I sometimes wonder if Donald Trump wakes up each morning asking himself: What fire can I throw gasoline on today? (*Image by Joe Ravi, Creative Commons license CC-BY-SA 3.0.)
Today, the answer was churches, which going into Memorial Day Weekend, was guaranteed to produce an explosion. And as I write this, the news isn’t just reporting on this explosion, it’s wallowing in it.
In case you were offline, what Trump did was decree that churches are “essential places that provide essential services,” and must be allowed to reopen “right now.” If any governor didn’t concur, he added, he would “override” them.
It was a classic Trumpian move, which also overrode a paper published only two days earlier in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report highlighting the ease with which church services can spread the virus.
Much of the reaction has focused on whether Trump has the authority to override governors, or how, failing such authority, he can bend them to his will.
But the fact is that Trump is again playing the media–and the country–by watering seeds of division he hopes will carry him to reelection. And, as always, we fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.
I don’t know everything that will happen this weekend, but I’m sure of two things: (a) the news will be full of packed houses of worship defying their states’ rules; and (b) most people of faith—Jewish, Christian, or Muslim—will continue to stay at home.
I myself am a Presbyterian elder. My church has no intention of reopening this weekend. Our view is that the best way to serve Christ is to be patient, “deny the self,” and love our neighbors. And, for those not from my faith tradition, denying the self simply means “don’t be selfish.”
I heard the same on CNN tonight from Chris Cuomo, a practicing Catholic. The American Muslim community has reacted equally strongly, as, I’m sure, have a lot of synagogues. To the vast majority of people of faith, this is a no-brainer.
There will, of course, be congregations who react differently, some out of their own unique theologies and some because they have wedded their religion to Trump. That’s a topic for another post. All I’ll say at the moment is that as far back as 1,900 years ago, the Apostle Paul was railing against similar things. As a friend of mine likes to say in other contexts, “why are people so…peoply?” My only answer is “because they always have been.”
Meanwhile, we continue to fall for Trump’s efforts to divide us. This time it was a (largely false) dichotomy between people of faith and everyone else.
What will it be next time?