Religion, politics, money, ego, and toxic masculinity make strange bedfellows.
While Donald Trump is borrowing from the Huey Long and George Wallace playbook this election season, segments of the Black church are aiding and abetting this charlatan’s racist campaign by endorsing him.
Comedian Roy Wood Jr. has suggested that these pastors seem unaware that Trump is using them “to convince white voters that he’s not racist so that they feel better about voting for him.”
Artist Michael Harriot says the traditional Black church done up and died.
In a poetic eulogy he wrote: “This once-noble institution that had sturdied the backbone of an entire race, handed down freedom and defeated Jim Crow is now a home for hucksters and charlatans … replete with ATM’s in her lobbies and leaders who drive luxury cars, star in reality shows and live in sprawling mansions.” He added, the church “is survived by the bastard megachurches and 501(c) 3 worship centers,” too many preachers “who have disassociated themselves from social justice, community unity or the fight for Black people.”
Another plausible answer is that the conservative politics of the church—capitalism, respectability politics, homophobia, sexism, the cult of personality, toxic hyper-masculinity, and generations of untreated racial trauma—is propelling this unholy alliance between Donald the Demon and some Black preachers.
The Trump-happy Black clergy and their followers are betraying the activist traditions of the Black church. Like many of these preachers—from Steve Parson to Darrell Scott,to fraud Marc Burns—Trump is pushing a prosperity gospel, which commodifies hope and fear to sell people a dream so that they can ignore and continue to passively accept the ongoing nightmares that our communities face rather than doing the hard radical work of destroying white supremacy.
Earlier this month, Trump showed up at a Black church in Detroit to deliver a prepared 12-minute message to a nearly empty sanctuary that looked more like opening night of a Scott Baio movie than a worship service. Its congregants saw the Trump on the wall and were not going to be played by this devil in sheep’s clothing.
This was reportedly Trump’s very first visit to a Black church—a fact that surprised no one who watched him sway to the music like he was at a Celine Dion concert. Flanked by flunkies Omarosa and former GOP rival Dr. Ben Carson, his discomfort was visible throughout the event. Unlike his usual incendiary racist, sexist, homophobic, Latino and Muslim-hating, fact-allergic rhetoric, The Donald was more subdued than usual. Unlike his stump speeches where he slanders Black folks to his “basket of deplorables,” his tone was one of faux understanding and compassion.
“I fully understand that the African-American community has suffered from discrimination and that there are many wrongs that must still be made right,” he said, adding: “For any who are hurting: Things are going to turn around. Tomorrow will be better.”
A few minutes speaking from the pulpit and swaying to a gospel song doesn’t make up for Trump’s long history of putrid bigotry. This is the unapologetically racist blowhard who was one of the first people to accuse President Obama of being ineligible for the presidency because he wasn’t born in this country. This is the same hypocrite who helped to manage his father’s New York City apartment buildings, which didn’t rent to Blacks or other people of color. The son of a man arrested at a 1927 Ku Klux Klan rally. The pro-cops candidate who calls the Black Lives Matter movement “dangerous” thugs who threaten the police and public safety.” The bully who decried New York’s long overdue settlement with the wrongly convicted Central Park Five as a “disgrace,” and threatened BLM protesters with physical violence. The fool who claimed that the police in bullet-ridden Chicago are afraid to do their jobs and “acting with restraint” in Black communities. The clown who calls us “The Blacks.”
It is no wonder that Trump’s charade, which Salon writer Chauncey DeVega called a “fake Black outreach program,” didn’t do much to improve his support among Black voters. The only invite Donald Trump should receive to a Black church should be for an exorcism.
Despite the reality that the majority of the Black faithful wants nothing to do with Donald Trump and his “Make America Openly White Supremacist Again” campaign, he has been successful in enlisting a handful of Black church leaders to change the narrative, creating the illusion that the Black church stands with him. (The conservative media outlet Breitbart lied and said that polls show Black and Latino support for Trump surging in the last few weeks.) And some Black folks have brought into this media narrative. You see them on social media talking about:“See, this is how the Black church is failing our communities. That’s why folks are leaving in droves.” But there have always been individual Black preachers since slavery who have aided and abetted white supremacy. However, they are not representative of the whole of the Black faithful and their leaders.
Never mind the fact that most Black womanist theologians, Black liberation theologians, Black mystics, and the non-religious who want to free Black Christianity from the clutches of White theology and toxic Black ministers, want nothing to do with Trump.
A weekly visit to every Black church in America isn’t going to change Trump’s policies or his paltry support from people of color. He could enter the stage to Mahalia Jackson, catch the Black holy ghost, speak in tongues, get his orange skin washed “white as snow” by Black Jesus with the dreadlocks and leave to a mix of Andrae Crouch and Kirk Franklin, and he still will get little love from us at the ballot box. Black America likes Donald Trump less than pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, and his 12-minute church performance wasn’t about to change this. The polls tell the truth; they ain’t lying.
