Trump speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland, February 2015/Wikipedia photo by Gage Skidmore

An Interfaith Defense of Donald Trump

By Skyler Oberst

I know what you’re thinking. What?

I couldn’t help but think that perhaps Donald Trump’s remarks were yet another rallying cry for all people upset and fatigued by the growing onslaught of hatred and demagoguery that is now in vogue in some aspects of American life. There is value in Trump’s words: they were proof that we all actually can agree on something— that he’s totally and completely wrong.

If Donald Trump has done anything, it’s awaken millions of people with exactly how quagmired the American psyche truly is. By acting as a lightning rod for political and cultural issues, Trump has proven to be a great litmus test for conservatives and liberals alike. What remains to be seen, however, is whether or not Americans will change more than just the filter on their Facebook profile picture to address Islamophobia in America.

Spokane Islamic Center
Spokane Islamic Center

After staring at my computer screen in disbelief this week after Donald Trump called for barring Muslims’ entry into the United States, I took stock of the current situation. I was on my way to the local mosque in Spokane where the Interfaith Council would be filming the latest installment in our “Meet the Neighbors” campaign, designed to provide a how-to guide on visiting houses of worship around the Inland Northwest. The Mosque in Spokane is surrounded by barbed wire, and has been for years. This project has been months in the making, and I was determined not to let a few sentences and a news cycle or two rip my community apart. Community building takes slow, sustained, intentional action.

The truth is, our local mosque in Spokane has been surrounded by more than just barbed wire for some time. There is a deep-seated movement of anti-Muslim sentiment in my community that has been around long before Trump arrived on the campaign trail. The sad fact is that no one has been taking Islamophobia seriously in my area enough to address it in a meaningful way. There are groups who organize vigils and solidarity rallies, but I think they lack perspective when it comes to what we’re up against. I need only point to a few examples:

During Ramadan this year, “Death to Islam” was written on a prayer space with women and children praying inside. When Spokane City Council commended local Muslim advocacy groups for encouraging the outreach of Muslims’ concerns to community leaders, the meeting was met with armed protesters. Local elected officials actively deny the humanity of Muslims.

William Buckley’s words echo in my head when I think of Trump:

“Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great.”

Perhaps Trump will serve as a wake up call to a party whose platform has been hijacked.

Perhaps Trump will serve as a reminder that we need to get serious about anti-Muslim sentiment in this country.

Perhaps his open distrust of his neighbors will inspire us to reach out to our own, no matter their creed or class or party affiliation.

Perhaps we should all thank Donald Trump.

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  1. Skyler thanks for standing in the gap but don’t forget it’s a gap made up of both conservatives and progressives. The statistics just highlighted in one of the recent SpokaneFavs articles reveals that it’s a “we” problem not a “them” problem. If we use divisive problems to dig deeper moats, we undermine the goal of bridging the gaps. I know you are seeking to be a bridge builder not a barrier builder, so I hope you can expand your critique to include those on both sides of the political and ideological aisle.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Eric. When a “liberal” or “progressive” makes a statement as inflammatory as Donald Trump regarding Muslims, I’ll be sure to speak out about it as well.

      • I’m all for bringing the heat to his comments, i’m no supporter of Trump. My point was to challenge your focus on conservatives when that actual numbers show that the issues he trumps up, are issues some conservatives and progressives agree on.

        “Fewer than half of Protestants — whether they are white or black, evangelical or mainline — say they support U.S. entry for Syrian refugees.”

        Fewer than half, that means, there are many people in the gaps.

        • You’re right. The silent majority of the Republican party has been referenced hither and yon in recent years. But I think that’s sightly off point. Locally, I’ve spent years combatting Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment. And while conservatives are always welcomed (and needed) in this effort, I rarely saw any of them at the Islamic Center. Or at press conferences. Or at solidarity rallies. Just an observation. So, to riff off of a question that I’ve heard some ask of Muslims– where is the moderate conservative voice in condemning Islamophobia? And why does it take someone like Donald Trump to mobilize a response from them?

          • I guess that’s probably more of a reflection of your own friendship circle or Facebook new feed. I hear and read many conservative, moderates who have stood against such things.

            I don’t join up in those public protests, because I can’t support many of the conclusions or public positions being presented that are mixed in with the ones I do. I get lumped into narratives that just are not my narratives.

            So I engage the issues in my personal relationships, work with the public, particularly refugees and write, dialogue and debate and preach/teach.

            This is one of the reasons evangelicals don’t buddy up with the progressives on many things. The demands of partnership by rallying or standing with progressives often end up betraying the ideological or theological beliefs of evangelicals. So it’s a dead end for many. The feigned friendship often comes tearing apart when those disagreements become obvious and the tensions that result, swamp the false sense of camaraderie.

          • I think that’s really insightful– often times, progressives forget other perspectives for sure. Another big critique is that they conflate issues and muddle the message. I’ve turned down invitations and opportunities precisely because of that, so I can see where you’re coming from there…

            But, with respect, if conservative moderates have taken a stand, why haven’t you?

            I don’t want to get too off topic, but help me understand the idea you raise about not participating at all, then. Not standing against anti-Muslim sentiment because of other people’s diversity of opinion on other issues is like refusing to save a life on the other side of the street because you don’t jaywalk, in my opinion. Is it the case that we can’t come together to address social issues like Islamophobia because someone’s opinions on abortion don’t jive with our own? Does that limit the point of building relationships– a keystone to the Christian Gospel?

            It reminds me of a poem the Persian poet Rumi wrote long ago: “Beyond our differences, there is a field. I will meet you there”.

            Leaders are compelled to lead, and sometimes that means taking a stand against hate, no matter who you’re standing next to. You are a leader. The work you’ve done in East Central is important, and needed, to be sure. But we as Christians are always called to do more. I’ll save a spot for you next to me at the “Meet the Neighbors” event in January at the Islamic Center. 🙂

          • I do speak out, I tagged you on the 10+ pro-moderate, refugee, muslim posts I have made recently. on Facebook. The conversations in the comments are supportive in posture. I have preached a number of sermons on the issues at the heart of the conflicts and debates. I have written, debated, dialogued here on this site and with many of the readers. I have lost or am losing and been confronted and confronted my own church members on the issues. I have spoken on the phone this week with a new muslim friend in Iraq, welcomed a long time friend who is a muslim into my church on Sunday. Picked up a historical book to deepen my knowledge on Islam at the rebuke of one of the articles here. I have reached out to my muslim friends online and in person to share my support and friendship with them during these fearful, confusing and hateful times. I have argued, defended and stood with refugees against those who would question, malign or seek to end our work with refugees. Oh and I have prayed.

          • And yet here you are, again, challenging a progressive to be more tolerant and “less divisive” regarding conservatives, while just 2 days ago you refused to issue the same call to Joe regarding conservatives being “less divisive.” At what point are you going to start holding conservatives to anywhere near the same standard you hold progressives?

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