Christian political engagement is about more than an issue checklist.
On April 15, the United States hit a horrifying milestone. It not only crossed 30,000 total COVID-19 deaths, but for the fourth consecutive day, the daily death toll was so high that COVID-19 was the single leading cause of death in the United States. This visualization of the rising death toll is simply horrifying:
At the same time, new reports have emerged demonstrating the president’s incredible reluctance to come to terms with the scale of a crisis that wasn’t just foreseeable, it was foreseen by members of his own administration. And while Trump deserves credit for limiting travel from China in late January, he not only squandered any advantage gained by that move, he actively spread misinformation about the virus throughout the month of February and into March.
Then, when he finally began to acknowledge the scale of the emergency, he went on national television and botched his own primetime address, misstating administration policies and triggering a panic from Americans in Europe who believed—based on the president’s own words—that they would be barred from coming home.
Since that time, his daily press conferences have featured a parade of presidential
- overstatements, misstatements, and outright falsehoods. He’s often fact-checked in real time by his own advisers. In the meantime, 22 million Americans have lost their jobs.
Something else happened on April 15—Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the presumptive next president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a man I respect a great deal—spoke from the midst of a ruined economy, soaring death rates, and presidential blundering and said . . . four more years. He declared not only that he’d support Donald Trump in 2020, but that he’ll almost certainly support Republican presidential candidates the rest of his life. Mohler focused on the classic culture war issues—marriage, sexuality, constitutional interpretation, and abortion. He expressed the belief that the “partisan divide had become so great” and Democrats had “swerved so far to the left” on those key issues that he can’t imagine ever voting for a Democratic president. He also claimed that Trump has been “more consistent in pro-life decisions” and consistent in the quality of his judicial nominations than “any president of the United States of any party.”
As he made clear in the video, Mohler has not always supported Trump. In 2016, he was consistent with his denomination’s clear and unequivocal statement about the importance of moral character in public officials. He has now decisively changed course.
In 1998—during Bill Clinton’s second term—the Southern Baptist Convention declared that “tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality and lawlessness in the society, and surely results in God’s judgment” and therefore urged “all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”
Mohler so clearly recognized the applicability of those words that he said, “If I were to support, much less endorse Donald Trump for president, I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton.” I do wonder if Mohler will apologize. He absolutely should.
Look, I know that for now I’ve lost the character argument. It’s well-established that a great number of white Evangelicals didn’t truly believe the words they wrote, endorsed, and argued in 1998 and for 18 years until the 2016 election. Oh sure, they thought they believed those words. If someone challenged their convictions with a lie detector test, they would have passed with flying colors.
(By the way, I use the term “white Evangelicals” because that’s Trump’s core political constituency. That’s the base that gave him 81 percent support in 2016. The rest of the Evangelical community leans Democratic.)
When C.S. Lewis said “courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of very virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality,” he was speaking an important truth. We may think we possess an array of virtues and beliefs, but we don’t really know who we are or what we believe until those virtues and beliefs are put to the test. There is many a man who goes to war thinking himself brave, until the bullets fly. There is many a man who thinks himself faithful to his wife, until the flirtation starts.
There were many men who thought character counted, until a commitment to character contained a real political cost. But that’s the obvious point. I’ve made it countless times before today. White Evangelicals, however, have shrugged it off. “Binary choice,” they say. “Lesser of two evils,” they say—even though those concepts appeared nowhere in the grand moral announcements of the past.
Many millions of Trump-supporting white Evangelicals no longer care about character (though a surprising number are still remarkably unaware of his flaws). That much is clear. But the story now grows darker still. As they’ve abandoned political character tests, they’re also rejecting any meaningful concern for presidential competence.
Listen to Mohler’s announcement, and you’ll hear a narrow political philosophy—one that’s limited to evaluating a party platform on a few, discrete issues. It’s nothing more than a policy checklist. He speaks of religious freedom, LGBT issues, and abortion.
Yet as the pandemic vividly illustrates (and as 9/11 also highlighted in recent years past), the job of the president extends well beyond the culture war. Indeed, there are times when a president is so bad at other material aspects of his job that he becomes a malignant force in American life, regardless of his positions on white Evangelicals’ highest political priorities.
The role of the people of God in political life is so much more difficult and challenging than merely listing a discrete subset of issues (even when those issues are important!) and supporting anyone who agrees to your list. The prophet Jeremiah exhorted the people of Israel to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.”
This is a difficult, complicated task. We can’t reduce it to a list. In fact, this complexity is one reason why two key communities of churchgoing Americans are dramatically split in their political preferences. Black Christians go to church every bit as much (if not more) than white Evangelicals, yet they reject Trump every bit as much as white Evangelicals embrace him.
Are they less Christian? Or is their experience of the welfare of the national community shaped by history and experience that’s quite different from that of their white Evangelical brothers and sisters? And while that history is complex, it does clearly teach the deadly consequences of hate and the dangers of white populism.
When a president declares that there were “very fine people” in a collection of tiki-torch-toting white supremacists, shouldn’t Christians of all colors be gravely concerned? Shouldn’t they be alarmed when the CEO of the president’s campaign and his chief strategist declared just before his ascension to the president’s team that he wanted his publication (Breitbart) to be the “platform” for the racist alt-right? And when a president issues a stream of misinformation about a mortal threat to public health (with one eye on the stock market), is there not cause for accountability?
I could go on and on, but there are Christians in this country – mostly from communities who’ve suffered in the recent past at the hands of malignant government power—who look at Trump and do not see a man who’s concerned for their welfare. What is the white Evangelical obligation to listen to them? To hear their concerns?
The response can’t be the checklist. And when vulnerable Americans suffer mightily from the health and economic consequences of a global pandemic the president minimized, the response can’t be the checklist. White Evangelical leaders owe us a serious argument as to why that checklist trumps character and competence in the leader of the free world.
No one should minimize the difficulty of the job of president of the United States. It’s a fact that a number of democracies have struggled even worse than America to respond to the coronavirus (some have done much better), and economic damage will be felt worldwide. China bears immense blame for our national plight.
But President Trump was warned and warned and warned. For day after crucial day he chose to mislead Americans about one of the most significant threats to their well-being—to their “welfare”— in the modern history of the United States. He faced a key test, and he did not rise to the moment. And when he failed, he did real damage that even later course corrections could not entirely fix.