Rather than focus on the destructive impact of Trump’s policies, his non-existent support within the Black community, or even widespread opposition from the church, the media continues to conspire with Trump to give attention to Black pastors who publicly supported Trump as if they are representative of anybody but themselves.
Yet, the welcoming of Trump into our sanctuary isn’t surprising or solely indicative of the toxic mix of ego, hyper masculinity, and money. It speaks to our history within this violent nation that has traumatized Black folks to the point where some of our institutions stand on the wrong side of history, in opposition to justice. Trump’s visit to a Black church harkened memories of Dylann Roof entering Charleston’s Mother Emmanuel. Some of our folks welcome in evil, forgive too easily, love in the face of racial hatred and violence, and allow politicians to use our churches as political pawns.
Black Christians need to take the advice from their Bible: “watch and pray” and “stand firm against the schemes of the devil.”
Despite the media platform afforded to several pastors who support Trump, they aren’t the only religious voices in the conversation. Plenty of Black clergy have pushed back—hard—against the possibility of a Trump presidency.
For example, Bishop Corletta Vaughn, who leads the Go Tell It Ministry in Detroit and supports Hillary Clinton said “There is no allegiance between the Black church and the Trump campaign.” She accused him of “flaunting a ticket of unbridled bigotry, sexism, racism and everything that is wrong with America.”
Nevertheless, the mainstream media continues its long tradition of characterizing the Black church as hopelessly homophobic and complicit in the culture of poverty. Despite the media’s attempts to limit these depictions of African-American activism to broad, superficial strokes, to characterize the Black church as stumping for Trump, the truth is far more nuanced and complex.
Rev. Renita Marie Lamkin, itinerant elder and pastor of AME Church in St. Charles, Missouri says, “There is a deeper sense of awareness in the church to the levels of injustice being suffered by black and brown people in the greater St. Louis region. Churches have engaged difficult and uncomfortable conversations about race, complicities in white privilege and participation in white supremacy. The Church has broadened its embrace of the ‘other’ and has begun celebrating the work of those who are in the struggle for justice. Clergy have been more visible and audible in their critique of the racist systems from which much oppression flows.”
And Rev. Jennifer Bailey, founder of the Faith Matters Network, fellow at the Nathan Cummings Foundation and ordinated itinerant elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Nashville, Tennessee, says that, “The Black Lives Matter movement awoke our national consciousness to the persistent system of white supremacy and structural racism that penetrates each of our institutions.”
Most media discussions and portrayals of Black churches focus on the most extreme, attention-getting people on the periphery, who don’t represent the broader Black religious community. It provides a huge platform for people who are actually the periphery and not representative of the broader Black religious community.
So when Donald Trump rolls up into a Black church with a prepared speech that is drastically different than his normal off-the-cuff ramblings in hopes of attracting Black votes in November, we know we’re looking at a trickster who has no moral compass, no conscience and certainly no real interest in helping African-Americans or other people of color.
Regardless of the sound bites he spits or his religious friends, he brings no hope or possibility to our communities. The unholy alliance between these Black leaders and Trump doesn’t change reality: If it walks like a racist, talks like a racist, and proposes racist policies, he is not in our best interest. Whatever crumbs of favors these preachers think they might amass from aligning themselves with him, we will never be nourished spiritually, economically, politically, or socially from Donald Trump. While they devour his crumbs, our broader community remains starving for real change.
As we continue to consider the role of Black clergy and churches in pushing toxic candidates—Trump or Clinton—toward the presidency, we need to stay woke about the true history and potential of our faith institutions. Look no further than Elder Levon Yuille, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Rev. Renita, Marie Lamkin, Rev. William Barber, and Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou. They, and so many others, reveal the possibility and tremendous power within the Black church. They represent a tradition of advocacy and freedom fighting. They use their platform and pulpit to advocate for progress, to repel those who relegate the Black community’s concerns to the trash can of political issues.
We must not get it twisted: Some of these Black pastors can’t be dismissed as tools or full-blown idiots. As one of my friends reminded me, they are shrewd business men and women of intellect hoping that involvement with a conservative leader, even one as egomaniacal as Trump, may help them down the line.
There's a level of political maneuvering going on in some of these churches. These people want to hedge their bets and collect favors and influence in case Trump should win the Presidency. Since they think he has a good chance of winning, they can justify their actions by saying some Black people need to have entree into the halls of power, or hide behind the argument that the Democratic party has failed us. These preachers really think they are doing Black people a service.
On the other hand, there are some folks who are self- loathing, delusional, and truly traumatized congregations out there doing this all as a haphazard way to survive, not realizing that they're pawns in an elaborate ruse.