President Donald Trump needs to provide moral leadership and denounce the “demonic racist force” that is the alt-right before it further fractures the country, a group of evangelical leaders says.
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, along with other conservative leaders from North Carolina and across the country have signed an open letter to the president stating that although he has denounced the KKK and neo-Nazis, and signed a joint resolution condemning white supremacy, he needs to go a step further.
“Now, we respectfully call upon you to respond to the resolution by speaking out against the alt-right movement,” the letter says. “This movement has escaped your disapproval. We believe it is important for this movement to be addressed, for at its core it is a white identity movement and the majority of its members are white nationalists or white supremacists. This movement gained public prominence during your candidacy for President of the United States. Supporters of the movement have claimed that you share their vision for our country. These same supporters have sought to use the political and cultural concerns of people of good will for their prejudiced political agendas. It concerned many of us when three people associated with the alt-right movement were given jobs in the White House.”
The letter, posted at unifyingleadership.org, goes on to say that the alt-right movement does not represent constitutional conservatism, because the constitution promotes the dignity and equality of all people.
“The core of the movement is the protection of white identity. Richard Spencer, a prominent leader in the alt-right movement, desires to transform our country into an ethno-state that serves as a gathering point for all Europeans.”
The letter asks Trump “to join with many other political and religious leaders to proclaim with one voice that the ‘alt-right’ is racist, evil and antithetical to a well-ordered, peaceful society.”
Failure to do so, the signers say, will lead to an expansion of the racial divide in America.
“We cannot be divided and still defeat this new demonic racist force,” the letter says.
The letter is a forceful and specific request in response to the events in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12 where white-supremacists and counter-protesters clashed. A self-described neo-Nazi drove into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman and injuring other people.
Trump said “many sides” were to blame for the violence and that there were “very fine people on both sides.”
The letter writers mention President George H.W. Bush, who they say worked with Pastor Edward Victor Hill II of Los Angeles to help African-Americans deal with their anger over exoneration of police officers involved in the beating of Rodney King in 1991.
“Our country desperately needs unifying leadership again,” the letter says. “We need you, President Trump, to lead us in such an effort. America needs your voice and your convictions to defeat racist ideologies and movements in every form that they present themselves. America is profoundly fractured and divided. We can envision the change that could emerge if you would provide the moral leadership we so desperately need for racial healing. Our polarized nation could unite around your leadership on this critical issue.”
In addition to Akin, five of his colleagues at Southeastern have signed the letter: Bruce Ashford, professor of theology; Keith S. Whitfield, dean of graduate studies and assistant professor of theology; Ryan Hutchinson, executive vice president; Jason Fowler, director of library services; and Walter Strickland, associate vice president of Kingdom Diversity. Other signers from North Carolina include the Rev. James D. Gailliard, pastor of World Tabernacle Church in Rocky Mount; J.D. Greear, pastor of Summit Church in Raleigh; Neal Thornton, pastor of Coats Baptist Church in Harnett County; and Ashley Marivittori Gorman, an author and Bible teacher in Durham. Several Southeastern seminary students also have signed.
One of the signers, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership conference, is a member of the president’s Evangelical Advisory Board.