And please Christians, do not run back to arguments about “binary choice.” When I walk into the voting booth (or mail in my ballot), I will see more than two names. I’ll also have a choice to write in a name. I will not have to compromise my convictions to cast a vote for president.
If you do, however, want to revert to the language of “binary choice,” we need to examine the larger context. In January the nation faced a different kind of binary choice. It was, quite simply, “Trump or Pence.” When the president was impeached after he clearly attempted to condition vital military aid to an ally on a demand for a politically motivated investigation of a political opponent and on a demand to investigate a bizarre conspiracy theory, white Evangelicals had a decision to make.
They chose Trump.
They chose Trump when they would have certainly sought to impeach and convict a Democrat under similar facts.
In fact, for four long years, when the choice has been between Trump and even the most momentary break with the president for a single news cycle, the overwhelming majority of white Evangelicals—and their political leaders—have spoken loudly and clearly.
It’s Trump. It’s always Trump.
In the fourth year of Donald Trump’s first term, the deal white Evangelicals have struck is now increasingly clear. Their leaders will get unprecedented Oval Office access. They’ll get a few good religious liberty regulations. They’ll get good judges. Those judges will almost certainly issue rulings that protect religious liberty. They might issue rulings that marginally protect life (though the pro-life battle is fought far more in the culture and in the states than in the courts). Those will be important and good things. They are not the only things.
White Evangelicals will have also squandered any argument that character matters in politicians. That means we’ll have more politicians of low character.
White Evangelicals are squandering any argument that they seek to love their enemies. That means we’ll see more hate from America’s bully pulpit.
White Evangelicals are not only squandering any argument that competence matters, they are working hard to try to force more incompetence on their American community. Trump’s impact on the welfare of the American city is increasingly clear. It’s more division. It’s more hate. It’s more incompetence. And now that terrible combination has yielded a series of dreadful errors in the face of a deadly pandemic.
White Evangelicals, one of the most politically powerful religious movements in the entire world, should not use their power to maintain and ultimately renew the authority of one of the most malignant and incompetent politicians ever to hold national office. They shouldn’t, but they will.
One last thing …
This has been a rather grim newsletter, but authentic religious discourse requires discussing and debating hard questions, and the answers are not always easy or uplifting. I want to end not with a hymn or worship song, but rather something closer to a lament. It’s from one of my favorite artists, Sara Groves, and it speaks to the uncertainty and difficulty of life in a time of vulnerability and loss.
Arthur Brooks and Simon Sinek discuss the key themes of Brooks’ book, Love Your Enemies, and outline a series of practical strategies for leaders in all areas of life who wish to subvert the culture of contempt and advance progress. Recorded March 10, 2019 at 92nd Street Y.
The Source of Trump’s Black Hole:
John Fea posted a Lawrence O’Donnell video that names the source of Trump’s black hole — his incomprehension of “love“.
O’Donnell was responding to events at the National Prayer Breakfast, which are listed below:
National Prayer Breakfast: Feb. 6, 2020
Arthur Brooks: America’s crisis of contempt
Arthur C. Brooks’s remarks, as prepared, for the National Prayer Breakfast keynote address on Thursday at the Washington Hilton.
Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Pence, Speaker Pelosi, heads of state, members of Congress and honored guests: Thank you for inviting me here today. I am deeply honored and grateful to address the National Prayer Breakfast.
As you have heard, I am not a priest or minister. I am a social scientist and a university professor. But most importantly, I am a follower of Jesus, who taught each of us to love God and to love each other.
I am here today to talk about what I believe is the biggest crisis facing our nation — and many other nations — today. This is the crisis of contempt — the polarization that is tearing our society apart. But if I do my job in the next few minutes, I promise I won’t depress you. On the contrary, I will show you why I believe that within this crisis resides the best opportunity we have ever had, as people of faith, to lift our nations up and bring them together.
As leaders, you all know that when there is an old problem, the solution never comes from thinking harder in the old ways; we have to think differently — we need an epiphany. This is true with societal problems and private problems.
Here’s an example of the latter: I have three kids, and two are still teenagers. (Pray for me.) Two years ago, when my middle son, Carlos, was a senior in high school, my wife, Ester, and I were having a rough parent-teacher conference. It was his grades. This was an old problem which we had tried everything to solve, but we were getting nowhere. We left the conference in grim silence and got in the car. Ester finally broke the silence.
“We need to see this problem in a whole new way,” she said.
“I’m all ears, sweetheart,” I answered, “because I’m at the end of my rope.”
“At least we know he’s not cheating,” she said.
See, that’s thinking differently! And that’s the spirit in which I want to address the problem of political contempt.
(By the way, in case you’re wondering what happened to Carlos: Currently he’s in Parris Island, S.C., at boot camp for the U.S. Marine Corps. We couldn’t be prouder of him.)
To start us on a path of new thinking to our cultural crisis, I want to turn to the words of the ultimate original thinker, history’s greatest social entrepreneur, and as a Catholic, my personal Lord and Savior, Jesus. Here’s what he said, as recorded in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, chapter 5, verse 43-45: You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
Love your enemies! Now that is thinking differently. It changed the world starting 2,000 years ago, and it is as subversive and counterintuitive today as it was then. But the devil’s in the details. How do we do it in a country and world roiled by political hatred and differences that we can’t seem to bridge?
First, we need to make it personal. I remember when it became personal for me.
I give about 150 speeches a year and talk to all kinds of audiences: conservative, progressive, believers, atheists and everything in between. I was speaking one afternoon some years ago to a large group of politically conservative activists. Arriving early to the event, I looked at the program and realized I was the only non-politician on the program.
At first I thought, “This is a mistake.” But then I remembered that there are no mistakes — only opportunities — and started thinking about what I could say that would be completely different than the politicians. The crowd was really fired up; the politicians were getting huge amounts of applause. When it was my turn to speak, in the middle of my speech, here’s more or less what I said:
“My friends, you’ve heard a lot today that you’ve agreed with — and well you should. You’ve also heard a lot about the other side — political liberals — and how they are wrong. But I want to ask you to remember something: Political liberals are not stupid, and they’re not evil. They are simply Americans who disagree with you about public policy. And if you want to persuade them — which should be your goal — remember that no one has ever been insulted into agreement. You can only persuade with love.”
