An Open Letter to the President of the United States

June 3, 2020

The President of the United States of America

Dear Mr. President:

I add my voice to the rising tide of voices denouncing your words and your deeds on Monday; your deeds on Monday, throughout your time in office, and in your conduct as a public figure and a private citizen.

People of color in this nation have continued to suffer from institutional racism, codified by laws written when white men openly sought to establish and defend their power over women and people of other racial and ethnic groups. Many of those laws remain, and even where those laws have been repealed or overturned, their effects remain. The attitudes remain. Ahmaud Arbery’s killers hunted him down because the only reason for a black man to be in their neighborhood was to commit crimes. Brionna Taylor died when police demanded and executed a no-knock warrant, then failed to announce themselves as police. What justification was there for that? George Floyd died when an officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes. Neither he nor the officers with him responded to his pleas for mercy.

These were all acts of violence, Mr. President, violence against citizens of the nation, violence against the people you swore to protect by upholding the Constitution, violence committed in the latter two instances by agents of the state. 

If these had been isolated incidents, the families and the communities might have demonstrated faith in the legal system. How could they? Two months elapsed before a video forced authorities to consider a murder case in Mr. Arbery’s death. Two months elapsed before details of Ms. Taylor’s death came to public awareness. Without the video of Mr. Floyd’s death, would those officers have successfully claimed “self-defense”?

These are acts of violence, Mr. President, committed against people who have been routinely harassed by law enforcement officials because of their race. They are acts of violence committed against people who remember very clearly that you could not consistently condemn overt racists with Nazi flags and Ku Klux Klan hoods. These are acts of violence piled upon humiliations, obstructions, and oppressions beyond count or measure.

I do not condone riot. I am an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ. Anger, however, is the appropriate response to injustice. The truth of racism in America can only provoke anger. However I lament the violence erupting in our cities, I have to bear witness to this truth: the anger is responding to a long history of violence and injustice. If you increase the violence of the state – if someone authorizes deadly force even against looters – you multiply the violence.

Mr. President, this is the time to abandon your instincts for retaliation. This is the time to lay the groundwork for reconciliation. This is the time to acknowledge injustice. This is the time to mourn the dead. This is the time to quench the flames, not feed them.

So far, as after Charlottesville, you have chosen to feed them.

I have some further comments on your visit to St. John’s Episcopal Church. I will tentatively accept the account that Attorney General William Barr ordered the protesters cleared to expand the security perimeter around the White House. The explanation, however, is an inadequate excuse. Those demonstrators had done nothing to provoke a violent response. There was no need for tear gas, batons, or rubber bullets. None whatsoever. The approach to people gathered in peaceful observance of their First Amendment rights cannot possibly be a violent one. If it is, those who ordered it need to be held to account.

Mr. President, you should ask for Attorney General Barr’s resignation immediately. The others who followed his illegal order should also be dismissed.

Then you walked to St. John’s Church. Mr. President, you could not have known this, but the police assault drove staff and priests of the church from its grounds. They entered the property without a warrant and without probable cause of a crime. Frankly, they should all be tried for assault.

Then you stood on the church grounds holding a Bible. Did you ask permission to stand there? Did you confer with the church’s leadership at all? Did you have any reason to believe you could use church property as a backdrop?

Frankly, sir, if you did that on the grounds of my church, I would consider filing a complaint for trespassing against you. Because of the use of force, I would demand accountability of the police officers and their commanders, up to and including the Attorney General.

I am a pastor. I do not approve of violence. I do not believe Jesus approved of violence. He ordered his followers not to resist his arrest. He offered forgiveness – not violence – to his torturers and killers. Who did he drive from the temple? Those who sought to enrich themselves under the cloak of religion.

I trust the contrast between Jesus Christ and Monday’s action is clear, Mr. President.

When you stood on church grounds, you sought to claim the endorsement of the Christian faith for your threats of violence and more violence. You used violence to obtain that place. You trespassed on the physical space and you trespassed on the spiritual space. Your attempt to claim holy sanction for your acts defines the word “blasphemous.”

Here is my advice.

Retract your threats of violence. Begin substantive conversations with leaders of these protests.

Insist on the resignation of Attorney General Barr and discipline of those who followed his orders.

Apologize to the leadership of St. John’s Church.

Apologize to the faith community for your blasphemous attempt to use their faith for your selfish purposes.

Based on your prior behavior, I do not believe you will take any of these actions. Therefore, there is only one proper remedy: Resign from office. You have demonstrated once more that you are unworthy of the public trust.

Sincerely,

Eric S. Anderson
Ordained Minister, United Church of Christ

An(other) Open Letter to the President of the United States of America

20170824 ESAAugust 25, 2017

The President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mister President:

I learn today that you have pardoned Joseph Arpaio, former Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, for his conviction related to violations of citizens’ civil rights in defiance of federal court orders.

Further, I learn today that you have issued a directive to the Defense Department which will ban transgender persons from serving in the United States Armed Forces.

