Donald Trump: Make Church Authoritarian Again

Republican Presidential Candidates Speak At Values Voter Summit
Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, holds up a Bible while speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. The annual event, organized by the Family Research Council, gives presidential contenders a chance to address a conservative Christian audience in the crowded Republican primary contest. Photographer: Drew Angerer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

During the culminating speech of the Republican National Convention, Donald J. Trump took the stage to accept the Republican nomination for the Presidency. As he addressed the nation, the bulk of Trump’s speech was anticipated; a draft had been leaked to the press. Before he took the stage, I read that draft and braced myself to hear many troubling, discriminatory statements. But one remark blindsided me completely.

Toward the close of his speech, Trump’s voice, which had been loud and pointed, slowed and became more quiet. With a serious tone, he personally thanked evangelical Christians for their role in gaining him the Republican nomination. That’s when he expressed a desire I did not anticipate. He said he would like to repeal particular laws which prohibit religious leaders from endorsing specific political candidates from their pulpits and houses of worship. He said,

“At this moment, I would like to thank the evangelical community because, I will tell you what, the support they have given me — and I’m not sure I totally deserve it — has been so amazing. And has been such a big reason I’m here tonight. They have much to contribute to our policies.

“Yet our laws prevent you from speaking your mind from your own pulpits. An amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson, many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views. Their voice has been taken away. I will work hard to repeal that language and to protect free speech for all Americans.”

After a lengthy, incendiary speech, this statement at the close knocked the breath out of me. I’m not trying to be overdramatic, but when I heard his words and the tone that accompanied them, I gasped and had to hold on to something. I almost fainted. 

Clearly, Donald Trump spoke these words and meant them sincerely. As a Christian minister, this troubles me deeply. The implications are dangerous.

In WWII era Germany, the German Christian movement of the Church became enmeshed with German nationalism. During that time, the largest part of the Church pledged allegiance to the authoritarian dictatorship of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. The German Church also supported the Holocaust and washed its hands of the death and destruction it unleashed.

It is important to consider this precedent.

During his incendiary speech at the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump spoke dangerous rhetoric about Latin American and Middle Eastern people. At one point he shouted, “We don’t want them in our country!”

He repeated a refrain concerning his commitment to “law and order,” but he said nothing about the violence Black Americans are facing in our nation. That was erased from his speech entirely.

The separation of Church and State is vital. Without it, religious communities can be manipulated or forced to cower to authoritarianism. This can lead to violence. For this reason, it is important to consider the precedent of the German Christian movement. Trump’s speech at the convention made many assertions of white supremacy. We must not repeat the past.

It is not love.

It is not the way of Jesus.

And nationalism is not the way of the Church.

Renee Roederer

5 thoughts on “Donald Trump: Make Church Authoritarian Again

  1. Somewhere Dietrich Bonhoffer is turning over in his grave. It was interesting that just prior to that Trump was promising to select Supreme Court Justices who would uphold the Constitution. He then turns around and advocates revocation of part of the First Amendment.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Authoritarian” is a HUGE stretch here. So you think churches in the USA were authoritarian before Johnson’s law? You are a Minister and by writing this story you are expressing something that, according to the IRS, “negatively affects a political candidate.” So what’s to stop the IRS from hunting you down for this story and taking away your church’s tax free status? This is EXACTLY what Trump is trying to protect, your right to write this story and your first amendment writes.

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    1. I am writing as a private citizen. We all have rights to do that, and I’m grateful we do.

      I’m also not the pastor of a congregation. If I were, however, I would not preach against Donald Trump’s candidacy directly from the pulpit, nor would I encourage people to vote for another candidate in the same setting. I could write and speak about those things here or elsewhere.

      Religious leaders and church members have always been permitted to discuss political matters -i.e. broad themes and personal faith convictions – in any setting, including from their pulpits during worship. But they cannot endorse candidates without losing their tax-exempt status.

      Evangelicals and others are free to personally support Donald Trump as a Presidential Candidate, but during his speech at the RNC, he indicated that religious leaders are not free to say enough in their churches. Since he made this statement right after thanking the evangelical community for helping him gain the nomination, I don’t think it is a stretch to assume that he wants religious leaders to be able to endorse his candidacy or advocate for his leadership directly from their pulpits.

      It becomes even more clear when he specifically talked about repealing these laws that were created during LBJ’s tenure. They directly address political endorsements and direct partisan support for candidates inside houses of worship.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m not sure you are correct about that — that this article violates the law. But this article and others like it would be strengthened by a careful enunciation of what the law says and doesn’t say. Nowhere does this article say “vote for Hillary,” or “don’t vote for Trump,” and as I understand it, everything up to that point is allowed. Churches have been commenting on particular aspects of policy for a long time. Incidently, the law which restricts churches from political campaigning also applies to all 501c3 organizations.

      Here is the IRS page which describes the law. https://www.irs.gov/uac/charities-churches-and-politics and here https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organizations/the-restriction-of-political-campaign-intervention-by-section-501-c-3-tax-exempt-organizations

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As you mention, this article doesn’t say “Vote for Clinton” or “Vote for Trump,” but as a private citizen I could say either, including in this article. The issue at hand would involve saying either of these from the pulpit (or their equivalents) in houses of worship. Religious leaders can discuss political issues also. But they can not be partisan in endorsements. Thanks for that link.

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