It was not an applause line.
After the speech, a woman in the audience came up to me, and she was clearly none too happy with my comments. “You’re wrong,” she told me. “Liberals are stupid and evil.”
At that moment, my thoughts went to … Seattle. That’s my hometown. While my own politics are conservative, Seattle is arguably the most politically liberal place in the United States. My father was a college professor; my mother was an artist. Professors and artists in Seattle … what do you think their politics were?
That lady after my speech wasn’t trying to hurt me. But when she said that liberals are stupid and evil, she was talking about my parents. I may have disagreed with my parents politically, but I can tell you they were neither stupid nor evil. They were good, Christian people, who raised me to follow Jesus. They also taught me to think for myself — which I did, at great inconvenience to them.
Political polarization was personal for me that day, and I want to be personal to you, too. So let me ask you a question: How many of you love someone with whom you disagree politically?
Are you comfortable hearing someone on your own side insult that person?
This reminds me of a lesson my father taught me, about moral courage. In a free society where you don’t fear being locked up for our opinions, true moral courage isn’t standing up to the people with whom you disagree. It’s standing up to the people with whom you agree — on behalf of those with whom you disagree. Are you strong enough to do that? That, I believe, is one way we can live up to Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies.
Let’s take a step back now and diagnose the problem a little bit.
Some people blame our politicians, but that’s too easy. It’s us, not them — I am guilty. And frankly, I know many politicians, many of them here today, who want a solution to this problem every bit as much as I do.
What is leading us to this dark place that we don’t like?
The problem is what psychologists call contempt. In the words of the 19th-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.” In politics today, we treat each other as worthless, which is why our fights are so bitter and cooperation feels nearly impossible.
The world’s leading expert on marital reconciliation is Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington. Over the course of his work, Dr. Gottman has studied thousands of married couples. After watching a couple interact for just one hour, he can predict with 94 percent accuracy whether the couple will divorce within three years.
How can he tell? It’s not from the anger that the couples express. As I already told you, anger doesn’t predict separation or divorce. The biggest warning signs, he explains, are indicators of contempt. These include sarcasm, sneering, hostile humor and — worst of all — eye-rolling. These little acts effectively say, “You are worthless” to the one person a spouse should love more than any other. Want to see if a couple will end up in divorce court? Watch them discuss a contentious topic and see if either partner rolls his or her eyes.
Why do they do that? The answer is that it’s a habit, and that habit is tearing their marriage apart. And like a couple on the rocks, in politics today, we have a contempt habit. Don’t believe it? Turn on prime-time cable TV and watch how they talk. Look at Twitter — if you dare. Listen to yourself talking about a politician you don’t like. We are guilty of contempt.
It’s a habit, and it’s tearing our society apart.
How do we break the habit of contempt? Even more, how do we turn the contempt people show us into an opportunity to follow the teachings of Jesus, to love our enemies?
To achieve these things, I’m going to suggest three homework assignments.
- First: Ask God to give you the strength to do this hard thing — to go against human nature, to follow Jesus’ teaching and love your enemies. Ask God to remove political contempt from your heart. In your weakest moments, maybe even ask Him to help you fake it!
- Second: Make a commitment to another person to reject contempt. Of course you will disagree with others — that’s part of democracy. It is right and good, and part of the competition of ideas. But commit to doing it without contempt and ask someone to hold you accountable to love your enemies.
- Third: Go out looking for contempt, so you have the opportunity to answer it with love. I know that sounds crazy, to go looking for something so bad. But for leaders, contempt isn’t like the flu. It’s an opportunity to share your values and change our world, which is what leadership is all about, isn’t it?
I’m asking you to be kind of like a missionary. I’ve had missionaries on both sides of my family, and they are amazing entrepreneurs. They don’t go out looking for people who already agree with them, because that’s not where they are needed — they go to the dark places to bring light. It’s hard work, and there’s lots of rejection involved. (Here are words that have never been uttered: “Oh good, there are missionaries on the porch.”) But it’s the most joyful type of work, isn’t it?
I’m calling each one of you to be missionaries for love in the face of contempt. If you don’t see enough of it, you’re in an echo chamber and need a wider circle of friends — people who disagree with you. Hey, if you want a full blast of contempt within 20 seconds, go on social media! But run toward that darkness, and bring your light.
My sisters and brothers, when you leave the National Prayer Breakfast today and go back to your lives and jobs, you will be back in a world where there is a lot of contempt. That is your opportunity. So I want you to imagine that there is a sign over the exit as you leave this room. It’s a sign I’ve seen over the doors of churches — not the doors to enter, but rather the doors to leave the church. Here’s what it says:
You are now entering mission territory.
If you see the world outside this room as mission territory, we might just mark this day, Feb. 6, 2020, at the National Prayer Breakfast, as the point at which our national healing begins.
God bless you, and God bless America.
President Trump: National Prayer Breakfast, Feb 6, 2020
9:11 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Well, thank you very much. I’m working very hard for you, I will tell you. (Laughter.) And sometimes you don’t make it easy, and I certainly don’t make it easy on you. (Laughter.) And I will continue that tradition, if I might, this morning. And, Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you. (Laughter.) But I don’t know if Arthur is going to like what I’m going to say. (Laughter.) But I love listening to you. It’s really great. Thank you very much.
And thank you, congressmen, for the great job you’ve been doing and the relationship and the help. You’re a warrior. Thank you very much. And, Kevin, you’re a warrior. Thank you. The job you’ve done is incredible. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. A lot of extra work. Unnecessary work.
It’s wonderful to be with the thousands of religious believers for the 68th annual National Prayer Breakfast. I’ve been here from the first one, where I had the privilege of being asked. I’ve been with you for a long time before then. And we’ve made tremendous progress. Tremendous progress. You know what we’ve done. I don’t think anybody has done more than all of us together during these last three years. And it’s been my honor.
But this morning, we come together as one nation, blessed to live in freedom and grateful to worship in peace. As everybody knows, my family, our great country, and your President, have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people. They have done everything possible to destroy us, and by so doing, very badly hurt our nation. They know what they are doing is wrong, but they put themselves far ahead of our great country.
