whether we mean to or not, we’re about to legitimize a president whose conduct stands in direct opposition to the final words of our baptismal covenant: “to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”
I’m not OK with that. Here are three reasons why.
1. This will change the church more than it changes Donald Trump.
The Episcopal Church has always had a complicated relationship to power. We’re an offshoot of the Church of England, a state church whose supreme governor is a monarch, not a priest.
While the Episcopal Church enjoys no such formal alliance with the American state, 11 of our nation’s 44 (soon to be 45) presidents have been Episcopalians. We claim George Washington, James Monroe, Teddy Roosevelt, and FDR as our own.
Many ceremonies of national significance have been held at our national cathedral, where the service for Trump will also be held this Saturday. The funerals of Eisenhower and Reagan. Inaugural services for previous presidents including FDR, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. The 9/11 memorial service.
So who do you think is changed more by these entanglements of church and power?
Who do you think will be changed more by Saturday’s encounter between the Episcopal Church and Donald Trump? The 1,700-year history of church entanglement with the state doesn’t give much reason to be hopeful.
2. Hosting a prayer service in Trump’s honor will inevitably normalize him—and what he stands for.
The only impact the event will have on Trump himself will be to normalize him. I’m sure that’s not the intent, but it’s the inevitable outcome.
The Episcopal Church should play no part in legitimizing an unrepentant racist who boasts about sexual assault, demeans and threatens his opponents, and uses his rhetoric to incite violence against already marginalized communities.
There will be no sermon at the prayer service—at Trump’s direction. He will allow nothing that might make him the least bit uncomfortable. There will be no speaking truth to power.
There is nothing remotely prophetic about hosting Donald Trump at this gathering.
“The faith community should be a center of resistance against Donald Trump’s vision in America,” as the Rev. Gary Hall, former dean of Washington National Cathedral said. We should not be lining up to kiss his ring.
3. Hosting Trump undermines the Episcopal Church’s commitment to welcome all people.
Donald Trump has attacked and belittled Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims, blacks, women, and others. The Episcopal Church, for all its flaws, has been a prophetic voice for respecting those of other faiths, for empowering women, for welcoming immigrants as the prophets commanded, for acknowledging and addressing systemic racism, and for embracing LGBTQ persons as full members of our community.
All of that is undermined by legitimizing the man who climbed to power on their backs.
Now wait a minute, you might say. “All people” has to include Donald Trump, doesn’t it?
Yes, it does. That’s why many Episcopal churches will begin praying for him weekly, starting this Sunday. And rightly so.
The oppressed and the oppressor are both welcome—but not on the same terms.
"Praying for your enemies" isn't the same as blessing their exercise of power. Jesus forgave his executioners. He didn't bless their Empire
— RevDaniel❄️️ (@RevDaniel) January 18, 2017
God is always on the side of the oppressed, and we must be too. As Diana Butler Bass writes, “Yes, God’s table is open. Good hosts, however, do not allow people to come to the table with the intention to destroy it.”
The oppressor is welcome, but only if he lays down his arms, only if he renounces oppression, only if he repents—something Donald Trump has never been a fan of doing, by his own admission.
This is not about Donald Trump’s party affiliation or political platform. I would much rather the Episcopal Church got entirely out of the business of rubbing shoulders with presidents and hosting national events like these.
Pursuing power—or even just proximity to power—always ends up compromising the church’s prophetic witness.
Especially when the man in power is the embodiment of every value the church is called to resist—greed, pride, bigotry, exclusion, and authoritarianism.
So which will it be, Episcopal Church? Donald Trump’s puppet or Jesus Movement?
Because it can’t be both.
The dean of the Washington National Cathedral has issued a new response addressing criticism of their decision to host the inaugural prayer service. You can read it here.
I appreciate the spirit of their response—and that of earlier responses from Presiding Bishop Curry and DC Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde. But I disagree with the substance. In his latest response, the Very Rev. Randy Hollerith said:
“I believe our job is to work together to build a country where everyone feels welcome, everyone feels safe, everyone feels at home. We will need all people from across our nation to be a part of that process, and we cannot retreat into our separate quarters if we have any hope of accomplishing this task. We must meet in the middle, and we start through prayer and song.”
The problem is, you don’t make survivors of sexual assault feel safe by hosting an inaugural prayer service for an unrepentant perpetrator of sexual assault. You don’t make immigrants feel safe by holding an inaugural prayer service for someone who wants to deport them. You don’t make people with disabilities feel safe by hosting an inaugural prayer service for someone who mocks them. You don’t make Muslims feel safe by holding an inaugural prayer service for someone who slanders their religion.
The cathedral still seems to be operating under the assumption that this is all just normal politics—that Trump is a normal politician and that opposition to him is just normal partisan bickering. It’s not. And this assumption is a threat to our prophetic posture.
The bottom line is, we can (and should) meet in the middle with people of different political persuasions and party affiliations. But not all politics are equal. Not every political posture is reconcilable with our baptismal covenant.
And no, we do NOT “meet in the middle” with hate. We do not “meet in the middle” with racism or xenophobia. We do not “meet in the middle” with misogyny.
Some things are just too important.
Photos by Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0, Daniel R. DeCook / public domain