A group of prominent evangelical Christians is calling on President Donald Trump to take further steps to condemn white supremacists – specifically those in the alt-right – following the August white nationalist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one woman dead.
A letter that has been circulating privately among a coalition of pastors notes Trump’s efforts to denounce the white supremacists, but urges the President to go further in condemning the alt-right “by name.”
“This movement has escaped your disapproval,” the letter, obtained exclusively by CNN, reads. “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 goodwill 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.”
Initial signers of the letter include Southern Baptist Convention President Rev. Steve Gaines, former SBC President Rev. Fred Luter and the Rev. T.D. Jakes, a mentor of Trump’s top spiritual adviser, Rev. Paula White. One member of Trump’s informal Evangelical Advisory Board, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, also signed the letter.
The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.
Trump was widely criticized for his response to the white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month after he claimed that “both sides” were to blame for violence and said there were “some very fine people” among the white nationalist protesters.
“I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me,” Trump said during a press conference after the demonstrations. “You also had some very fine people on both sides.”
Trump signed a congressional resolution Sept. 14 that condemned the violence and renounced “white nationalists, white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other hate groups.”
“No matter the color of our skin or our ethnic heritage, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God,” Trump said.
But the signers of the letter are calling on Trump to take further steps to address the issue.
“Our country desperately needs unifying leadership again,” their letter reads. “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 are praying, and call upon God’s people to humble themselves and pray that you would take the bold and moral step to denounce the alt-right.”
The effort, a collaborative project drafted by Southern Baptists Rev. Dwight McKissic and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Dean Keith S. Whitfield, comes after the Southern Baptist Convention – the nation’s largest protestant denomination – grappled with its own decision to condemn the alt-right earlier this year.
At the denomination’s annual meeting in June, Southern Baptists initially rejected an effort to condemn the alt-right, sparking an outcry among pastors who went on to force a vote on a resolution that condemned “every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy.” The resolution ultimately passed.
Read the full letter below:
OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP
FROM AMERICAN RELIGIOUS LEADERS:
WE NEED YOU TO SPEAK
Dear President Trump:
The events that took place in Charlottesville, VA on August 12 grieved us. We were deeply troubled by the public display of racism on that day. It reminded us of a time years ago when such brazen displays of bigotry and white supremacy were common and were upheld by political leaders.
We love the United States of America. We have overcome much racial injustice, but we fear that without moral clarity and courageous leadership that consistently denounces all forms of racism, we may lose the ground that we have gained toward the racial unity for which so many of us have fought. Our nation remains divided racially and ideologically. We struggle to stand together to denounce racial inequality and injustice in our country.