Weeks ago, and again yesterday, courageous Republican politicians and leaders had the wisdom, the fortitude, and strength to do what everyone knows was right. I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong. Nor do I like people who say, “I pray for you,” when they know that that’s not so.
So many people have been hurt, and we can’t let that go on. And I’ll be discussing that a little bit later at the White House.
We’re joined today by two people whose faith inspires us all: our amazing, wonderful friend, Vice President Mike Pence — (applause) — and his wonderful wife, Karen. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you to all of our great political leaders out there — so many that I’ve been working with so hard over the last three years. And we’ve accomplished so much. And to members of my Cabinet in attendance — Secretary Mike Pompeo, Mark Esper, David Bernhardt — (applause) — Gene Scalia, Alex Azar, Ben Carson, Dan Brouillette, Betsy DeVos, Robert Wilke, and Administrator Jovita Carranza.
Joining us — (applause) — for this cherished tradition are a lot of friends in the audience. And many, really, have become friends. They are political leaders. They’ve become great friends. That’s all I get to meet anymore. (Laughter.) That and the enemies and the allies. And we have them all. We have allies. We have enemies. Sometimes the allies are enemies, but we just don’t know it. (Laughter.) But we’re changing all that. But thank you all, and thank you all for being here.
I also want to welcome foreign dignitaries from more than 140 countries. That’s something. (Applause.) That’s something. Everyone here today is united by a shared conviction. We know that our nation is stronger, our future is brighter, and our joy is greater when we turn to God and ask him to shed his grace on our lives.
On Tuesday, I addressed Congress on the state of the Union and the great American comeback. That’s what it is. (Applause.) Our country has never done better than it is doing right now. Our economy is the strongest it has ever been. And for those of you that are interested in stocks, it looks like the stock market will be way up again today.
According to the latest Gallup poll that just came out a little while ago, a few minutes ago, American satisfaction is at the highest level ever recorded. Can you imagine? And that’s from Gallup — no friend of mine. (Applause.) Ninety percent of Americans say they are satisfied with their personal lives. How about that? Isn’t that something? Just came out today. (Applause.) They must have known I was going to be here. (Laughter.)
In everything we do, we are creating a culture that protects freedom, and that includes religious freedom. (Applause.)
As I said on Tuesday in the House Chamber, “In America, we don’t punish prayer. We don’t tear down crosses. We don’t ban symbols of faith. We don’t muzzle preachers.” We don’t muzzle pastors. “In America, we celebrate faith, we cherish religion, we lift our voices in prayer, and we raise our sights to the Glory of God.” (Applause.)
So much of the greatness we have achieved, the mysteries we’ve unlocked, and the wonders we’ve built, the challenges we’ve met, and the incredible heights that we’ve reached has come from the faith of our families and the prayers of our people.
Before America declared independence, patriots in all 13 colonies came together in days of fasting and prayer. In the bitter cold of Valley Forge, Washington and his men had no food, no supplies, and very little chance of victory. It reminded me a little bit of 2016. We had very little chance of victory. (Laughter.) Except for the people in this room and some others believed we were going to win. I believed we were going to win. But what they did have was have an unwavering belief that God was with them. I believe that too. God is with the people in this room.
Before a single skyscraper rose up in New York City, thousands of poor American families donated all they could to build the magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral. (Applause.)
When Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon, he said, “Houston, I would like to request a few moments of silence.” Then, he read from the Bible. (Applause.)
At every stage, our nation’s long march for civil rights was inspired, sustained, and uplifted by faith, prayer, and devotion of religious believers.
To protect faith communities, I have taken historic action to defend religious liberty, including the constitutional right to pray in public schools. (Applause.)
We can also talk about the Johnson Amendment. We can talk about Mexico City Policy. We’ve done a lot. But I also recently took executive action to stop taxpayer dollars from going to colleges and universities that spread the poison of anti-Semitism and bad things about Christianity. (Applause.)
We are upholding the sanctity of life — sanctity of life. (Applause.) And we are doing that like nobody has ever done it before from this position. You better get out and vote on November 3rd — (laughter) — because you have a lot of people out there that aren’t liking what we’re doing.
And we’re pursuing medical breakthroughs to save premature babies because every child is a sacred gift from God. (Applause.)
Together, we are building the world’s most prosperous and inclusive society. We are lifting up citizens of every race, color, religion, and creed. We are bringing hope to forgotten communities. And more Americans are working today — 160 million. A little bit short. Just a little bit. One hundred and sixty million. We’ve never been even close — than ever before. Think of it: More Americans are working today — almost 160 million — than ever before. Our unemployment numbers are the best in the history of our country. (Applause.)
A more specific number and numbers that you hear me say, if you listen: African American, Asian American, Hispanic American — the best unemployment numbers in the history of our country. Women — best in 71 years. Sorry. We’ll have you there soon. Soon, it will be “historic.” I have to apologize to the women; it’s only 71 years.
But the best unemployment numbers, we have — we’re doing things that nobody thought possible. We’re setting records that nobody thought achievable.
And to give former prisoners a second chance at life, which so many people in this room have worked on for so long — (applause) — we passed criminal justice reform into law, and I signed it nine months ago.
And it’s proving more and more that America is indeed a nation that believes in redemption. What’s happened with prisoners is a miracle. Prisoners would come out and nobody would give them a job. And oftentimes, most of the time — almost all of the time — they’d go back into prison. They’d get caught doing something bad. They had no money. They had no hope. They had no job. Now they’re coming out into a booming economy. And employers are hiring them, and to a certain extent, maybe because they’re having a hard time getting people.
First time in our country’s history, actually, we’re running out of people. We have plants moving in by the thousands. We have car companies coming from Japan and from Germany, from lots of other places, and we need people. And employers are hiring prisoners, and they would have never done it, except for what we’ve done with criminal justice reform. But even before that, because the economy has become so powerful.
And these prisoners have done an incredible job. The employers are saying, “Why didn’t I do this 20 years ago?”
So it’s an incredible thing what’s happening to people that are given a second chance, and sometimes a third chance, in all fairness. And it’s something that everybody in this room should be very proud about, because you’ve always felt that way long before it was fashionable. So I want to thank you for that. (Applause.)
