Declaring a Theological State of Emergency: Trump’s Ignorance Must Not Be Ours by Mary E. Hunt

Mary HuntOn CNN’s State of the Union, Donald Trump reiterated his call to bar Muslim immigration to the U.S. and predicted that his fellow presidential candidates would soon come around to his position.

This prompts me to  declare a theological state of emergency. And I urge religious first responders to step forward.

His anti-Muslim rhetoric has caused Muslims to fear for their lives and well being—and it runs counter to the American Constitution on matters religious, although that does not seem to deter its adherents.

Because the content of these statements is focused on a specific world religion, I believe that scholars and activists of many religions need to step forward in concrete, educational ways.

Theologians must be among the first responders on this one. And we need to start at the beginning since Mr. Trump’s ignorance of the Muslim faith mirrors that of many Americans. “Islam” has become a code word for terrorism. In fact, it is the name of a monotheistic faith tradition based on the Qur’an which is practiced by more than 1.6 billion people, nearly a quarter of the world. Its practitioners are referred to as Muslims.

So our popular pedagogy must begin in order to right the wrongs of misinformation and demagoguery. Just as Christianity and Judaism have many expressions, so too with Islam. It is for Muslims to sort out their internal matters—but it is incumbent on global citizens to inform ourselves so as not to be cowed by the likes of Trump.

For example, a group of Muslims, including feminist journalist Asra Nomani, is calling for a new movement:

“We are Muslims who live in the 21st century. We stand for a respectful, merciful and inclusive interpretation of Islam. We are in a battle for the soul of Islam, and an Islamic renewal must defeat the ideology of Islamism, or politicized Islam, which seeks to create Islamic states, as well as an Islamic caliphate. We seek to reclaim the progressive spirit with which Islam was born in the 7th century to fast forward it into the 21st century. We support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by United Nations member states in 1948.

We reject interpretations of Islam that call for any violence, social injustice and politicized Islam. Facing the threat of terrorism, intolerance, and social injustice in the name of Islam, we have reflected on how we can transform our communities based on three principles: peace, human rights and secular governance. We are announcing today the formation of an international initiative: the Muslim Reform Movement.”

Do Mr. Trump and the sector of the American public that agrees with him have any such information? I doubt it. Nor do they apparently have much experience with Muslim neighbors who live and work peacefully in virtually every part of the country.

Ignorance of religion is an acute problem in the United States. We have a lack of basic education about religion. Few school districts venture into the topic with their students. So it is not until tertiary education that most American young people have any formal instruction, if then, about religions other than their own. There must be a better way.

I propose that religious professionals, whether educators, pastoral people, or activists, become part of the solution by engaging in a massive, differentiated educational campaign to counter the negative narratives about Islam. This does not mean that anyone need convert to Islam. It is simply that in a democracy we owe one another a fair rendering of our faith traditions. That Mr. Trump’s remarks about Islam have caused such damage already, and could give license for more violence, add urgency to this task.

It is time for community forums where the basics of Islam can be explained in every part of the country. Radio shows, teleconferences, videos, social media posts, religious education classes, community group meetings might usefully focus on the basics of Islam. Simply to demystify the terms and show how ordinary Muslims go about their ordinary law-abiding lives would go a long way toward stemming the current tide.

I do not expect Muslims to educate the rest of us. But those who want to collaborate with other religious first responders are more than welcome. Among feminist colleagues, plans are afoot to launch some modest efforts, but we recognize and respect the need for safety and security for those who have been put in harm’s way by ignorant rhetoric and unconstitutional proposals.

It is non-Muslims who must bear the burden of this education about religion.

Not since the Nazi period has the specter of religiously-based oppression taken on such a heightened profile, with the potential for such devastating results. I believe it is a true emergency for which strong and constructive countermeasures are necessary.

The following is reprinted with permission from Religion Dispatches. Follow RD on Facebook or Twitter for daily updates.”

Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D., is a feminist theologian who is co-founder and co-director of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA. A Roman Catholic active in the women-church movement, she lectures and writes on theology and ethics with particular attention to liberation issues.



Categories: Abuse of Power, Feminism, Feminist Ethics, Interreligious dialogue, Islam

Tags: , , ,

15 replies

  1. You are right about the need to educate about Islam. I get really tired having to interrupt my friends to tell them that there is such a thing as progressive Islam and feminist Islam too and that Daesh (ISIL) does not represent the Islam of all Muslims. Thanks for the post. Keep us informed about your plans.


