Jeff Sessions’ Christian denomination, the United Methodists, formally censured him six weeks ago. Don’t forget that. This wayward Alabamian, hand-picked by an ungodly White House to lead the Department of Justice, was charged by his church with child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination and the dissemination of false doctrine counter to Methodist teaching.
Separating migrant children from their parents may be morally acceptable in the Era of Trump, but it’s an awful way to show your Christian bonafides.
And yet, Jeff Sessions, a man admonished by his own church, wants to talk to us about religion. The gall of this man. At least President Trump is smart enough not to lecture us on fidelity.
On Monday, the attorney general announced the creation of a “Religious Liberty Task Force” designed to combat “a dangerous movement, undetected by many, (that) is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom,” he said, which “must be confronted and defeated.”
But wait, there is no “dangerous movement” eroding religious freedom in America. That’s preposterous. Instead, it’s addictive catnip for the white, evangelical base of Sessions and Trump’s political party that is recoiling from the reality that America’s future isn’t majority white, and there’s no guarantee that it’s majority Christian. America’s future is a swirl of white and black and brown and assorted ethnic mixtures and a diversity of sexual orientations and religions, all of which are free to exist and thrive. Or were.
The Trump White House, above all else except its addiction to corruption, is a xenophobic embarrassment. Vice President Mike Pence brought a reprehensible record against LGBTQ equality and women’s rights from his days as Indiana’s governor. (Heaven help us if he becomes president.) And, as America’s top law enforcer, Sessions has styled himself as the lone defender against anything that pecks away at white, Christian, conservative America’s ways of old.
Even when Sessions tries to explain the need for a “Religious Liberty Task Force,” his words don’t shroud the true intent. “Americans from a wide variety of backgrounds,” the attorney general said, “are concerned about what this changing cultural climate means for the future of religious liberty in this country.”
It’s America’s “changing cultural climate” that scares Sessions and those who agree with him. It’s the same fear that arose when America finally elected a black man as president. It’s the same fear that tried to derail America’s election of its first Catholic president. And it’s the same fear that causes too many Americans to awkwardly believe a woman shouldn’t be president, or that Muslims shouldn’t hold any office, or that belief in God is a prerequisite for American politics, which it isn’t.
To Sessions, the “future of religious liberty” translates into legal assurance that only certain religions and specific beliefs are free from discrimination. Those who exist outside of the attorney general’s comfort zone — those who embrace religious diversity, LGBTQ equality, women’s right to make decisions about their bodies — aren’t so fortunate. They fall far down on the priority list of a Republican government hell-bent on returning America to a less-inclusive time.
Absent politics, none of this is necessary. Not one bit. For all its diversity and “dangerous” secularism, as Sessions describes it, America remains what it always has been — a nation intertwined with its Christian faith.
Alexis de Tocqueville, the French statesman, famously wrote about it in the 1830s: “In the United States, Christian sects are infinitely diversified … but Christianity itself is an established and irresistible fact.” That was then. Today, even with younger Americans’ declining interest in organized religion, the nation remains largely as de Tocqueville described. That dissolves Sessions’ fearful narrative about America’s endangered religious freedom, but it’s true. By and large, we pray.
Just this week, new data from the Pew Research Center show that more than half of American adults (55 percent) say they pray daily. That’s more than double Canada (25) and the European average (22) and far ahead of Australia (18) and Great Britain (6). What’s more, Pew writes, “The U.S. is the only country out of 102 examined in the study that has higher-than-average levels of both prayer and wealth. In every other country surveyed with a gross domestic product of more than $30,000 per person, fewer than 40 percent of adults say they pray every day.”
Here, then, is what we should pray for.
Protection of the earth.
Fair laws and the removal of barriers that discriminate against the innocent.
The soul of our nation.
Perhaps even Jeff Sessions, this wayward Alabamian, will look skyward and do the same.