As we revive our economy, we are also renewing our national spirit. Today we proudly proclaim that faith is alive and well and thriving in America. And we’re going to keep it that way. Nobody will have it changed. (Applause.) It won’t happen. As long as I’m here, it will never, ever happen. (Applause.)
Something which wasn’t done nearly enough — I could almost say wasn’t done at all — we are standing up for persecuted Christians and religious minorities all around the world — (applause) — like nobody has ever done.
Last year, at the United Nations, I was honored to be the first President to host a meeting of religious freedom. It was based all on religious freedom. That was the first meeting of its kind ever held at the United Nations. There I called upon all nations to combat the terrible injustice of religious persecution. And people listened.
And countries that we give billions of dollars to, they listened because they had to listen. (Laughter.) It’s amazing how that works, isn’t it? (Laughter.) That nobody ever played that game before. (Laughter.)
Weeks ago, a 21-year-old woman, who goes by the name of Mary, was seized and imprisoned in Iran because she converted to Christianity and shared the Gospel with others.
In Venezuela, the dictator Maduro has arrested church leaders. At the State of the Union, I was honored to host the true and legitimate President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó. (Applause.) Good man. I told him that all Americans stand with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom.
Yesterday, our administration launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance, the first-ever alliance devoted to promoting religious liberty. It was something. Really something. (Applause.)
More than 25 countries have already joined our campaign. I want to thank Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, along with Ambassador Sam Brownback, who are both here this morning, for leading this historic initiative. Thank you very much. Thank you, Mike. (Applause.) Thank you.
All of us here today reaffirm these timeless truths: Faith keeps us free. Prayer makes us strong. And God alone is the author of life and the giver of grace. (Applause.)
With us this morning is a pastor who embodies the miracle of faith and the power of prayer: Reverend Gerald Toussaint from Louisiana. Reverend Toussaint is an Army veteran, a truck driver, and a pastor. He leads the same church that his father led, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, which has been a pillar of the community for more than 140 years.
Last year, Mount Pleasant was one of three African American churches in Louisiana that was destroyed in a fire set by a wicked, hate-filled arsonist.
Yet, in the wake of such shocking evil, America witnessed the unshakable unity, devotion, and spirit of Reverend Toussaint and his entire highly spirited, beautiful congregation. Families quickly came together in prayer. Soon, people from all across Louisiana came to help any way they could. Americans in all 50 states and 20 different countries heard about it and they donated more than $2 million to help rebuild Mount Pleasant — (applause) — and the other two churches that were (inaudible).
On Easter Sunday, just days after he lost his church, Reverend Toussaint preached about what it all meant. What does it mean? “The Easter season,” he said, “is a fitting metaphor for recent events. It was dark the day that Jesus was crucified. It was dark [at] night when they burned our church. What has happened since is like a resurrection.” Old things are gone, but it’s going to be a brand-new start, and it’s going to be better than ever, Reverend. (Applause.) Better than ever. Fantastic.
And today, just 10 months later, the ground is cleared. Careful plans have been made, and they’re beautiful plans. And construction is about to begin on the new and very, very magnificent Mount Pleasant Church. Congratulations. (Applause.)
You know, the Reverend says that we’re rebuilding because that’s what Jesus does. He rebuilds, he lives, and he breathes. It’s what he does. He wants it to be rebuilt. It was torn apart, but it’s being rebuilt again, and I’ll bet you it will indeed be bigger, better, and nicer than before. What do you think, Reverend? Yes? And it’s going to have your mark on it. It did have and now it will have even great. And your father is looking down on you right now and he’s very, very proud of the job that you’ve done. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Very much inspire us, Reverend. Thank you.
Well, I want to just thank everybody. This has been very special. Tell your congregation that — and all of your people — that we have 350 million people in our country. They’re proud Americans. And they respect what we’re doing, even those that you don’t think so much like us, respect us, want to be with us. They’re respecting our fight, and we are in a fight.
Religion in this country and religion all over the world — certain religions in particular — are under siege. We won’t let that happen. We are going to protect our religions. We are going to protect Christianity. We are going to protect our great ministers and pastors and rabbis and all of the people that we so cherish and that we so respect.
America is eternally in the debt of our nation’s African American churches all throughout this country. That’s why it’s so fitting and so — it’s one of the reasons we chose this particular church in Louisiana. For generations, they bravely fought for justice and lifted up the conscience of our nation. And we’re grateful beyond any measure.
But I can say that going beyond that, we’re grateful to the people in this room for the love they show to religion. Not one religion, but many religions. They are brave. They are brilliant. They are fighters. They like people. And sometimes they hate people. I’m sorry. I apologize. I’m trying to learn. (Laughter.) It’s not easy. It’s not easy. (Applause.)
When they impeach you for nothing, then you’re supposed to like them? It’s not easy, folks. (Laughter.) I do my best.
But I’ll tell you what we are doing: We’re restoring hope and spreading faith. We’re helping citizens of every background take part in the great rebuilding of our nation. We’re declaring that America will always shine as a land of liberty and light unto all nations of the world. We want every nation to look up to us like they are right now. We were not a respected nation just a few years ago. We had lost our way. Our country is respected again by everybody. (Applause.)
This morning, let us ask Father in Heaven to guide our steps, protect our children, and bless our families. And with all of our heart, let us forever embrace the eternal truth that every child is made equal by the hand of Almighty God.
Thank you. God Bless you. And God bless America. Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)
for us to transform as a society, we have to allow ourselves to be transformed as individuals. And for us to be transformed as individuals, we have to allow for the incompleteness of any of our truths and a real forgiveness for the complexity of human beings and what we’re trapped inside of, so that we’re both able to respond to the oppression, the aggression that we’re confronted with, but we’re able to do that with a deep and abiding sense of “and there are people, human beings, that are at the other end of that baton, that stick, that policy, that are also trapped in something. They’re also trapped in a suffering.” And for sure, we can witness that there are ways in which they’re benefiting from it, but there’s also ways, if one trusts the human heart, that they must be suffering. And holding that at the core of who you are when responding to things, I think, is the way — the only way we really have forward; to not just replicate systems of oppression for the sake of our own cause.
