The Donald Trump Rally in Hickory, NC was far from a “love fest,” but in the midst of violence and chaos, love made itself known.
A thick fog covered the campus of Lenoir-Rhyne University, creating a strange sense of peace on the morning of the rally. A line stretched across campus, people hoping to get in the doors of the small auditorium to see the controversial candidate. Vendors walked alongside the line, “Get your ‘Bomb the Sh** out of ISIS’ buttons!”
Another Methodist minister and I stood in line, trying to mentally prepare for the day of peaceful protesting ahead.
PASTORS AND POLITICS
Since becoming a pastor, I’ve tried to stay knowledgeable about politics, but not to overstep my bounds into the political arena. A general consensus among my clergy friends is that we are to encourage our flock to vote, but not to tell them who to vote for. This year I’ve witnessed nearly all of them wrestle with the legitimacy of this stance.
The divisive and violent rhetoric of Donald Trump has concerned me in a way that silence is no longer an option. Minorities are being vilified by Mr. Trump and are facing horrific violence as a result. My friends fear for their lives because of their religion and the color of their skin. Donald Trump has crossed the line from politics to injustice and standing up for justice is absolutely the job of the minister.
FEAR OF THE OTHER
The New York Times described the danger of Trump’s rhetoric,
“He has a particular habit of saying “you” and “we” as he inveighs against a dangerous “them” or unnamed other — usually outsiders like illegal immigrants (“they’re pouring in”), Syrian migrants (“young, strong men”) and Mexicans.”
Donald Trump seeks to convince the American people that there are populations among us that are less than human. If he can stoke a fear of the other, then he can offer himself as a protector. The societal result is an acceptance of racism and xenophobia that our country has not seen since the 1960’s, and I’m afraid the violence of the 1960’s is not far behind.
The Christ I follow did not fear the others of his society, but welcomed them into intimate relationship. He spent time with prostitutes and tax collectors, he conversed with the Samaritan woman at the well, and he healed the Roman officer’s servant. Christ rejected the norm of fear and demonstrated a radical inclusion of the other. It was with this in mind that I decided to participate in peaceful protest at the Hickory rally, just 45 miles from my community.
I wrote out a small sign that read, “Love Trumps Fear – 1 John 4:18.”
At ten A.M. the doors closed and we realized that we would not be getting inside the rally.
Outside the auditorium, we joined hundreds of protesters from across the state. While we were there for peaceful protest, some were not. Throughout the day, heated arguments broke out between protestors and Trump supporters, some resulting in violence and arrests. One teenage Trump supporter yelled at the protestors, “You will “Feel the Bern” in the incinerators!” Some of the protestors yelled “F*** the police!” A profound passion, fear, and hurt was visible on both sides.
It was a disheartening, but accurate picture of where our society is today. It was quite clear that we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
LUTHERANS OFFER LOVE
Lenoir Rhyne is associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Lutheran Bishop Timothy Marcus Smith of the North Carolina Synod called his clergy to action. Nearly one hundred people of faith showed up with signs proclaiming love over hate.
Ministers in clerical collars sang hymns and freedom songs throughout the day. The presence of clergy seemed to deescalate some of the violence that would have occurred. In the South, you don’t fight in front of your pastor. The clergy tried to place themselves strategically in places to deescalate the violence. It did not appear that they were trying to silence the protesters, but encourage the protests to remain peaceful. One minister was joking with some of the protestors who had previously made violent threats, trying to keep their spirits high and peaceful.