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Trump, prayer and the faithful voter’s gut check

As President Donald Trump addresses the National Prayer Breakfast, faithful voters across America are facing a values gut check, one that puts the president’s platitudes and inhumane policies into stark relief, writes Eva Kendrick.

President Donald Trump speaks at the 68th annual National Prayer Breakfast, at the Washington Hilton, on Feb. 6, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

(RNS) — “I never talk about politics with really anyone, but today I had to say something,” read a message from my relative, sent last week as President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial further devolved into a partisan split about hearing from witnesses. This relative, a woman of devout faith from the Deep South, had hit her limit. And she’s not alone.

As Trump addresses the 68th annual National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday (Feb. 6) — the one public event held each year by the high-powered religious and political organization The Fellowship — faithful voters across America are facing a values gut check, one that puts the president’s platitudes and inhumane policies into stark relief.

As a person of faith and the daughter, granddaughter and relative of more than 10 evangelical Baptist and Methodist ministers in Alabama and Georgia, I believe in the transformational power of prayer and hope the president does as well. Unlike Trump, however, I believe prayers for a better nation must be accompanied by moral policies, and that requires new leadership in the White House.

During his 2019 National Prayer Breakfast address, Trump called for “a future where every child has a warm, safe and loving home,” while continuing to allow U.S. Customs and Border Protection to tear children away from their parents along our southern border. He committed his administration to “speaking out against religious persecution … including against religious minorities,” while the same administration made plans to expand the Muslim ban. Trump spoke of “protecting the dignity and worth of every person,” while continually name-calling and belittling anyone who challenges or crosses him. He gave thanks for the “majesty of creation,” while ruthlessly rolling back environmental protections and denying the urgency of climate action. And finally, he prayed for the “courage to pursue justice and the wisdom to forge peace,” all while abusing his public office for personal political gain.

The 2020 election is a struggle for the values that will shape our nation’s future. Our team at Faith in Public Life Action Fund is committed to amplifying the voices of people of faith — driven by the values of community, equality, justice and love of neighbor — to the forefront of state and federal policy and electoral change this year. We believe it is possible to mobilize and grow a multifaith movement — we already have nearly 50,000 people of faith willing to get out the vote for progressive candidates and advocate for policy change that upholds justice, compassion and dignity for all values Trump prayed for last year but couldn’t seem to live into.

We know these faithful voters will make the difference this November, from Florida to Wisconsin and every state in between. We must tap into how faith shapes culture to persuade voters throughout the Rust Belt and to engage new and sporadic voters to expand the electorate in the South. Both online and in person, we must challenge the talking points of the religious right and highlight the ways the Trump administration policies deeply contradict the values of nearly every faith community in the United States.

I’ve spent my career studying faith-based activists in social movements and faith organizing in Alabama to defeat anti-LGBTQ legislation, pass nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Alabamians and elect pro-equality candidates up and down the ballot. In that work, I would often ask a room — filled with anyone from legislators to pastors — to raise their hands if they know and love someone who is LGBTQ. Most of the time, every hand in the room went up, and folks looked around, surprised and encouraged, to find they were not the only ones.

That’s what I believe the work of faith-based organizations countering the lies of the Trump administration and religious right will do for faithful voters like my relative — voters looking to make the moral choice on Election Day — who need to know they are not alone in their conflict and frustration. And more importantly, that they are collectively capable of real and dramatic impact on Nov. 3.

(Eva Kendrick serves as political director with Faith in Public Life Action Fund, where she builds and executes electoral and policy campaigns. Before joining Faith in Public Life Action Fund, Kendrick served as Alabama state director with the Human Rights Campaign. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)