At a meeting with black pastors last week, President Trump attempted to sow seeds of division among African Americans. What he doesn't realize is that my community is stronger than he thinks it is.
We were strong enough to survive slavery and Jim Crow, strong enough to survive redlining and mass incarceration, strong enough to survive urban renewal and gentrification, strong enough to survive being targeted during the War on Drugs. We are certainly strong enough to survive a president whose greatest skill is creating and exploiting division.
Only 8 percent of black voters cast their ballots for Trump in 2016, according to exit polls, and a recent CNN poll revealed that 79 percent of African Americans view Trump as a racist.
So when Cleveland Pastor Darrell Scott, one of several black preachers who met with Trump to discuss prison reform, said Trump was going to be "the most pro-black president that we've had in our lifetime," the black community responded with disgust. Other black preachers weighed in, and just like that, the black church, the institution that has enabled African Americans to survive racism in all its forms, lay divided. That division, in my view, was the goal.
That is the genius of Trump. He is able to identify a sore spot and then plunge the knife of division into that very area, twisting it until a tiny rift expands into a chasm.
Trump knows that he has little support in the African American community. He knows that his many outrageous statements, including calling African countries "s–tholes," and declaring that Haitians all have AIDS, have exacerbated the view in the black community that he is a racist. He knows that if blacks vote in greater numbers in the midterms and the 2020 presidential election, both Trump and the GOP are in trouble. Perhaps most important, he knows that the African American church remains the center of black political thought.
It was the black church, after all, that led the 1960s movement for civil rights — a movement centered not only on economic justice but also on voting. However, it's been 50 years since that movement, and there are now rifts in the black church that can be exploited. By giving a platform to black pastors who support him in the face of black opposition, Trump exposed those rifts.
The sight of black pastors kowtowing before Trump was met with outrage in the black community. Not just because their actions were an insult to black people who live in Trump's America, but also because their actions disrespected those who came before us.
Alveda King's presence was a travesty, given that her uncle, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., gave his life so that black Americans could have a seat at the table.
Likewise, John Gray, a South Carolina pastor who regularly appears on the Oprah Winfrey Network dispensing life advice, sat at the table, refusing to call Trump out on his behavior, and failing to make any demands on behalf of the black community.
As a black man of faith, I was angered by the actions of these pastors. Because while Trump's attempts to divide us by targeting black athletes in the NFL for protesting during the national anthem failed to divide us, this can. While Trump's personal attacks against black leaders like NBA star, educator, and philanthropist LeBron James failed to divide us, this can. While Trump's attacks on black political leaders like Maxine Waters failed to divide us, this can.
That's because black pastors occupy a space in our culture that athletes and entertainers do not. They occupy a space of trust.
I'm thankful that while the group that met with Trump was willing to sell our people in exchange for a photo op, there are still black pastors who see their mission as something far more important than self-glorification.
Fifty-one of them, including Dr. Jamal Bryant from Baltimore, Bishop Marvin Sapp from Michigan, and the Rev. Dr. Alyn Waller from Philadelphia, signed onto a letter calling out their counterparts for their betrayal of the black community and their failure to challenge wrongdoing.
"Given your proximity to power and your 'seat at the table' in this toxic political climate, it's painfully disappointing that instead of being prophetic clergy persons you became presidential cheerleaders," the letter said. "We could never imagine the eighth-century prophets cheering the kings of Judah and Israel who were in similar political climates. …We need not remind you of the posture of the Prince of Peace, our Savior from the streets, when He stood before Herod and Pilate. He didn't even pray for them."
And yet in that letter, they also offered a chance at reconciliation. Whether that comes, though, is not the issue.
The issue is faith. That is what has sustained black people through all manner of oppression. And despite Trump's best efforts to divide us, faith will get us through this moment as well.