The moral and national danger of a president’s cursing

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a rally with supporters in an arena in Youngstown, Ohio, on July 25, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

(RNS) — As the Republican Party prepared to shut the government down over an extreme anti-immigrant agenda, Trump loyalists went on national television to defend a president who cursed whole nations in a meeting about immigration.

Sen. Lindsey Graham may have been the most forthcoming in his CNN appearance last week. When asked why he could not confirm Trump’s use of the term “shithole” to describe African countries, he replied: “Because I want to make sure that I can keep talking to the president.” 

Americans must learn to see clearly what leaders of African nations have articulated in their response to the president of the United States cursing them and their people. The profanity is not the problem. The real issue is the systemic racism that a prophetic reading of the Bible must always challenge. Policy rooted in white supremacy and attacks on the poor is a curse against the great majority of people created in God’s image. It does not matter how politely it is executed and defended, this cursing must be opposed by public witness.

The Bible is clear that cursing is the act of using political and economic power to hurt poor people and immigrant children. “The wicked in his pride persecutes the poor,” the Psalmist sings in the Bible’s righteous resistance song. “He blesses the greedy and renounces the Lord. … His mouth is full of cursing.”

Theologically, there is a difference between profanity and cursing. To curse is to pronounce harm and back it up with power. When a president writes off whole nations as “shitholes,” he is not simply using salty language. He is advocating harsh immigration policy that would use the most powerful government in the world to enforce discrimination and inequality. 

Every political leader who is accommodating Trump’s vulgar extremism is, biblically speaking, cursing and not blessing this nation.

According to the biblical standard of moral politics, they curse every time they demonize nonwhite people and nations. They curse when they attack immigrant communities with scapegoating, extreme enforcement, and Muslim bans. They curse when they pass tax policy that robs the working poor in order to line the pockets of the greedy. They curse every time they take health care from the sick, and every time they repeat racist lies about “voter fraud” to justify voter suppression. You cannot condemn the hate and vulgarity of this presidency while at the same time championing its policy. The violence of the policy is and will be implemented by a dispassionate bureaucracy. 

As a pastor who tries to remain faithful to a prophetic moral vision, I must shout aloud that the spiritual sickness and moral bankruptcy we are witnessing in Congress and the White House are a damnable shame. In the truest sense, this hypocrisy must be cursed. If the preachers are not willing to curse what is evil, who will?

Even still, the Bible’s curses teach us to trust the judgment of God. “You have seen,” the Psalmist cries to God, “for You observe trouble and grief, to repay it by Your hand.” 

God will judge America for her sins against helpless children who were pitted against young immigrants in an attempt by Republicans to cast a false choice between poor white people’s interests and those of people of color.

Meanwhile, the greatest response to the political cursing of our president and his party is to build a movement that blesses, liberates, and brings truth, love and justice to the world.

This is what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. did until the last day of his life — organizing the black, white, Native and brown people of America who had been cursed by generations of policy violence to join in a Poor People’s Campaign to demand a “moral revolution of values” in America. This is the work that is still needed now: to bless this nation and our world with the vision of a beloved community, united across our historic lines of division, in a movement that reflects the single garment of destiny that is our true identity and our greatest political hope.

(William J. Barber II is pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., and president of Repairers of the Breach. Together with Liz Theoharis, he co-chairs the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.

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William J. Barber II


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  • Blunt talk sometimes is needed to stress a significant issue. And Haiti meets the criteria.

  • But what happens if you get someone who only knows blunt talk. I mean, perhaps he isn’t cable of talking like a normal person.

  • God will judge America for her sins against helpless children who were pitted against young immigrants in an attempt by Republicans to cast a false choice between poor white people’s interests and those of people of color.” I agree with the first 7 words.

    Now I do favor some kind of DACA deal. But check it out — Obama had HIS millions of deportations, Obama had his Family Detention Centers (think kids). NY Times reported, “The Shame of America’s Family Detention Camps.” Barber is silent on Obama.

    But Barber says “God will judge America for her sins.” I agree, though we won’t agree on which sins (or more accurately, which combo platter) God will judge America for.

  • Just a point of clarification. Obama initially closed family detention centers – i but in 2014 in response to ever increasing numbers of illegals reinstated the centers. The NYT articles also concluded with a paragraph about the failure of Congress to pass a bill in 2016 to treat refugees humanely. Doesn’t make reopening the family detention centers morally right.

