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2 faith leaders on Trump, racism and toning down incendiary rhetoric

In times of division, people often turn to faith leaders for guidance and support. Jeffrey Brown spoke to two such leaders, Rev. Mariann Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, and Richard Land, president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, about navigating the current landscape of polarized national politics, what they think of President Trump's rhetoric and how to promote unity.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    In times of division, people often turn to faith leaders for guidance. Jeff Brown spoke to two such leaders about how they see their roles in the current landscape of polarized politics.

  • Jeff Brown:

    Some faith leaders have been long-time forces in national politics and a number of evangelical leaders have been vocal supporters of the current administration. Others tend to seek out what they consider key moments.

    Late last month, leaders at the Washington National Cathedral released a very direct public message labeled "A Response to the President". It reads in part: As faith leaders, we serve at Washington National Cathedral, the sacred space where America gathers at moments of national significance, we feel compelled to ask: after two years of President Trump's words and actions, when will Americans have enough?

    One of its authors joins us now, Bishop Mariann Budde leads the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. Also with us to talk about the role of faith leaders in this political climate, Richard Land, president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary.

    Welcome to both of you.

    Let me start with you, Bishop Budde, why did you decide to speak out and why now?

  • Mariann Edgar Budde:

    The country has become accustomed to waking up each day to a daily barrage of communication from President Trump via social media, often abusive, slanderous and dishonest. These last few weeks, however, we felt that he had crossed a threshold of rhetoric that had become dangerously racialized. First with his insults to the four women from the House of Representatives, insinuating they did not belong in this country, and second with his critique of Representative Cummings, spreading his attacks to the entire district of Baltimore that he represents.

    We wanted to say two things. First, that this level of — this low level of political discourse need not be our normal for America, and second, that the president's words matter, and words such as the ones I cited have dangerous potential to encourage others, both to speak and then to act with condoned violence. That's why we spoke.

  • Jeff Brown:

    Richard Land, you have supported the president on many policies. Do you distinguish the policies from what Bishop Budde is referring to as a dangerous rhetoric?

  • Richard Land:

    Yes. You know, if you look at the polling, 8 2 percent of white evangelicals voted for President Trump, but if you talk to them, I would include myself among them, probably 80 percent of that, 82 percent, were not voting so much for the president as they were voting against Mrs. Clinton and against Mrs. Clinton's policies.

    And I think that distinction is made. In fact, I have told the president that he was my last choice in the primary. I wince when I read the tweets. I have said, I wish that his Twitter had a clutch and an editor.

  • Jeff Brown:

    You wince, but Bishop Budde is calling for something much stronger. I mean, why not speak out about the implications or impact of such statements?

  • Richard Land:

    I disagree with a lot of the interpretations of Reverend Budde. I think at this particular time, we need to be as religious leaders not so much accusing people of racism or xenophobia as seeking to talk to each other, not at each other, and not in an accusatory ways, and seeking to lower the temperature and lower the rhetoric.

    I have condemned racism my whole life, and by the way, I'm old enough that I have known real racists, and I know Donald Trump — and he's not a racist.

  • Jeff Brown:

    Bishop Budde, what's your response? Is there not a tension in choosing to speak out and take sides at a time when another alternative would be to speak in a way, as Richard Land suggests, to try to bring people together, to lower the temperature?

  • Mariann Edgar Budde:

    First of all, I would say the president of late and indeed throughout his presidency has done almost everything in his power to divide the country. And while I understand and agree with Reverend Land that we need to be talking respectfully with each other, in a sense, I feel as a white American Christian leader that it's my responsibility and the responsibility of others to acknowledge the damage that has been done and not just with the rhetoric, but with the policies themselves.

    You see the rise of white supremacist groups who have complete freedom in their own mind to do what they say because of the president's actions, and for him to come out afterward and to say that he does not condone hatred is — it rings more than hallow.

  • Jeff Brown:

    Let me let Richard Land come in, because it is true, Dr. Land, that you have never been shy about speaking out about policies. So, why make this distinction between speaking out forcefully on policies that you believe in, but not speaking out and suggesting we should tamp down when it's a question of rhetoric that, as we just heard, can have real implications?

  • Richard Land:

    Well, I said — I said that people should tamp down the rhetoric on all sides, and by the way, I hold religious leaders to a higher standard than I hold political leaders. And I think religious leaders need to tamp down the language.

    And the implication that people who support Trump are racist. That's — that is dangerous. It's inaccurate. And it's McCarthyism in reverse.

    It's projection of McCarthyism to say, if you support Donald Trump and you support his policies, then you're being a racist. That you're — it's implied that you're a racist. That's simply not true, and I would hope the people who are saying it know that it's not true.

  • Mariann Edgar Budde:

    Well, I would like to — may I say something?

  • Richard Land:

    I support Donald Trump primarily because he has been pro-life.

  • Jeff Brown:

    All right. Bishop Budde?

  • Mariann Edgar Budde:

    I think there is a real distinction between calling someone a racist, which is a personal viewpoint vis-a-vis another person, and acknowledging that we have systematic racism in this country that works against and keeps certain people out of the benefits that others have.

  • Jeff Brown:

    All right.

  • Mariann Edgar Budde:

    And so, I am not calling the president personally racist, but I would say that his policies and actions contribute to the systematic racism of this country.

  • Jeff Brown:

    All right. I started with you, Bishop Budde.

    So, Richard Land, the last word?

  • Richard Land:

    Well, I would say, first of all, yes, we have racism in this country, but we're a lot better than we were. And in terms of so-called racist policies, the black unemployment rate is lower than it's ever been. The Hispanic unemployment rate is lower than it's ever been. The president is doing enterprise zones in inner cities, and he's done prison reform.

  • Jeff Brown:

    All right. Richard Land and Bishop Mariann Budde, thank you both very much.

  • Richard Land:

    Thank you.

  • Mariann Edgar Budde:

    Thank you both. Thank you.

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