Close to the commemoration of the death of a great prophet of our time, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., our 45th president will be sworn into office. To say this election season has been contentious is the understatement of the decade. Verbal bombs have been dropped on all sides, and the rhetoric has been brutal to the point of disbelief. To hold these two events in the life of our country has led some to question whether the National Cathedral’s planned participation is appropriate. The Washington Post posted online: “The Washington National Cathedral, which has long been a gathering spot for symbolic national events, has found itself in the middle of controversy over whether Christians who oppose Donald Trump’s rhetoric should participate in his inauguration. The National Cathedral’s Choir of Men, Boys and Girls will sing at the inauguration on Jan. 20, prompting an outcry from some who don’t believe Christians should participate in a ceremony for Trump, who has been decried for his comments on immigrants, Muslims and other groups. ADVERTISING
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The day after the inauguration, the cathedral will also host an interfaith prayer service, following its tradition for many inaugurations in the past century.” Of course, those Christians who supported Mr. Trump feel exactly the opposite. Is the National Cathedral promoting the same kind of divisiveness that was so prevalent in the election season?
The National Cathedral belongs to the Episcopal Church, and the head of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, posted an excellent response to this. He reminded us that he grew up in a Black Episcopal Church that prayed for civic leaders who opposed their civil rights, blocked their social action and treated them in decidedly unchristian ways. He cited Dr. King’s admonition to his followers (of whom he was one) to pray for all whom you oppose politically, to work for the final end of reconciliation rather than domination, and to work for peace.
In an e-mail I got this morning my brother-in-law, who is an evangelical missionary in central Africa, writes, “During the most recent war in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.), the village of Yaloke suffered much violence between Muslims and non-Muslims (including Christians). Earlier this week a large Christian conference was held there and an incredible thing happened! The sizable Muslim community in the town sent a delegation of representatives tasked with one thing: to ask forgiveness for atrocities committed against Christians.” I asked if the Christians had had the courage to reciprocate.
The National Cathedral has done what faith communities are called to do throughout the ages: to transcend the divisiveness of political machinations and to reach for a higher vision for the social order, one we call a vision of heaven.