  • Immigrants fled to America (1700’s) seeking religious freedom from the tyranny of Great Britain. We had to fight against attempts by GB to take over America after we settled here. Americans now declare ourselves to be “One Nation under God” and a sovereign nation of law and order, with “liberty and justice” for all who are here legally.

    As such, we will not be overrun by other countries. Those who wish to live here must follow our immigration process, become Americans, and contribute to our nation.

    Our President denies that he referred to some black countries as “S—H—” countries. Can you prove that he used that expression? Our responsibility is to our U.S. citizens who are here legally. Expect to be deported with your children, if you illegally sneaked over our borders in the dark of night. MAGA!

  • God will judge America for her sins? You really believe that? You believe your God will judge who exactly? All of us as a collective?

  • And what is the significant issue and how is Trump biblically addressing it? Would it help if we said Trump had a shithole mouth? How can Trump talk about Haiti when he knows little about it? How is that living out the faith? So if somebody calls you a shithole, is that what motivates you to change? I don’t think so.

  • Maybe he didn’t say shithole, maybe he just said they were all assholes in those countries. It doesn’t matter, his heart and mind is broken and he is a narcissistic leader whose mouth could get us into trouble, that we could never foresee. Our responsibility is not just to ourselves. It is that, but we don’t live in a vacuum. That is the truth, whether Republicans want to believe it or not.

  • Yes. All of us. If NK launches a surprise nuke on LA, the nuke will NOT give anybody in LA an automatic free pass from radiation damage based on their beliefs.

  • What makes Haiti worthy of such a demeaning epithet–because they have been dumped on by the surrounding powers for centuries–including the US?

  • Dumped on? Give us a break!! $13 billion for earthquake relief and billions more for hurricane relief. Haiti is ill-suited for human habitation. It should be made into a global park with all residents moving to safer venues equally across the Americas et. al.

  • But Trump doesn’t want them to come here. 13 billion is a pittance of the economic boon gained by other nations’ from their past harvest of Haitian resources.

  • Trump flatters himself that he’s blunt, but the truth is he’s dull, insensitive, self-serving and diplomatically tone deaf. Those qualities are unhelpful in any human interaction, but when exhibited by a president they are potentially disastrous.

  • Donald Trump isn’t the first president to use coarse language, but he’s the first in my lifetime (I’m 60) who does it publicly and deliberately to drive wedges between people. Trump lacks the skill for nuanced or inspirational speech, so he settles for being provocative. That’s fine for his base, but the rest of us recognize it as the act of a buffoon and a demagogue.

    Trump is the equivalent of a nightclub comedian who isn’t funny but has learned that he can always get laughs and applause from the drunks in the crowd by throwing in plenty of sexual innuendo and four-letter words.

  • Might want to check the CIA’s World Fact Book for Haiti.

    And resources other than voodoo and vetiver and coffee?

    And then there is that $300 million industrial park we built for them.

    And its population which has doubled since 1965 putting significant stress on resources.

  • I did not vote for him but in these days of NK threats and Muslim terror, he just might be the man for the job.

  • If the job was shilling for professional wrestling, I might agree with you. But the presidency requires much more than this person has to offer. Sadly, the position is his for at least another three years, assuming he doesn’t do something stupid enough to warrant his removal from office.

  • I’ve read many resources, including World Factbook, which gives scant recognition of the political and economic struggles aided and abetted by many nations. My understanding of it still discerns the heavy-handed exploitation of the area from the time of Columbus through the 20th C.

    Regardless, it is not rational to conclude that any human beings, just because they live in an exploited country, whether internally or externally, to be dehumanized in the terms Trump has used.

    It is also odd that a non-theistic humanist would concur with such dehumanization. Oh, well, I guess human compassion does have its limits.

  • Trump is a vulgar, repellent racist. Every day it’s some new disgusting remark or behavior, just when you think he can sink no lower. His grave will be a public pissoir.

  • “I have very simple admonition: just shut the hell up and don’t preach to me about anything ever again,” Steele suggested.

    “After telling me who to love, what to believe, what to do and what not to do and now you sit back and the prostitutes don’t matter, the grabbing the you-know-what doesn’t matter, the outright behavior and lies don’t matter, just shut up!” Steele blasted.

    “They have no voice of authority anymore for me,” Steele concluded.


  • That seems like an odd conclusion given Trump’s lack of impulse control and inability to deescalate situations.