By Rabbi Marc Howard Wilson
Compared with the bellicose religious right, we moderate and liberal clergy have been conspicuously silent about a presidential campaign that bodes of horrific consequences to beloved American values.
I doubt that it is due to a lack of social conscience. I know that a vast number of my colleagues are mortified by the nefarious plans Donald Trump has for his new reich. So why the paucity of serious exhortation from the pulpit?
Perhaps my colleagues are a little gun-shy. Pastors have every reason to be gun-shy, myself included. It is not for fear of recrimination, but from consciences that are tongue-tied by what to say and do.
At worst, it is Goldilocks redux: Say something too tepid and you have abrogated your divine calling. You have become just an acolyte dispensing bromides. But if you bluster with anger-charged denunciations, you are no longer G-d’s emissary, just a blunderbuss, another pundit, and probably not a particularly good one.
Is it possible to fuse the two bowls and create the “just right” bowl? The answer goes to the essence of G-d’s calling to ministry. We who are moved to pursue a life as G-d’s emissary must discover a new vocabulary for mind, soul and mouth. Ours is to preach compellingly of G-d’s virtues and how they apply to life’s path.
If exemplars are called for, we must pick them from Scripture, or at least from current social-political trends — to carefully critique, for example, the skewed values that underlie the vision of Mr. Trump and his throng.
But from the pulpit perhaps his name should never be denounced or even mentioned. If we denounce, we denounce the disease and not its symptoms. People will figure out the rest, or they will have their noses rubbed in it via Fox or MSNBC.
I was once called to preach at Martin Luther King’s home church, Ebenezer Baptist. I was certainly honored.
I prepared my text carefully, one that was in my imagination molded to this middle-class African-American congregation. But the moment I entered the sanctuary, bang! I was whacked upside the head by the realization that in a few minutes I would be standing in the footsteps of Dr. King.
So how much more momentous was the occasion? How carefully must I choose my words and express my passion to be a tribute to MLK’s prophetic legacy? What does it mean to stand in the place from which he once preached — visionary, compelling.
Daddy King once told me, “Martin said that you must preach from your head, your heart and your muscle.” What a challenge.
But think about it. Pastors, wake up and realize that when you ascend the pulpit, you too are standing in the footsteps of luminaries even greater than Dr. King. Visionaries such as Moses, Deborah, Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jesus, Paul and the disciples — all superstars of spirit, faith and divine wisdom. All dug in and left their footsteps precisely where we are now standing.
Their teachings endure. Their personae endure. Role models. Moral exemplars and compasses.
Well, what about anger? We must be angry at the sin, not the sinner.
Please use only cautious denunciation, leaving the slurs and innuendoes for Rush, Sean, Bill, Ann and the rest of the trash talkers. Let them wallow in their muck, as we of divine calling resist the temptation and ascend the pulpit always mindful of whose footsteps we occupy on the way to a higher calling.
We must be the voice of divine ideals to conjure the best from our flock and to encourage neither indifference nor another spate of ugliness on Facebook.
We are facing tough times, and they may get even worse. But we of the cloth must serve a unique role, nothing less than G-d’s emissaries on Earth.
Rabbi Wilson is a community organizer, former spiritual leader of Congregation Shearith Israel, and founder/director of MeetingPoint, an interfaith opportunity to build the beloved community.