Religion often claims to be the moral compass of a society. But when religious leaders take political sides, rather than moral, the people are left with a compass that points in two different directions.
Leaders of multiple faiths convened on the 54th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. Rev. Al Sharpton organized the march which was attended by nearly 3,000 ministers from various religions. Sharpton organized the march in an effort to provide a unified moral rebuke to the Trump presidency.
While Sharpton’s march was occurring, a group of evangelical Christians convened a few blocks away at the National Press Club, The Washington Post reports. In the last election, 80 percent of evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump.
Both groups met to discuss how to confront racism and bigotry in America, and while the goals of their demonstrations were the same, their division over whether to support the president or not shows a dangerous entanglement of partisan politics with religion.
Our country is supposed to have separation between church and state, and we do — legally. But in America, the tradition of institutionalized religion affecting politics is a long-standing one. In fact, Pew Research Center found half of Americans would be less likely to vote for an atheist for president.
The entanglement of politics with religion is currently a reality, but perhaps it’s worth setting that debate aside in light of a more startling fact — many of the leaders of the group of evangelical Christians at the National Press Club serve on Trump’s informal evangelical advisory board. They used words like “hypocrisy” to describe their feelings toward Sharpton and his marchers, who, they believe, aren’t making enough an effort to work with Trump to improve race relations.
The decision to convene as two separate groups demonstrates that partisan politics today divide even those who believe in similar moralities. The battle to be fought on the anniversary of Dr. King’s speech should have been one of morals, the kind that are important for far more than four years. Instead, Monday in Washington, D.C., represented that loyalty to the president today can supercede religion’s potential to unite people beyond political parties.
But Monday in Pittsburgh told a different story. Religious leaders from a multitude of different faiths came together at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill to reemphasize Dr. King’s words from 54 years ago that still ring true today. More than 160 religious leaders signed a statement denouncing racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and white supremacy. The statement never once mentioned the divisive force that is our president.
Pittsburgh’s event shows that cooperation, despite party division, truly can happen. In Washington, D.C., two opposing coalitions — fighting for the same thing — were divided by Trump. And for religious groups especially, party politics should be of little importance.
Religious leaders should use their positions as representatives of diverse peoples to move out of the fray of partisan politics and demonstrate that unification in the face of moral adversity is, in fact, possible.