Why the Church and Its Allies Must Come Together to Fight Oppression Now

By Derek Penwell

In the aftermath of the recent presidential election it is no understatement to say that many people are anxious about what lies ahead. Women and minority groups have understandably begun to organize, so as not to be taken by surprise should they find themselves the targets of harassment, legal intimidation, or violence.

I believe the church has a role to play, along with other religious communities and non-profit justice organizations. As such, I recently reached out to over 200 hundred area clergy, and over 25 different non-profits in the city where I live to gather together, to see how we might offer support to one another as we brace for the worst. Below is the statement I gave about why we need to stand in solidarity with one another now.

In the wake of the presidential election those who are celebrating victory are calling for the country to unify behind the new administration. Such a call for unity, however, rings hollow for many who feel threatened by the aggressively hostile rhetoric of the winning campaign—not to mention the violent acts of some of the President-elect’s supporters. Those threatened by the repeated denigration of women and minority groups rightly wonder how they can be reconciled to the very people who have expressed such antipathy toward their fellow citizens.
But perhaps even more hurtful is the awareness that such large numbers of otherwise good people were willing to overlook the fear and hatred being sown by the candidate and his allies. The feelings of betrayal extend beyond the disappointment at having lost an election to the dawning realization that a significant portion of the country has made peace with the potential victimization of so many of its citizens. Consequently, calls for the country to “come together” sound like a way for those newly empowered to tamp down dissent—a dissent, which is not so much political in nature, as it is moral.
As leaders within the religious and non-profit communities, we’re also aware of the need for unity. However, our belief is that the kind of unity necessary is one predicated on truth and a commitment to the flourishing of all our friends and neighbors, regardless of race, gender, religious affiliation, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender expression, or ability. Moreover, the kind of unity we envision draws its strength not from a desire to consolidate power, but from our deeply rooted values and beliefs about the worth and dignity of all people.
As faith leaders, we can speak pastorally about the fear and dislocation people are experiencing as they anticipate the implications of disquieting policy proposals. We can speak in ways that no one else is capable of speaking about the spiritual nature of our call to protect those who are most vulnerable among us. We are motivated not by any benefit to us, but simply because—across religious traditions—our commitment to caring for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger—which is to say, those who often find themselves alone and without voice—is at the very heart of all of our religious expressions.
As leaders within the non-profit world, we have intimate knowledge of how some of the policies that have been proposed will negatively impact those whom we love and serve. We know the weak points in the system, and where those who will be disadvantaged are most likely to encounter difficulty. And we know that without the concerted effort of all of us who find ourselves at the intersections of justice work, too many people will be left behind, too many will suffer under the boot of oppression.
Whether it is fear of deportation of refugees or the undocumented; or a justice system that disproportionately impacts people of color—leaving them in constant fear of the very authorities charged with protecting them; or the institutionalization of bigotry toward LGBTQ people in housing, employment, and public accommodations; or the coarsening of attitudes toward women that will inevitably continue to underwrite rape culture and an environment hostile to women’s flourishing; or a society that defaults to treating Muslims with suspicion and hatred; or a world in which those with disabilities are systematically disadvantaged—we know what the disastrous possibilities of such a future promise.
But if we come together, if we embrace the unity that finds its strength in our shared commitment to justice for all our neighbors, we can begin to reassure them that they need not live in the fear that they will be abandoned by the very people tasked with advocating on their behalf. And our unity will send a message to those in power that the values and beliefs that bring us meaning and purpose will not allow us to look the other way while our friends and families are torn apart by bigotry and fear.
We’re better than that.