The Rev Janet Vinent offers her perspective on the controversy surrounding the participation of a National Cathedral choir in the upcoming presidential election based on her own experience of negotiating with Donald Trump
In “Hamilton” the song is Throwing Away My Shot. But a slight change in that title sums up what the Episcopal Church did when it agreed to hold an Inaugural prayer service at Washington National Cathedral.
I think that all involved are acting with the best intentions and have been guided by their consciences. Everyone I know is feeling conflicted as the inauguration and the events surrounding it approaches.
My concern is that we’ve missed an opportunity with the prayer service at Washington National Cathedral. When the decision was made, as in the past, to offer the WNC as the site of the prayer service our leaders could have requested a meeting with President-elect Trump. I’m thinking of the optics of our Presiding Bishop and the Bishop of Washington entering Trump Tower in New York for a 15-minute, confidential meeting, where they could have expressed their concerns about so many issues surrounding the Trump administration. After the meeting they could have issued a joint statement describing the gathering (leaving the particulars in confidence) and then presented their reasons for hosting the prayer service.
This would have afforded our leaders the opportunity to 1) be clear that our Gospel-based concern for the dignity of every human being had been clearly expressed and 2) allowed them the chance to get ahead of the story. The statements from the WNC and the Diocese of Washington have come weeks after the initial announcement following an onslaught of public criticism and genuine confusion. We serve best when we are clear and direct from the start.
Some might respond that Mr. Trump would not have agreed to a meeting. Having negotiated with him on a controversy involving his new Trump Tower and our shelters for homeless women and men (Grace Church, White Plains, NY, 2004) I know that it is possible to negotiate with him. But even if he had refused to meet or delegated the meeting to his transition team, it would have put our leaders in a better position to explain their reasons for hosting or not hosting the service. There is never a boundary to God’s love. But we have a responsibility to the truths that we must not abandon, even in the name of reconciliation.
I believe that we should pray for President Trump and his administration. I also believe that we have more power than we sometimes realize. Moving forward, my hope is that the Episcopal Church will not throw away our shot.
The Rev. Janet Vincent, Cottekill, New York