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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2733

Whither Pluralism in the USA?

By Habib Siddiqui

Pluralism still remains a far cry in the USA where Christian evangelism and conservatism got rejuvenated by the presidency of Donald Trump. More than a quarter of Americans identify themselves as evangelists who see themselves as Jesus Christ’s soldiers for making the USA a Christian nation. Eighty percent of white evangelicals voted for and, by and large, continue to support President Trump.

While such a support from the conservative wing of Christianity may seem like a fundamental contradiction, but to Trump’s faithful supporters, it is Providence at work in human history. They believe in Trump, and like any blind believers, they will not change their allegiance to him no matter what the ‘liberal’ media say about their beloved president.

They also believe that God is making America great again through an imperfect human agent like Trump. They have a very narrow view about the notion of One Nation Under God than what the founding fathers envisioned for this country and are, thus, opposed to an inclusive nation that is respectful of the minorities.

As hinted above, these so-called evangelists have no moral qualms about supporting a president who is known more for debauchery and immorality than anything moral or good. Christian Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell, Jr. has celebrated Trump as a “dream president” and Franklin Graham (Evangelist Billy’s son) said “God’s hand intervened” to elect him. At the 2018 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., several speakers said no President in American history has done as much as this one to promote “religious freedom.” One can only wonder if these Christian preachers and their blind followers have lost moral compass!

I say this because they can’t be oblivious of Trump’s hateful comments about religious and non-white minorities that call America their home, let alone asylum seekers from outside.

How could a faithful Christian be against asylum seekers if he or she has read the Bible? Didn’t Moses flee from Pharaoh’s Egypt to seek asylum in Arabia? (Exodus 2:15) Didn’t Joseph, the carpenter, flee from King Herod’s rule to Egypt with Mary and her infant Jesus? (Matt. 2:13) How do Christian ministers reconcile their lord Jesus Christ who said “Love your enemy” with a President whose policy is to strike back at all critics? Why would people who claim to stand for family values so uncritically support a thrice-married man who according to Ronan Farrow’s reporting for the New Yorker set up complex legal arrangements to cover up multiple affairs throughout his current marriage?

Abuse of religion by morally bankrupt preachers is nothing new in the USA? As noted by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove in a Feb. 2018 article, in the 19th century, when black and white people built a moral movement in America to abolish slavery, plantation owners paid preachers to write theological defenses of white supremacy.

“Human bondage wasn’t only allowable for slaveholder religion. It was reflective of God’s design — a righteous order in society to be preserved at all costs. Slavery went away, but this peculiar American faith did not. Historians refer to the movement to end Reconstruction in the South as “the Redemption movement” because Southern preachers told their people that God was redeeming them from Northern aggression and “Negro rule” when President Rutherford B. Hayes removed federal troops from the South in 1877. By 1896, “separate but equal” was the law of the land. A celebrated preacher of the early 20th century, Thomas Dixon, wrote a bestselling novel glorifying the Ku Klux Klan as champions of morality; by 1915, it was a major motion picture, The Birth of a Nation,” Wilson-Hartgrove wrote.

It is quite obvious that many of the evangelist preachers have not abandoned their slaveholder Christianity and are behind the resurrection of the white supremacist toxic ideology that is responsible for so much of violence from Charleston, USA to Christchurch, New Zealand via neo-fascist-run countries in Europe. As noted by many observers, what binds these killers from Norway to New Zealand is the ‘slaveholder Christianity’ that sees no place for minorities of any kind, esp. Muslims. Many of these bigots have no firsthand knowledge about people of other faiths but only distorted views passed on to them by their hateful preachers.

One would have liked to believe that of all the places, Abraham Lincoln’s America would be the north star to guide others towards a more inclusive world. Apparently, all such hopes and aspirations are proving to be wrong in Trump’s America.

Last week on Monday, in my state of Pennsylvania, a state legislator by the name of Stephanie Borowicz, who won the seat in 2018 “running as a Christian conservative and referencing the Bible often in her campaign” delivered Christian prayer on the floor of the state's General Assembly, injecting several political statements before ending. Republican Speaker Mike Turzai tapped on her elbow as the prayer neared two minutes, signaling it was time to end.

"God, forgive us. Jesus, we've lost sight of you. We've forgotten you, God, in our country. And we're asking you to forgive us, Jesus. That your promise and your word says that if my people who were called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek your face and turn from their wicked ways, that you'll heal our land," Borowicz said as the prayer went into its second half.

In one portion of the prayer, Borowicz began referring to President Donald Trump's policies toward Israel. She continued: "Jesus, you're our only hope. God, I pray for our leaders, Speaker Turzai, Leader (Bryan) Cutler, Gov. (Tom) Wolf, President Trump. Lord, thank you that he stands beside Israel, unequivocally, Lord. Thank you that, Jesus, that we're blessed because we stand by Israel and we ask for the peace of Jerusalem as your word says, God. We ask that we not be overcome by evil and that we overcome evil with good in this land once again."

