LA faith leaders offer wisdom in the age of Trump

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Donald Trump’s presidential victory — and trickling announcements of top cabinet picks — have rattled many Americans, especially Muslims, Jews and people of color. They’ve been the targets of inflammatory remarks and hate crimes from Trump supporters.

During times of trouble, people usually turn to religion for comfort and guidance. So we wanted to hear how local leaders of different faiths are advising their congregants. We speak with an imam, a pastor, a rabbi and LA’s archbishop.

Imam Jihad Turk on getting organized

Imam Jihad Turk (Photo: Amy Ta)
Imam Jihad Turk (Photo: Amy Ta) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Jihad Turk is an imam at the Islamic Center of Southern California, the largest and oldest mosque in Los Angeles. He also gives Friday sermons at First United Methodist Church in Santa Monica, and founded Bayan Claremont Islamic graduate school to educate Muslim scholars.

Imam Turk says friends nationwide have been calling him about their Muslim children facing more bullying and hate speech.

“For the last few days since the election, I’ve been receiving a number of reports from across the country — and here locally in southern California – of kids being bullied, and of parents freaking out, what do I do to help my kids, to help protect them, to help them navigate the difficult situations they face in school with kids mimicking what they hear at home, not just picking on kids of color and immigrants saying ‘we’re gonna deport you,’ but calling Muslim kids terrorists and in many instances, the girls who happen to cover their hair, sometimes kids will pull their headscarf off. It’s been a real challenge.”

But Imam Turk reassures them that they have more people supporting them than the loud voices that might be bigoted against them as Muslim.

He also says demonstrations are not enough. “It really requires us to organize not just here in California, but nationally, and really be plugged into making a transition. In the very least in the next two years, there will be the congressional and Senate races. We could make a difference at that level, and maybe turn the tide to keep the presidency in check.”

Pastor Kevin Haah on listening to the other side

Pastor Kevin Haah (Photo by Amy Ta)
Pastor Kevin Haah (Photo by Amy Ta) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Kevin Haah is lead pastor of New City Church of Los Angeles, a non-denominational Christian church in downtown with congregants from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. The congregation includesDonald Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters.

Haah says some congregants who voted for Trump feel ashamed because they’re being called bigots. “The Trump supporters that I talked to did not vote for hate. They voted for Trump, despite his bigotry. They saw a choice between corruption and other issues of pro-life. A lot of complexity went into the decision making.”

During his most recent Sunday worship, Haah spoke about the divisiveness of this election, and stressed the importance of listening to and not shaming one another (especially on social media).

“We need to view each other in 3D. Meaning not just by what we see, not just by their vote. We need to get to the whole person — their story, their backstory, why is it they decided to vote for Hillary or Trump. I’m not saying we need to agree, but we really need to dig deeper into one another, instead of tagging one another and saying, ‘You’re really a bigot because you voted for him,’ or ‘you don’t care about life because you voted for her.’ ”

Latinos in the church are especially worried. Haah says one congregant was worried about deportation whenever he went into the streets, simply commuting to work. Another educator said students asked if their parents would be deported. “There’s a lot of anger among our Latino brothers and sisters because they feel denigrated, talking about the wall, being called a criminal.”

Haah says New City Church’s political agenda is to unconditionally love and stand with people who are oppressed and in need. “Our message is not about political power. Our message is about changing people through God’s love.”

Rabbi Susan Goldberg on having hope

Rabbi Susan Goldberg (Photo by Amy Ta) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Susan Goldberg is a rabbi at Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Koreatown, which was founded in 1862 as the first synagogue in LA.

She says there’s a sense of free fall into a scary unknown. “I was really at a lost of what this unknown would mean, and really sat with congregants weeping, and scared kids, and a lot of really big reactions in the day right after [the election].”

But Jews have survived their difficult history by being deeply connected to their traditional values, she adds. “Those things are kindness, compassion, justice. That doesn’t change, no matter who’s president.”

What Jewish people can offer others, she says, is familiarity with being scapegoated. Even her Twitter feed was flooded with intense anti-semitic tropes from Trump supporters. But she emphasizes, “I don’t want to make this gross generalization that I think all people who voted for Trump are in that alt-right, racist, xenophobic, anti-semitic group…. There must be a tremendous amount of pain in parts of this country for people to have voted for Trump because I know that most Americans are decent people and are not racist.”

Trump’s appointment of Breitbart media head Stephen Bannon as chief White House strategist has also rattled her community “I think there’s always room for hope that people move to their higher selves when called to this kind of office. However, when you see his record, and the statements that actually have been attributed to him, as well as his site — he’s responsible for his site, so if he doesn’t like that his site puts out anti-semitic rhetoric often, who’s accountable for that?”

Rabbi Goldberg says it’s incumbent upon faith leaders to stay closest to what they know to be true. “That is that we stand for taking care of our community and taking care of the community of others.”

LA Archbishop Jose Gomez on immigration reform

LA Archbishop Jose Gomez leads the largest archdiocese in the nation. He’s a Mexico native and US citizen. On Tuesday, he was elected vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He’s the first Latino in that position, and is expected to become president of the Conference in three years.

Archbishop Gomez got together with Mayor Eric Garcetti last week to host an interfaith prayer service. The purpose was to show support for undocumented immigrants. “We’ve been telling our elected officials that we need to find a solution because there are so many people in this country — 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States — and most of them are really good people that are trying to make a contribution to our society. Immigration is a global reality, so we should try to find a positive solution addressing the different aspects of immigration and movements of people to our country and in the world.”

(Banner image by Alonzo)