Churches: Trump Bogeys the Whole ‘Open Up’ Thing
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Churches: Trump Bogeys the Whole ‘Open Up’ Thing

The Duffer-in-Chief Makes His Priorities Clear, Choosing the Back Nine Over Pew and Pulpit

Terry H. Schwadron

Terry H. Schwadron

I looked to find which church Donald Trump went to on Sunday, but couldn’t find it because he didn’t go.

Instead, he played golf, as the country approached 100,000 coronavirus deaths. And he spent the rest of the day insulting women on Twitter over their looks including weight and made unsubstantiated charges of murder against commentator Joe Scarborough. You know, he was acting on anything but the Spirit of Godliness and rather in the worship of self.

I have nothing special against playing golf, particularly as a break for this exercise-needy president. But this is the same guy who was demanding that governors open churches immediately because we have too many liquor stores and abortion clinics declared essential, and not enough prayer.  Actually, at this moment, I don’t have much against liquor stores either or abortion clinics – women’s health facilities by whatever name.

This church act was just another cry for outward political support from a friendly evangelical movement.

But I do have a big problem with hypocrisy in public places.

So after all the hullabaloo last week about churches, it turns out that churches around the country also did what they have been doing. They decided one at a time whether they thought it was safe enough to open, to mask congregants or to simply ignore that there is such a thing as coronavirus.

And Trump played golf – like Barack Obama before him – but at what feels exactly the wrong time and after demanding that churches be opened.

So, what the incident has cemented for many of us is that this whole church act was just another cry for outward political support from a friendly evangelical movement.

The Bombast

For all his bombast in invoking fake magical powers to override governors who did not act on the spot to declare churches, synagogues and mosques essential, nothing much happened. Of course, we then saw Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator, take to the podium to remind all that without stepping on Trump’s words that for public safety and public health reasons some parts of the country might be better off looking for conversations with God elsewhere.

And then the governors did what politicians do, and said congregational meetings were fine – so long as they were within prescribed assembly guidelines from the very same federal government – meetings of up to 10 or 25 people in many cities and communities.

And, churches did what they have been doing, either approaching the issue with creativity and caring about congregants and those with whom church members might come into contact after church or opening whether in defiance or joy.

Of course, church leaders have been doing what every organization has been doing – planning for the next step to open – just as small businesses or re-tooled bigger organizations are doing, with public safety in mind. Indeed, churches and other houses of worship already can open legally in more than half the states, but those not holding full in-person sessions say they are planning new seating arrangements and the like. Those that opened were doing things like leaving succeeding pews open or asking people not to stay and mingle after services.

Over the last several weeks, churches in this country and in Europe that opened under protest against rules seen as restrictive have seen some widespread infections and deaths. Leaders of black churches in particular have been vocal in telling congregations to please accept a temporary block of services in light of the disproportionate effects seen on black and brown congregations. New York City’s Mayor Bill DeBlasio has found himself in political hot water for breaking up large assemblies among the city’s Hasidic Jews.

Standing against “religion” when you mean to stand against “crowds” buys political hot water.

The Politics

So once again, we have a straightforward question that Trump has managed to twist into a partisan political battle – but one that apparently does not require his personal attendance in church.

No one doubts that more rural, more white evangelical church groups have been an important part of the Trump base. So, it is logical that he at least appear to be do something on their behalf. But banging the podium in anger against would-be enemy governors to whom he has shuffled the decision-making on how to open society without incurring more infection is no answer here.

He wants factories open and recreational facilities too, as do we all. The issue here is not whether the beach is opened, but about whether we must have thousands of unmasked people ignoring the common sense of physical distancing.

Meanwhile, his actual government, this time through Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has been pursuing a personal campaign to glom onto coronavirus aid monies, meant for public schools and teachers, for Christian parochial schools. DeVos has been quite public about taking credit for doing so, recently using a media interview to underscore her religious school efforts.

Both supporters and critics of Trump see the same thing here, though they may differ about the appropriateness of praying at the Church of Golf in an hour of extreme solemnity.

My plea is for Trump simply to play it straight. We see your actions and expect your words to reflect the same ends.

May 26, 2020