Wednesday, March 16, 2016

When Trump Came to Town

Depending on your mood this week, you may need some uplifting news.  Let me offer the story of Trump at the Lutheran, liberal arts college on Monday.

From the Bishop of the NC Synod (written Tuesday and posted to Facebook):

Allow me to catch you up on Trump's visit to Lenoir-Rhyne (ELCA) University in Hickory, NC yesterday. We had about 100 clergy and at least that many more lay people from as far away as Atlanta and Nashville who came to join us. It was less a "protest," really not a protest at all, and more of a "demonstration," a demonstration of the love and peace of Christ. 
There were about 5,000 people lined up to get into the auditorium which seats only 1400, and Trump was almost 2 hours late due to fog. In addition to ELCA groups, there were groups of students (it was spring break on campus), a faculty demonstration group, a Latino group waving Mexican flags, and a large African American group that for unknown reasons was denied entrance to the auditorium even though they had tickets. The Lutheran group, by choice, did not try to go inside the rally.

Because we got there about 8 a.m. and Trump didn't speak until almost noon, there was a 4-hour period with thousands of people standing together. The Lutherans sang hymns constantly, and at one point when one group of protesters and a pod of Trump supporters started screaming, shouting obscenities, and making obscene gestures and finally rushing toward each other, spontaneously the Lutheran clergy linked arms and got between the screaming groups and sang "Jesus Loves Me...second verse, "Jesus loves you." It was a sight to behold. Clearly, our presence, at least in that moment, kept things civil. One reporter near me who was running with a camera to film the altercation was clearly disappointed. Thwarted violence and "Jesus Loves Me" are not news. I'm pretty sure she was miffed that we had spoiled her "scoop" sensationalist story.

There are, understandably and justifiably in a "separation of church and state" perspective, many who are upset with me for speaking out. So why did I do this? Given that on Friday it was announced that he was coming, a done deal, and L-R is our synod's affiliated institution, suddenly ignoring the event or the candidate's controversial platform didn't seem an option to me any longer, or at least the less desirable of the options. To say nothing would have been interpreted by the public as assent to Trump's candidacy or, even worse, endorsement. (This is what happened at Liberty University when Trump attended and Falwell, Jr. endorsed him.)

My initial FB post, which surprisingly went viral with over 1500 shares, was admittedly more scathing and personally attacking of the person than befits this office, and for that I apologized both in my second FB post and at the event Monday. I also invited people who wanted to "protest" at L-R to join me not in attacking a candidate or even a platform but in lifting up the values that we believe are the core values of living as disciples of Jesus in response to God's grace: peace, love, justice, welcoming the stranger, non-violence, and so on. That is what we did.

At the end, we gathered in Grace Chapel for worship, prayer, laying at the foot
 of the cross the deep polarizations that seem to have a grip on our country, our culture, and our church. We prayed that we might be vessels of the values to which the Gospel calls us: that same peace, love, justice, welcome. I was extremely moved by the number of people who came and how they provided a peaceful, calming witness to the love of Jesus to and for all."

--End of Bishop's Facebook post--

Go here to read an account from a local newspaper.

A great blog post is here; another one is here.

On this day, on every day, it's good to remember that love can conquer the forces of darkness.  We have seen it with our own eyes.

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