  2. Thank you, Mary, clearly articulated, deeply understanding, and totally necessary.


  3. Thank you Mary, I am sharing on FB.


  4. Thanks, Mary! Excellent post!! I found this statement on the Muslim Reform Movement website you linked to, and I’d say it’s exactly what most feminists stand for also:

    “We reject bigotry, oppression and violence against all people based on any prejudice, including ethnicity, gender, language, belief, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression.”


  5. This is an excellent post. Thank you. As I write this, Trump is spewing his ignorance on national TV. I like your idea of “first responders” becoming active in this emergency situation.


  6. Thank you, Mary, for this call to action!

    What if… each of us too on the task of forwarding this post to our pastors/rabbis/imams
    …to pastors/leaders/ of other denominations/religions in our own town/city
    …to every parish/congregation in our respective dioceses or counties…to CALL to action
    What a great campaign this could be!

    But let’s be careful NOT to give Donald any more publicity in the process…by denouncing him! Religions owning and renouncing the sin of prejudice would be a far more effective and newsworthy strategy, no?


    • Thank you Sisters. I think it is extremely important to focus on the positive rather than negative – to present a picture and plan that inspires people to go beyond “what’s wrong” to “what could be awesome”.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I agree that each of us needs to educate ourselves, so thank you for this strong reminder, Mary. I also concur with Sisters Lea and Consilia — thank you — that our voices can be aimed at the misunderstanding rather than the individual; I recently wrote a blog post about “vitriol” as an “oil spill of words” and one that spreads and is difficult to clean up…not to mention that it tends to get people’s backs up right away in defense of someone they align with.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mary!

    I go to bed each night and awaken every morning, nauseated at the thought of Trump (the skywriters over the Rose Parade got it right: “Trump is disgusting…”) and weary from knowing that soon, once again, I’m going to have to speak up against ignorance and bigotry to people whose minds are already made up.

    My personal, right-brained defense is to make e-collages on a variety of Trump themes: the emperor’s lack of clothes, Trump as various dictators, the dumbest things Trump has said, Trump as Lord Voldemort… or, on a more positive note, against ignorance, for tolerance. I send them to friends, but always thinking “preaching to the choir.”

    This self-appointed “emergency responder” is getting tired. Thanks again for reminding me that we must all continue to look for opportunities to speak our truths.


  8. After 9-11 three clergy in Seattle gathered for peace, a rabbi, a minister, and an imam. They formed an interfaith community that continues today. I know about it because Jamal Rahman, the Muslim, gave a talk on prayer at a program the United Church of Canada in Victoria BC has every year. How many people know about this? what other cities have such communities? How can we let people know? Can someone please wake up the US Catholic Bishops to the reality that there is more to Christian morals than sex – like justice, compassion, peace, non-violence?


  9. Yes, let us all support true Muslims. We do. Let us speak on their behalf. We do. Let us educate our friends and colleagues. We do. But “we” — you and I, our friends and colleagues — are likely all liberal leaning, and we wholeheartedly support Muslims already. While it doesn’t hurt to preach to the converted, and is good in many respects, the true challenge is bringing the message to the right leaning parts of the country, and of the world. The real challenge lies in reaching those many thousands who show up at T’s speeches, those many thousands who tell pollsters that the T is their top choice for President. How can we appeal to the conservative element of our political system when any agreement with liberals would paint them as traitors to their cause? I don’t have the answer. I only know that there is such a systemic rupture in our political system that concurrence on this issue is unlikely. If by some miracle the conservative element elect to stand up to the T, then I shall personally applaud — loudly — their immense courage. But, yes, do re-post and resound with the message. We may sway some on the the fringes, and they too are an important group.


    • Yes, “How can we appeal to the conservative element of our political system when any agreement with liberals would paint them as traitors to their cause?”

      We must speak to our conservative brothers and sisters confessing our overbearing and arrogant liberal self-righteousness while at the same time addressing our common concerns for security, truth, privacy, order, meaning and the common need to be treated as a human being worthy of equal respect.


      • “confessing our overbearing and arrogant liberal self-righteousness”
        Some who care about others and who welcome refugees may be arrogant and self-righteous, but there is no need to assume that all are. This traditional confession of “sins” itself feels arrogant and self-righteous to me. I would prefer to think of my failings in other terms–for example as not caring enough about others.

        And of course as Valerie Saiving taught us, the sin of women is more likely to be not speaking up at all (out of self-negation) rather than speaking arrogantly out of pride (the traditional male form of sin).


  10. Good points! Thank you, Carol. Yet, we can all have a bit of overbearing and arrogant self-righteousness given the “right” situation, don’t you think? That goes for liberal or conservative, man or woman, etc.
    As for confession, it’s not the traditional kind I’m speaking of, just the kind that keeps us human and able to speak to and work with each other.


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