Many lawmakers found the speech exclusively Christian and insulting to non-Christians, esp. given the fact that for the first time in Pennsylvania history an Afro-American legislator, Democratic Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell was sworn in as the state's first female Muslim lawmaker. She was joined by scores of guests, all there to witness the moment. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Johnson-Harrell strongly criticized the prayer, calling it "disrespectful" and "immature" and saying that it was "meant to be inclusive and to bring everyone together." "We as Republican and Democrat can find many many things to fight about -- prayer should not be one of them," she said, adding that she viewed it as a "political statement."

"I think we need to be very, very clear that everybody in this House matters, whether they're Christian, Muslim or Jew, and that we cannot use those issues to tear each other down," the newly sworn-in lawmaker said. Johnson-Harrell also told reporters that Borowicz "definitely" needs to be censured for her prayer, adding that "we need to be promoting inclusion, not division."

At least two other state Democratic lawmakers called out Borowicz's prayer, with Rep. Jordan Harris calling it hateful and saying she used the moment to "weaponize religion," and Rep. Kevin Boyle saying the prayer "epitomizes religious intolerance."

House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris said, “prayer was weaponized from the speaker’s dais.” Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said he was “horrified” by the invocation, according to The Associated Press.

Philadelphia City Council will consider a resolution condemning a state legislator for a controversial prayer she said when Pennsylvania's first Muslim state representative was sworn in. Councilman Curtis Jones introduced the resolution accusing Clinton County Rep. Stephanie Borowicz of being inappropriate and Islamophobic on the day that Movita Johnson-Harrell took office after winning a special election to represent West Philadelphia. With Harrell's invited guests — 32 of whom were Muslim — in attendance for the swearing in, Borowicz said a prayer invoking Jesus 13 times, saying he is "our only hope," and asking his forgiveness because "we’ve lost sight of you, we’ve forgotten you, God, in our country."

Jones' resolution says the prayer excluded not only Muslims, but all other non-Christian members of the audience. "We just can't sit by and let people just deliberately make people feel uncomfortable and unwelcome," Jones said.

Borowicz has declined to apologize, but other legislators have come to Harrell's side. The legislative black caucus says members were mortified and outraged. Council will vote on Jones' resolution at its next session.

On Saturday, March 30, 2019, during Michael A. Smerconish's program, aired in the CNN TV, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (a Christian conservative policy and lobbying organization based in Washington, D.C.), was brought as a guest to comment about PA-Rep. Borowicz’s prayer. As expected, he supported Borowicz’s views and lied to his teeth to portray a very wrong notion about the world outside. It is worth noting that in 2010, the Family Research Council—under Perkins' leadership—was classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Perkins has also made statements critical of Islam. In 2015, Perkins affirmed the debate over Obama's birth certificate as "legitimate", remarking that it "makes sense" to conclude that Obama was a Muslim. In 2017, Perkins was accused of covering up a 2015 sexual assault by Wesley Goodman, a political candidate the Council for National Policy raised money for. In 2018, Perkins was criticized for defending Donald Trump's behavior, saying he should be given a "Mulligan". It is not difficult to understand why on May 14 2018, he was appointed to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

As noted above, Christian evangelicalism, akin to slaveholder religion, is becoming a serious threat to pluralism and multi-culture in many parts of the western world. But, America’s slaveholder religion is not the only faith in this land. Writing in the 19th century, when slaveholder religion was still taking root in white Americans’ consciousness, Frederick Douglass said, “Between the Christianity of the slaveholder and the Christianity of Christ, I see the widest possible difference.”

To quote Wilson-Hartgrove, “The faith that drove Douglass and thousands of others to risk all in the fight for abolition has also been passed down, one generation to the next, in the American story. Preachers like Sojourner Truth and J.W. Hood rallied the faithful to fight for Reconstruction after the Civil War, just as Social Gospelers were motivated by a moral vision, and the Civil Rights movement was sustained by the preaching of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the freedom songs that flowed out of Southern churches into the streets and jails. This faith is with us still in churches that offer sanctuary to immigrant neighbors facing deportation and in the Moral Movement led by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II.

If slaveholder religion is still with us in the 21st century, the moral force of this other tradition is with us as well. To distinguish between the two is to make clear that people of faith have a choice to make. Faith that props up extremism isn’t the only religion in our public life, but our history makes clear that slaveholder religion will dominate unless people of faith are willing to put our bodies on the line to insist on a better way.”

I pray and hope that Wilson-Hartgrove is right and we have the courage and wisdom to denounce bigotry and intolerance.

- Asian Tribune -

Whither Pluralism in the USA?
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