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The moral and national danger of a president’s cursing

When a president writes off whole nations as 'shitholes,' he is not simply using salty language. He is using the most powerful government in the world to enforce discrimination and inequality. And every political leader who supports him is, biblically speaking, cursing this nation.

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.