Martha Garcia: Politics divide congregations; leaders work to bring unity

US President Barack Obama with Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2014. (AP Images)
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Nearly two weeks since the presidential election and questions remain. What will a presidency under Donald Trump look like? Will the economy see a boost. Will basic human rights be threatened?

The truth is no one really knows. To that end, faith leaders in Santa Clarita focus on how to lead their congregations forward in the wake of what was one of the most divisive recent presidential campaigns.

Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami shared his congregation was quite split politically. Yet, he knew no matter the outcome, people would be hurt. Many passionate arguments occurred, he explained, but overall people remained respectful.

“One of my goals is to make sure people continue to treat each other with respect and not allow this to destroy relationships,” he said. “We have to try to learn from each other, not simply tolerate those we disagree with.”

Rev. Kelly O’Connell at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, like many other faith leaders, spoke about the election during her sermon last Sunday. At St. Stephen’s some congregation members were happy about the results and others were deeply disappointed, she shared.

“Many concerns about the politics of some of the folks our president-elect is putting forward for high office, that they may turn back what has been accomplished for the rights of people in the U.S,” said O’Connell. “But I’m willing to wait and see if those things come true and I’m also willing to stand up, speak out and fight for what I believe is right.”

Blazer shared his concern of Trump’s presidency, which stems from Trump’s lack of foreign policy and government leadership experience in general.

“Will some of the voices in Trumps inner circle that are part of the alt-right movement be anti-semitic, that is a concern, but he will be the first president to have Jews who are members of his family,” said Blazer. “I hope in the days ahead the anger and feelings people have can be channeled into positive debate.”

He also expressed his hope that people from all sides will have a healthy response to any type of bigotry.

Moving forward with unity

Rev. Julius A. Harper of Santa Clarita Christian Fellowship expressed positivity moving forward from the election. He explained he was not worried about a Trump presidency.

“This is an opportunity for God to show his incredible grace through our leaders,” said Harper. “None of our leaders are perfect. We will face some challenges, but our call as a biblical organization is to teach from the word of God.”

His sermon last Sunday touched on how to respond to the election results, by praying and having faith in God. Harper said his advice to people of faith is to understand that God is ultimately in control. People should look to their greater power, regardless of their religious background.

Rev. Peter Farriday of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Santa Clarita shared similar thoughts, calling on people to focus on the greater good of the country and see others, even those who have different political beliefs, as our neighbors.

“When we go beyond our fears and personal concerns and focus on concern for the commonwealth, we step on to holy ground,” said Farriday. “We have to understand our deep connectedness; even with diversity, there is unity.”

SCCF plans to host a public prayer session planned for November 22 at 6:30 p.m. They want to offer people a time to share their concerns, as well as hold group prayer for the direction of Trump’s administration.

“We as people of faith have to set that example that faith is the thing that unites us, more than being from the same country or the same political party,” said Harper.

Every faith leader shared their disappointment with the reports of increased hate crimes, as well as reports of protesting turned to violence and rioting.

“Many are worried that the values they hold dear are potentially under siege,” said Farriday. “I understand the fear people have, but acting out in destructive ways is not helpful.”

Farriday called on his congregation to be vigilant and “morally awake” to their values being threatened. He said people should be ready to engage in political action and social commentary to defend their values and focus on values of inclusion.

“What I tried to express is that this is really the kind of times that call us to be our best selves as Christians,” said O’Connell. “However the country goes forward, St. Stephen’s will always be a place of support for all diversity of people. We are called to love our neighbor, care for the needy, love each other; that doesn’t change after the election.”

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