And, of course, I have listened to your words and your tone over the last two weeks since white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, and one of them killed a young woman. Your initial response made a false equivalence between people attempting to preserve their civil rights and people who seek to take those rights away from them. Your second response clearly condemned the racist and violent agenda of white supremacy. It was late, but it was clear. But the very next day you returned to that false equivalency again.

Let me be clear with this, sir: there are no two sides between those who would dominate and those resisting domination. We are not talking about plain bigotry. We are talking about who makes choices for other people. The white supremacists claim that they should make the decisions which impact those of darker skins, or who are women, or who find love differently than they.

They are wrong. They should not. And you should not encourage them as you did last week in Phoenix, as you have done today with the pardon for Mr. Arpaio, and as you have done today with a ban on transgender persons.

Fortunately, there is a remedy for this. It is called repentance, and it is an ancient religious tradition. Here’s how it works:

You acknowledge the wrong.

You apologize for the wrong.

You do what can be done to undo the wrong. Now, you can’t revoke the pardon for Mr. Arpaio, but you can clearly order ICE agents to refrain from the racial profiling activity Mr. Arpaio engaged in.

And you strive never to do that wrong again.

Sir, you owe it to the American people. We need to see that you serve all America’s citizens, and not just those with light skin.

If you cannot, there is another remedy. It’s also very simple. It goes like this:

You address a letter to the Secretary of State, which reads:

“I resign the office of President of the United States.”

Because, sir, if you cannot apologize for these words and actions, you should not hold this office.

Peace to you,

Eric Anderson

An Open Letter to the President of the United States after Charlottesville

Downtown Charlottesville 201708

Downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 14, 2017. Her name was Heather Heyer. Photo by Bob Mical. Used by permission under Creative Commons license.

The President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mister President,

I listened to your words on Saturday, August 12th, responding to the racist and white supremacist rally and riot in Charlottesville, Virginia. I heard you lament the violence and I heard you cast blame on “many sides. On many sides.”

Mister President, you must choose a side.

On the one side, there are those marchers: all white, mostly men. These are the ones shouting, “You will not replace us,” and “Blood and soil.” Do you recognize those words, sir? Do you recognize that the latter was a slogan of the Nazi Party in Germany? Do you recognize that the former implies a race-based rivalry between American citizens?

Do you recognize that you have fed both of these?

On the other side, there were the other marchers. Their skins were white, and brown, and deep brown. They were men and women. Many of them stood with arms linked wearing the vestments of religious leaders. Those people sang songs of peace as those others, carrying clubs and guns, shouted their slogans of division and hate.

These are the people mowed down by a speeding car, driven into them in an act of terror.

Do you recognize that you have failed to heed these voices of justice and peace?

The white supremacists know. They heard your words. They recognize that you have not condemned their false doctrines or their belligerent slogans or their evil purposes.

Until you condemn their ideals, until you condemn their goals, until you condemn their actions, they will know. We will all know.

I call upon you now to fulfill your oath. Be President to the United States to the entire United States. Repudiate the voices of white supremacy; reject their affirmation of racism. Make it clear. Make it certain. Make it forceful.

If you do not: the citizens of this country are listening. And we will know which side you have chosen. So will all the world.

I await your repentance and your amendment.

Sincerely yours,

Eric S. Anderson
Pastor, Church of the Holy Cross United Church of Christ
Hilo, Hawai’i

Ego without Wisdom

I sent this letter on Sunday, August 13th. I had not yet decided whether to post this after the President’s statement on August 14th condemning racism and white supremacy. His return to rhetoric blaming counter-protesters on August 15th, however, prompted me to make this letter public.

To the Attorney General of the United States

IMG_2103Dear Mr. Attorney General,

According to your statement in an interview, you do not feel that a judge on “an island in the Pacific” should be able to review a federal executive order.

Apparently, Mr. Sessions, you haven’t heard that federal judges do, in fact, have the power to review executive and congressional action and evaluate them for constitutionality and adherence to other relevant federal law. Or, I suppose, you haven’t heard that the judge in question is, in fact, a federal judge.

I’ll assume that you know that this island in the Pacific is a full member of the United States of America.

Well, Mr. Sessions, this is one of several islands in the Pacific, it’s true. Islands, it seems, where we can read an executive order and spot its inhumanity, its injustice, and its betrayal of American values. Islands, it seems, where we understand the processes of American jurisprudence. Islands, it seems, where we will stand for the best of America when others will not.

Mr. Sessions, you are an officer of the court. You owe a federal judge an apology. Mr. Sessions, you are a cabinet member of this administration. You owe an entire state (some of whose citizens voted for your principal) an apology. Mr. Sessions, you are a human being. You need to examine your heart, abandon these policies of racial and religious discrimination, and start over.

Mr. Sessions, you need to repent.

Sincerely yours,

Eric S. Anderson, Pastor
Church of the Holy Cross United Church of Christ
Hilo, Hawai’i