.. And so even our sense of what pains us and what makes us feel shame, feel guilt, feel awkwardness, feel put-upon by people, feel disempowered, has to do with the external information and cues that we have received. And they’re moving at an incredible rate of speed. And, for the most part, we almost never get the opportunity to observe them and sort through them — kind of like that drawer that collects everything in your house.
MS. TIPPETT: I have a few of those.
REV. WILLIAMS: Yeah, where you say, “Oh, but wait a minute, someone lived in this house before me,” in essence. “And some of that stuff is not mine. Actually, this is not mine. That’s my mom’s. This is not mine; that’s the inheritance of white supremacy,” or, “That’s the inheritance of generations of oppression and marginalization that subjects me to habitually feeling less-than, even if the current situation has no intent to make me feel that way.” And we have no real way of being able to discern what is mine, what is yours, what are we holding collectively, what have I inherited, what have I taken on as a measure of protection, of a way to cope at some point in my life or past lives, that I no longer need?
.. because what we first are confronted with is just the assault of the amount of thoughts and the mixed messages that just inhabit our body and our mind and our experience on an ongoing basis — that when we sit, the first thing we’re met with is not quiet or calm or peace. The first thing we’re met with is, “Oh, my God. Who is in here, and why won’t they shut up? How do I get them to stop?” And not only is something and someone and everyone speaking to me, it’s mixed messages. Things don’t agree with each other. I don’t agree with my own truth. I’m having arguments in here that are not my arguments, they are someone else’s arguments. They’re my parents’ arguments.
Sitting lets us just, first of all, recognize that we are this massive collection of thoughts and experiences and sensations that are moving at the speed of light and that we never get a chance to just be still and pause and look at them, just for what they are, and then slowly to sort out our own voice from the rest of the thoughts, emotions, the interpretations, the habits, the momentums that are just trying to overwhelm us at any given moment.
And when I say “trying to overwhelm us,” that’s really a key thing to understand, because that means that there’s an “us.” There’s a core and deep and abiding “us” that is being overwhelmed by something that’s actually not us. And when we become aware of it, we’re like: “Oh, I actually have some choice here.”
.. I had to bring into the language of my perception of the world; and that love was not to be limited to my bedroom or my family and just people that I thought that I liked; that what I was doing in the past and what we often do and what our culture calls us to do is to use love to be a quantifier of “Do I have a preference for you?” [laughs]
MS. TIPPETT: That’s really well put.
REV. WILLIAMS: “Am I aligned and in agreement and affinity? Are you reflecting back at me what I want to be reflected back at me? And if you are, and if you are enhancing my idea of myself, [laughs] then I love you.” And bell opened up the idea that that was a very limited way of understanding — and she still does — that that’s a limited way of understanding love.
The way that I think of love most often, these days, is that love is space.
MS. TIPPETT: Say some more about that. What do you mean?
REV. WILLIAMS: It is developing our own capacity for spaciousness within ourselves to allow others to be as they are — that that is love. And that doesn’t mean that we don’t have hopes or wishes that things are changed or shifted, but that to come from a place of love is to be in acceptance of what is, even in the face of moving it towards something that is more whole, more just, more spacious for all of us. It’s bigness. It’s allowance. It’s flexibility. It’s saying the thing that we talked about earlier, of “Oh, those police officers are trapped inside of a system, as well. They are subject to an enormous amount of suffering, as well.”
I think that those things are missed when we shortcut talking about King, or we shortcut talking about Gandhi, or we shortcut talking about what Aung San Suu Kyi was doing at some point. We leave out the aspects of their underlying motivation for moving things, and we make it about policies and advocacy, when really it is about expanding our capacity for love, as a species.
MS. TIPPETT: That’s so interesting, to just focus on that word, “movement” — because again, if we just take a reality base, you don’t move people by hating them or criticizing them. And you don’t always move people by loving them, but you don’t have a chance of doing it with the other tools. But I’m also thinking so hard at the moment — you’re right, we haven’t even seen this aspect of that history, even the history that’s not so long ago. I sometimes have this feeling that we are only now growing into, for many reasons, the aspect of consciousness here, what you’re talking about — the real human work, without which those political changes are fragile.
.. REV. WILLIAMS: We’re at this unique time. I’m surprised, actually, that more people aren’t talking about it. I think I may have glimpsed an article that I disciplined myself to not read. But we are at a time, so incredibly unique in human history, where there is a meaningful number of us that are not driven by mere survival, and we are not defined by the work that we do or the place from which we come. We are able to be transient. We can move around places. We can create meaning out of things and ways of being and work that we choose to do. And we can recreate it, over and over again. We’re not defined by where we are or what we do. We can make meaning out of it, but we are not defined by it in a way that former cultures and societies that were limited in transportation and had a necessity to be able to put food on the table, and so we farmed, and so we did a whole bunch of things that were about fundamental necessities.
.. MS. TIPPETT: You just inherited identities from — all kinds of identities from your kin.
REV. WILLIAMS: And they’re inherited. That’s exactly right, which is part of our great conflict in this country right now. We are running into the conflict between people that inhabit an inherited identity with the place that they are — coal-mining country, and the work that they do as a result of the place that they are — up against people that have values and ways of perceiving the world that have shifted because they are not identified by their place and the work that they do in the same way that location and a fixed place tells you who you are and how you be in the world.
And that conflict, and the values that come from those two disparate locations, is the conflict that we are up against right now — in this country, in particular, but also in other places in the world.
MS. TIPPETT: All over, yeah. It’s global.
REV. WILLIAMS: We are in this amazing moment of evolving, where the values of some of us are evolving at rates that are faster than can be taken in and integrated for peoples that are oriented by place and the work that they’ve inherited as a result of where they are.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, and who are in survival mode.
REV. WILLIAMS: And who are in survival mode as a result of that, and so our values and what’s acceptable to us — enough of us — is shifting at a pace that is just outside of some of our ability to even take in. And the problem is — that’s always been true, but the problem is, now we have a meaningful number, a substantive number of people that have those rapidly evolving values in confrontation with people that are, understandably, still working with the location-, survival-based orientation. This means a lot of things for us. This means that, in terms of values, we can be more spacious. There are many of us that can afford, literally, to be OK with people that are really, really different. In fact, we can be curious about it, because our sense of threat is diminished, because our identity is not prescribed by sameness and being afforded belonging because of sameness.
