Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. People are now kneeling and praying and holding silence for this amount of time and it feels epic and unbearable. It is easy in the midst of that interminable silence to understand how monstrous this act really was.
By contrast, there’s a shorter stretch of time that’s also worth noting: 5 minutes and 41 seconds.
That is the total amount of time we have witnessed the President of the United States appear at religious institutions so far this week. Not in prayer, or in reverence, but as a self serving show. On Monday, Donald Trump awkwardly held a bible while standing outside of a darkened St John’s Church in Washington, D.C. after using a small scale military operation to clear peaceful protesters. It made me sick. (But I’m getting used to the taste of bile in the back of my throat as long as he is president.) Then yesterday he followed that up with what amounts to a drive-by strut on the catwalk at the St John Paul II Shrine with Melania. I agree with Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory that this display was “reprehensible.”
Here’s how it breaks down:
Trump time at St. John Paul II Shrine – 00:03:13
Total Trump time for both photo ops – 00:05:41
Time Derek Chauvin knelt with his full adult body weight on George Floyd’s neck – 00:08:46
Fixing the perversion of religion, the misuse of religion in politics and government, … is the responsibility of the religious, specifically religious leaders.
Religion is not a prop. What people believe and how they believe it is not a political marketing tool. Our constitution provides for freedom of religion, as well as freedom from religion. From a basic ethical standpoint, none of us should be subjected to each other’s beliefs either as bribery or deterrent. The reason freedom from religion was equally important to the framers of the constitution is because, in their time, religion had been weaponized against people as a tool of coercion and oppression. Disestablishment was about preventing the financial dependence of churches on public funds and avoiding an obligatory relationship between the government and one church. The Trump administration seems to have missed this. But then you miss a lot about religion when you only know how to spend five minutes anywhere near a church.
I have written before about the many ways in which fixing white racism is the responsibility of white people. It is a similar situation with religion. Fixing the perversion of religion, the misuse of religion in politics and government, the leveraging, pandering to and otherwise abuse of religion by bad actors is the responsibility of the religious, specifically religious leaders. Religion or lack of religion can and does inform many people’s political decisions, but political action cannot be beholden to any religion or religious ideology. Political policy must make room for people’s different and varied religious beliefs and practices if they have them. More importantly, however, political policy cannot use belief and practice to achieve its end. Nor can policy be inscribed with religious doctrine. Take careful note: Trump also just signed an executive order on Advancing International Religious Freedom. Really, it just piggy backs on existing policies and priorities that the administration has expressed about religious liberty before. But appearances are everything to the Trump administration and to the untrained MAGA eye, he looks like St. Trump the Evangelist (for the last 48 hours, 5 minutes and 41 seconds anyhow.) But what else do you do in an election year when there is a global pandemic, race riots and historic unemployment? You sell more Trump steaks!
Religious/ spiritual/ ethical leaders of all kinds…progressive conservative, pro-choice, pro-life, Orthodox and Atheist must come together in this moment to recognize that all of our ideas about “faith” or “not faith” are being grossly abused and the result will be that we will all loose the right to our freedom of belief. There is no policy agenda that is worth the loss of real liberty that comes from allowing the broad spectrum of faith to be co-opted and misrepresented by someone who only sees religious expression as theater.
We need to bring the curtain down on this show.