AN ELCA BISHOP announced on Facebook his plan to protest a Trump speech scheduled for Lenoir-Rhyne University, an ELCA affiliated school in Hickory, NC. His post is listed below. The question is not what a bishop can do or chooses to do as a private citizen but when he chooses to act in his official capacity as bishop and spokesman for the ELCA in that place.
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have my own reservations about Trump and the phenomenon that has propelled him to the position of front-runner in the Republican free for all to select a candidate to run in November. That said, I do not believe it is either wise or churchly to enter a race and presume to speak for the faithful or the faith wearing the clerical collar to garner notice and attention. It is, in fact, I believe a grave abuse of the collar and the office to intervene in the political process in this way. I am quite confident that God has not yet weighed in on which Republican (or, for that matter, Democratic) candidate is HIS choice to represent the party and to be elected in November. I am also quite confident that at this point the folks in the pews and pulpits of Lutheranism are not united in their opposition to any one candidate or in the advocacy for one candidate. When and if the moment arises when faith requires the Church to address who and why someone is running for political office, it will present itself within the parameters of the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen and the free exercise of the Church in speaking that Gospel to the world and living it out without constraint. Until then, such public actions on the part of this or any other Lutheran clergy only diminish the overall credibility of the Church for the issues in which the Church not only can but must speak.
The news: Donald Trump is scheduled to speak at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, NC on Monday at 10 a.m. L-R is a liberal arts institution begun by and affiliated with the NC Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to which I was elected bishop last May.
The stakes: A liberal arts institution, especially in a democracy and even affiliated with the Church, exists for the free exchange of ideas. No matter how viscerally distasteful any particular candidate might be to any individual or even to what the Church itself stands for, to deny any particular candidate (and especially the Republican front-runner) the opportunity to speak is to fall prey to the very principle that outrages us, i.e, “denying basic human rights to others.” Free speech, particularly in a presidential election year, is a most basic democratic right.
My position: This candidate, in my opinion not only as a private citizen but as a bishop in this Church, is a farce, an embarrassment, and a danger to nearly everything I hold dear. That he this late in the game is still leading one of our major political parties with his rhetoric fueled by fear and anger is diametrically opposed to any reckoning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ I can imagine. Even leading “Evangelicals” have said as much.
My plan: Assuming he indeed shows up, I plan to be there, clerical collar and bishop’s cross on, to protest NOT the fact that he’s there but his platform that would deny refugees access, that would invoke violence at every turn, and that would stir up bigotry and hatred. I could go on, but you get the point. I would be deeply honored to be the one escorted out or even punched out as the heckler that Trump so condescendingly points out at each rally. But I won’t try to drive out hate with more hate and anger. I will stand there, pray, sing, march, chant, wave signs, whatever I need to do and with whatever consequence to say, “This is not who we are, America. This is not who we are, North Carolina. This is not who we are, Church.” And I hope the reporters and the cameras are there, and I hope they might care what I/we have to say in the name of Jesus.
Thus saith the Lord ought not to be bantered about lightly but saved for that Word that endures forever and for the speaking of it through which God convicts the soul with regard to sin and by the power of the Spirit works to bring the sinner to faith and repentance.