Our own identities have evolved in such a way that, because we’re not merely trying to survive — I’m not saying we’re not trying to pay our rent and everything, but because we’re not identified with merely trying to survive, our sense of survival, our sense of thriving is embedded in a sense of movement and spaciousness and increasing allowance for more and more difference that is in direct conflict with people that are in a space-time continuum that is still place-based, survival-based, get-food-on-the-table-based. “If I don’t cut off the top of this mountain, where will I go? If those people are not beneath me, how will I know my own value?” Et cetera, et cetera.
.. It is part of it, to go through the fits and the denial. There’s a death happening. There is something dying in our society, in our culture, and there’s something dying in us individually. And what is dying, I think, is the willingness to be in denial. And that is extraordinary. The willingness to be in denial is dying in a meaningful number of us, the tipping point. It’s always been happening, and when it happens in enough of us, in a short enough period of time at the same time, then you have a tipping point, and the culture begins to shift. And then what I feel like people are at now is, “No, no, bring it on. I have to face it; we have to face it.” We have to face it; I also think, what people know is that, short of a nuclear war, we’ll survive it.
We’d heard Derek Black, the former white power heir apparent, interviewed before about his past. But never about the friendships, with other people in their twenties, that changed him. After his ideology was outed at college, one of the only orthodox Jews on campus invited Derek to Shabbat dinner. What happened over the next two years is like a roadmap for transforming some of the hardest territory of our time.
MR. STEVENSON: In fact, we — I remember, the first time that Derek was invited over, I was very explicit with people that this was not “ambush Derek” time. This was not some opportunity to yell at him for the wrongness of his beliefs, because I knew that he would — first of all, he’d spent his whole life defending this ideology. I hadn’t spent my whole life attacking the statistics and other things that they built their ideological convictions on. And as a consequence, I knew that shouting at him — or, at least, I felt that shouting at him at something like that, or having anybody else at the table do so, would just immediately put him on the defensive, and he’d never come back. So I was very explicit that people were not to discuss his background at the table, or the white nationalism, more generally.
MS. TIPPETT: But you say it in such a matter-of-fact way. I feel like right now, in our country, we forget that if we really want people to change, that <strong>it has never happened in human history that somebody changed because someone else told them how stupid they were.</strong> What was that experience like for you? You must have wondered, when you first went, are they going to grill me about this? Or, will I be put on the spot?
MR. BLACK: I think I was less worried about being grilled than what actually happened, where I wasn’t grilled…
…and had to spend, ultimately, years of really enjoyable time among people who — the fact that I was friends with them was contradictory to my worldview. And that was a lot more uncomfortable than had I been grilled, because I had a background doing media interviews since I was 12 years old, where people say, “How do you believe in hate?” And I had crime statistics and IQ statistics and a history of American white supremacist statements from the founding fathers, and other things like that that tend to confuse people when a 14-year-old explains to them why all the races should be separated.
And I was pretty comfortable with that position. I thought it was important, and I knew how to do it, and if it had been a big argument, I would’ve had statistics, I would have misused social science, and I would have not changed their mind and not changed my own mind, but I would’ve at least known what was going on. I think the real thing that happened, where I was just at a Shabbat dinner for two years, and I had to say, “Well, I think my ideology is very anti-Semitic.”
.. MR. STEVENSON: I think it’s also worth pointing out that over those two years, I was legitimately friends with Derek. It was not some sabotage project where I was going undercover or something. I was legitimately — felt like I was — especially, over time, counted him amongst my closest friends, even when I frankly didn’t know exactly where he stood.
MS. TIPPETT: And you weren’t asking.
MR. STEVENSON: At first, as I mentioned, I was afraid that if I were to ask that the defenses would go up, and that that would be the end of it. Later on — well, after two years, it’s a little awkward. We’d even play games, because he knew that I knew, and I knew that he knew. It was — so there would be awkward things. I screwed with him once, at this conference that he mentioned. I knew that he was doing it, he was organizing it. So I asked him, “What are you doing this weekend?”
He said, “I’m going to see some family.” I said, “Where?” I said, “What are you doing?” So it was a little cat-and-mouse game.
MR. BLACK: My answer was, “I’m going to a family reunion,” which was not untrue. My entire family was there.
MS. TIPPETT: What else was going on?
MR. BLACK: Well, it was a seminar that I had founded the year before in response to being outed at New College. I had been very uncomfortable with the fact that so many people at this college really detested what I was representing, even though I thought it was super-correct. So in response to that, the first year, I had organized this seminar up in the mountains of Tennessee, where people, where a small group would come together, and we would talk about the best ways to argue with anti-racists and to convince people that white nationalism is correct. And this was a year later, after that initial one, and I was a lot less certain of what I believed, and I was going back to it for…
MS. TIPPETT: Moral support?
.. MS. TIPPETT: So what happened is that you never made — the Shabbat dinners never became conversations about white nationalism. But then, gradually, over a period of time, in my understanding, Derek, individuals would bring something up with you, and you’d — I don’t know. I feel like you all — you handled this so well, and feels like the campus handled it well. So you would end up taking a walk with somebody, and they would say, “I really — I want to understand this,” and that started a different level of conversation.
MR. BLACK: People I met at the Shabbat dinners — in particular, one person who did the brunt of all this labor of listening to me explain this ideology and what-all is my evidence for it, and why am I so convinced this is true; and then doing the labor to say, <strong>“You are misusing crime statistics. Here’s how statistics works,”</strong> and having that sort of conversation happen sort of naturally. It was from meeting at the dinners but then being on a small campus and doing things like, “Let’s go down to the bay to watch the sunset and just spend time as people.” And eventually, it becomes sort of awkward that “We’ve never talked about that you believe in a reprehensible political ideology, and you’re advocating something terrible, and you seem kind of nice; how do you reconcile that?”
MS. TIPPETT: And you knew each other well enough that they could actually say it to you that way.
