An Open Letter to President-elect Donald J. Trump

01-08-2017Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

President-elect Donald J. Trump
725 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10022

Dear President-elect Trump,

As Christians conclude the Christmas season with the celebration of Epiphany, I wish to shine a light on recent threats to Christian churches throughout the US. Just days prior to Christmas, the U.S. Government reported that ISIS terrorists were targeting Churches in the U.S. on Christmas, though no specifics were given. If it were the intention of the Federal authorities to scare Christians away from attending Christmas services, then a better strategy could not be had.

As a result, we pastors received dozens of calls and emails from people concerned about the announced threat for Christmas. Since you will be leading our nation very soon, I ask you, Mr. Trump, what were pastors supposed to do? Do we hire armed security forces to stand guard over our churches? Do we search individuals entering the Church? Do we have plain-clothes police sitting in the congregation? Frankly, it is irresponsible for the Federal Government to use such scare tactics without giving pastors and congregations some concrete details on what actions should be taken other than the amorphous “if you see something, say something.”

And that is the problem. With the high volume of visitors on Christmas, you will certainly see something or someone out of the ordinary. Therefore, anyone who looks or sounds Middle-Eastern, or possibly be a Muslim, is now suspect. Because of years of dealing with the problem of terrorism in a politically correct manner, anyone who approximates the profile of a terrorist is now suspect. In several cases I know of, reports were made only to find out that the “suspicious” persons were actually friendly visitors, or even Christians, looking for a new church to join. I can tell you there is nothing more disquieting than to ask Homeland Security to investigate a suspicious visitor to your Church only to find out that the visitor was innocently visiting and taking photos of your church because they thought it beautiful or were even thinking of joining the Parish. It is not our custom to have new members interrogated by Federal officials prior to joining.

As a pastor who is always concerned about the well-being of his people and hears the Department of Homeland Security announce that Christians in church on Christmas were sitting ducks, should I have asked the God-fearing, peace-loving, gun-carrying men and women of my congregation to provide security on our campus because the government can’t or won’t protect its citizens? After all, self-defense is a moral principle. I pray that I, or any other pastor, should never have to take such actions. But what if an attack had occurred? Would those same officials who issued the warning say, “we told you so”? What purpose does an alert serve other than keeping us all on edge or signaling that this is the new normal and we should get used to it, or should pastors read it as a call to arms?

Many Muslims immigrated to the US to flee the violence and oppression of many of their co-religionists. And America has betrayed them by promoting a toxic notion of tolerance that has empowered the very terrorists they sought to flee. The irony here is that many government officials have been extremely concerned about Muslims in the U.S. being unfairly targeted or discriminated against, while it is the actions or lack of actions of those same officials that cause the rest of us to be suspicious. The longer the reign of terror continues, the more we won’t know who is friend or foe. This is not the type of community we wish to live in, but when the threat of terror related violence is so real, can we be too cautious?

Mr. Trump, I ask you on behalf of all God-worshipping and peace-loving people, Christian, Jew and Muslim in the U.S., to take actions that are effective and decisive to finally end this destructive and corrosive thread that is weaving its way through our churches, communities, and country. We seek to live in peace with all men and women of good will.

May the same Light that guided the Magi guide you and your new administration.

Sincerely yours,

Rev. John M. Bonavitacola
Pastor, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish
Tempe, AZ