People of Faith Must Unite Against Trump’s Hatred

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Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit in New York on May 3, 2010. Shmuly Yanklowitz writes that the fact that Donald Trump’s daughter and son-in-law happened to be Jewish, which was somehow construed to mean that the campaign couldn’t possibly contain elements of base anti-Semitism, became a tired trope. That the Kushners were deigned to become the public representatives of religious Judaism—insulating elements of the campaign that were openly anti-Semitic—was never more than a distraction. Jessica Rinaldi/reuters

Barring some divine intervention, Donald J. Trump will assume the position of the presidency on January 20, 2017.

In the faith community, his ascension as the leader of the free world has been met with myriad responses: from adulation to fear, respect to resistance, solemnity to solace.

He was an individual who for years lacked any overt religiosity, but Trump’s candidacy—now nascent administration—was met with warmth and acceptance from those who align their allegiances with Evangelical Christianity and the religious right.

Allegations of misogyny, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment, if not from the man then from the campaign and its strongest allies, were met with accolades rather than pause.

Though many progressive religious leaders, myself included, are undoubtedly pondering the new realities of an America under the purview of a Trump Administration, the new question that should linger on our lips is a hopeful one: how are we to move forward the Divine agenda of protecting the vulnerable and giving voice to the voiceless?

Related: Trump has unleashed a wave of anti-Semitic hatred

As a man of deep faith myself, a social justice activist and an Orthodox rabbi, I found the steady support of Trump’s ideological extremes by conservative religious communities as shocking, bordering on morally repugnant.

How could those who claim to defend and spread the teachings of a beautiful, ethical light associate themselves with such darkness? Isn’t religion about humility and not arrogance? About defending the powerless and not blindly supporting the most powerful?

Indeed, the rampant proliferation of hate crime incidents and acts of violence directed toward minorities has finally revealed that all talk of a supposed post-racial America (a fanciful media concoction, at best) was for naught. It has been not only distressing but saddening.

The lack of spiritual will is not limited to my friends and confederates in the conservative Christian community. I must admit that, as an Orthodox rabbi, I have felt a modicum of embarrassment by the actions of some of my colleagues in the rabbinate who turned a blind-eye to the malingering ultra-nationalism that targeted other minority groups.

The actions by the Zionist Organization of America, for example, to allow a platform for someone as questionable as Steve Bannon to present himself as a friend of Israel was a reprehensible action. They, and the Jews they claim to represent, should be ashamed.

While the high majority of the Jewish community aligns itself with minorities at risk, a significant portion of Orthodox Jews came to identify themselves with a restless and woefully self-victimized white establishment—the dubious coalition that metastasized as the alt-right—rather than with communities who live every day with unceasing, existential dread.

That Trump’s daughter and son-in-law happened to be Jewish, which was somehow construed to mean that the campaign couldn’t possibly contain elements of base anti-Semitism, became a tired trope. That the Kushners were deigned to become the public representatives of religious Judaism—insulating elements of the campaign that were openly anti-Semitic—was never more than a distraction.

This isn’t merely a jeremiad. Such rebukes of normative decency go beyond my denomination or religion. If the election has displayed anything, it is that faiths throughout America writ-large are moving toward the realms of exclusivity and parochialism at the expense of open-heartedness and munificence.

Social justice advocates often become alienated in traditional faith communities and leave those communities to express their righteous indignation via secular avenues. Religion becomes devoid of meaning and irrelevant, indeed a hindrance, to societal progress.

In the weeks since the election, the time for lamentation has proven to be premature. Now is the precise and opportune time for people of strong faith to rethink the nature of our spiritual power.

To borrow a phrase from Reverend Dr. William J. Barber of the Moral Monday Movement, now is the time to call for “moral statesmanship” while rejecting “buffoonery and gamesmanship” that claims to represent the interest of all Americans.  

It is time to reaffirm shared ideologies and build bold new bridges. We are here to affirm that there is no future for the hate-filled religion of exclusivism. The youth will not follow. Nor should we stand for it.

It is a time to de-emphasize dogmas that create barriers to outsiders. It is time to resist the urge to build the walls that reinforce the primitive nature of tribal mentality. We cannot turn back the clocks on all the societal advancements of recent decades nor can we harden the hearts of our youth who remain hopeful of a new, more fair and inclusive future.

Listening to one another, going beyond the confines of the spaces where we feel most secure, that is the path towards righteousness. As Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “The problem to be faced is: how to combine loyalty to one's own tradition with reverence for different traditions.”

Thus, the answers to our moral quandaries in the years ahead lie in the need for a pluralistic renaissance of faiths coming together.

How do we build this new vision? I believe this starts internally and proceeds outwards. In the weeks since the election, I’ve gone out of my comfort zone to march and attend rallies for allies that aren’t typical for an Orthodox rabbi.

I’ve pledged my support of the Trans community, marched for better wages and relief from barbaric, family-breaking deportations. I’ve visited inmates in an immigration border detention center, hosted Syrian refugees at my home for Thanksgiving and have started to build a network of likeminded community allies to go out and advocate for the most vulnerable in society.

We don’t have to water down our faiths to embrace the ideal of epistemic humility. We need not dismiss our most central truths in order to leave room for the truths of others.

Leaders of faith are the temporal support of an eternal enterprise. The willingness to go along with such discernible shortcomings of not only temperament but ideas antithetical to the spiritual teachings of the prophets was disturbing.

But then again, as religion professor Randall Balmer, wrote in The Washington Post earlier this year regarding Trump’s appeal to conservative religious voters: “The religious right was never about the advancement of biblical values.”  

During the campaign, I often thought of the line from Leviticus that prohibits hatred of the stranger. As xenophobia seemed to creep across the electorate, more and more did I turn to this passage as a guidepost for consolation and wisdom:

“And if a stranger sojourn with you in your land, you shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwells with you shall be as one born among you, and you shall love him as thyself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: ‘I am the Lord your God.’”

It would be good for the president-elect and those that supported him to reflect deeply on the implications of their votes. “What begins in a word, ends in a deed,” as Heschel said. We are all counting on it.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the president and dean of the Valley Beit Midrash, the founder and president of Uri L’Tzedek, the founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of 10 books on Jewish ethics. The Daily Beast named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America and the Forward named him one of the 50 most influential Jews.

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