MR. BLACK: Yeah, because it was lower stakes than being on an interview for MSNBC or something. It was not that I had to make my points and try to get some converts; it was that I trusted this person. I liked this person. I respected this person. And I wanted to explain why I think this is correct, because “It’s clearly correct. If you don’t want to accept that it’s true, that’s a decision you can make. But it’s an uncomfortable truth.” And that was the position I was coming from.
.. you got to a point where — when you trotted out your arguments that you were so skilled in and so comfortable with, but it did actually become a conversation. You were actually able to listen to a different way of seeing even those arguments that felt so clear to you.
.. MR. BLACK: I wanted to be someone who used evidence and believed something because it was demonstrable, not because it was some gut feeling. And if the way we were using generalized IQ statistics from around the world was illegitimate because the IQ test is culturally normed, and you can’t go around the world giving it to people, and say, “Look, I’ve discovered the different intelligence of the races” — if that’s actually an illegitimate piece of evidence, I didn’t want to use it, which is why, at the time, I thought, “I’m becoming a better white nationalist. I’m becoming better at arguing this, because I now understand how these things are being misused.
And it’s only at the end, where piece after piece after piece is removed, and all I’m left with is the fact that I think that I can be friends with Jewish students and with people of color, but my belief system says that they should all be removed from the United States, and I don’t have any support for thinking that anyone is better off — all that is, is a hateful ideology.
.. you wrote this, “I would never have begun my own conversations without first experiencing clear and passionate outrage to what I believed from those I interacted with.” And yet, as we’ve been speaking, that process of you being able to interact with them and take in that outrage was the seed that got you to that point. So — but I would like to hear about how you are thinking, these days, about this line between civility and outrage and activism.
.. MR. BLACK: I worry that my story gets told as a piece of evidence that the only way that you change people’s minds is by having friendly conversations with them, when it’s clearly not true. It’s essential that you speak up loudly and condemn something that’s wrong. That’s what happened at college. It wasn’t just these conversations. The context for those conversations was that an entire community of people that I had gotten to know for a semester before they knew who I was, and who I respected, clearly had come to a very intelligent conclusion that what I was advocating was morally wrong, was factually wrong. And I found that very unpleasant, and I didn’t want to listen to it, and it initially drove me to organize a seminar to try to make white nationalists be more confident in what they were believing.
.. do you think you — without those quiet conversations, would the outrage alone have brought you around?
MR. BLACK: No; the outrage alone would have made me a more firm adherent to being a white nationalist. But the quiet conversations couldn’t have happened without the outrage.
.. And there is a difference between being aggressive and being strong. There’s a difference between being vociferously opposed, in this case, to the white nationalist ideology and other hateful ideologies, and taking steps to harm an individual who subscribes to those ideologies. Even an ideology which is as reprehensible as most of us, probably all of us in this room, believe white nationalism to be, once you cross the line to saying, “He’s forfeited his rights as a human being; he’s forfeited his right to human dignity by virtue of having those beliefs” — maybe the Nazis said that the Jews forfeited their rights to human dignity by virtue of being Jews. Where does it end? So to be strong, no question, is important. But there is a difference between being strong and violating the humanity of another person.
.. it was grounded in empathy; that the reason why I was not willing to listen to the argument that sounded very straightforward — that we should work towards inclusion, not separation — was because I didn’t empathize with people who weren’t part of my in-group. And I thought I wasn’t necessarily doing anything bad to them, but it was also, the priority was the people who were within my in-group.
And <strong>what changed was feeling that people who were not in my in-group were being negatively impacted by my actions and that I should care about that.</strong> And trying to reconcile that I should care about people who are negatively impacted by my actions, and I’m still doing the actions, became very difficult. And it really was empathizing with people who were not “supposed” to be part of my group and increasing the number of people who were in my group — that’s the universal thing that I think came out of what I learned from coming through that, because it can — everybody has in-groups.
.. what, right now, makes you despair, and where are you finding hope?
MR. STEVENSON: Sure. So I don’t think I would use the word “despair,” because I think the word “despair” makes it seem as though there is no hope. But there is certainly a tendency, I think, increasing trend to only associating with people who agree with you, who have the same worldview, have the same opinions as you. And that’s psychologically pleasing, and it’s maybe fun, but the terrible cost of that is that you run a very real risk of losing empathy for people who disagree with you. And that’s why I see people — people who are my friends, who I love dearly, think nothing to say, “I hate so-and-so.” “I hate Republicans,” or, “I hate Democrats.” Do they know what they’re saying?
As far as hope, I think that the underlying spark of goodness that’s within each and every one of us and within everybody in the world is ultimately gonna win out; that this empathy that people can generate and feel — you can’t stop it in the long run.
.. <strong>I spent a lot of time trying to be a good activist for a bad cause.</strong> And I spent a lot of time seeing the ways that my predecessors had been successful at that, whether it’s winning campaigns or building organizations in large numbers, and so, cultivated arguments that found fertile ground. And that led us to think that we were not only right, but that with time, everybody would see that we were right, and agree.
.. And now I think I’m back to being confident. <strong>People do want inclusion; they do want to make a fair society. I think just about everybody does, wants there to be a society where we are not limited, where we’re not oppressed because of our group. And it’s just very hard to do that.</strong>
If you walk around with hatred and prejudice in your heart and mind all day, morally you’re just as much a killer as the one who pulls out the gun. That seems to be what Jesus is saying. The evil and genocide of World War II was the final result of decades of negative and paranoid thinking among good German Christians, Catholic and Lutheran. The tragic fascism of Nazi Germany was fomenting in people’s hearts long before a political leader came to catalyze their hate and resentment. Now it seems we are seeing the same in the United States.
Jesus tells us to not harbor hateful anger or call people names even in our hearts like “fool” or “worthless person” (Matthew 5:22). If we’re walking around all day thinking, “What an idiot he is,” we are already in the state of sin. Sin is more a state of separation and superiority than any concrete action—which is only the symptom. How we live in our hearts is our real truth.
.. Jesus insists that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). For Jesus, prayer seems to be a matter of waiting in love, returning to love, trusting that love is the unceasing stream of reality. Prayer isn’t primarily words; it’s an attitude, a stance, a state that precedes “saying” any individual prayers. That’s why Paul could say, “Pray unceasingly” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). If we think of prayer as requiring words, it is surely impossible to pray always.