Post Election: Can Divided Religious Leaders Heal A Divided Nation?

Nov 11, 2016
Originally published on November 11, 2016 8:06 am
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President Obama has said unity is important for the nation and set an example yesterday by welcoming Donald Trump to the White House. As protesters have demonstrated this week, it's still hard for many people. Some Americans may seek unity in church, but faith leaders are divided, too. Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: After insulting his opponents endlessly and offending ethnic and religious groups, a President Donald Trump could have a hard time uniting the country on his own. In the end, America may have to unify itself, led by institutions for which the work of reconciliation is a core calling, like churches. The United States is still one of the most religious countries in the world.

The problem is the faith community these days is, itself, divided. On one side or the white evangelicals, 80 percent of whom supported Trump, according to exit polls. Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham's daughter, prayed that Trump would be elected, and she now looks to God to heal the country.

ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ: God has heard our prayer. He's answered our pray because God loves America. I know that he does. And as Mr. Trump governs in accordance with the values and principles that made this nation great, then God will bless America, and that's good for everybody.

GJELTEN: On the other side are those liberal Christians for whom opposition to Trump was an article of faith. They believe God is on their side. About two dozen of them prayed together over the phone on the night after the election, and some of their prayers had a pretty political tone.

JIM WALLIS: Lord have mercy.

GJELTEN: Here's Jim Wallis, founder of the Sojourners Christian community.

WALLIS: We ask you, Lord, to replace the white-identity politics that dominated this election with a faith-identity politics, which is our only faithful future.

GJELTEN: It can be argued that pro-Trump conservative Christians, with their narrow focus on abortion and marriage issues, neglect other parts of the gospel message, like the importance of tending to the poor and the foreigner. But another argument is that liberals have unnecessarily alienated conservatives by dismissing their anxiety about growing secularism in American culture.

Russell Moore, who heads the Ethics and Religious Liberty program for the Southern Baptist Convention, thinks politics has become too elevated in the nation's life. He was a critic of Donald Trump's candidacy, but his concern in this post-election period is that politics has, itself, become almost a religion.

RUSSELL MOORE: Politics can't be that. And so I think what we're going to have to have right now is a cultural renewal that is rooted in something far greater than - than politics and ideology and arguments on cable news.

GJELTEN: Faith leaders, he says, need to offer a moral compass on a whole spectrum of issues from the abortion and divorce culture to racism in order to help the nation regain its footing. No disagreement there from Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, who presides over Roman Catholic parishes in western Pennsylvania, where Donald Trump ran strong. Zubik says he witnessed the ugliness this campaign season. And in the coming weeks, he wants Christians to reconsider their neighbors and try to see in them the person of Jesus.

DAVID ZUBIK: Guess who's going to be looking at me across the table or who's going to be riding with me on the bus or who's going to be the person who's driving in the next lane next to me. And I think if we start looking for the person of Christ in others, then maybe that can be the first step to healing for a nation that has become so severely divided over so many things.

GJELTEN: Increasingly, those other people will be non-white. They may be of another religion or no religion at all. Some will be immigrants. Some will be liberals. Some will be Trump supporters. They're likely to need help dealing with their differences. And this country's religious leaders could have an especially important role to play. Tom Gjelten, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.