In the ensuing months they scrambled for responses to a Christian president who spent little time in church and whose key faith backers include a sizable proportion of prosperity gospel preachers.
This year, Trump was named in the AAR/SBL program 27 times. A book of essays, “Faith and Resistance in the Age of Trump,” was among the hottest sellers at the religion publishers’ exhibition hall.
The AAR is open to members who cross a wide range of theological and political positions, but the strongest voices over the conference period were those in protest again the Trump/GOP actions, and in solidarity with inclusive faith and academic integrity as higher education, scholarship and religion are threatened by rhetoric and tax overhauls:
[Gushee’s] primary fear was for the shadow he sees cast by a president who trades in what Gushee called “white American Christian tribalism.”
Publishing and teaching are no longer enough to combat forces that distort religious teachings, omit the social justice message of religion and instead support a racist, sexist and Islamophobic vision of America, he said.
Gushee’s platform for 2018, announced this week, zeroes in on the “civic responsibilities, opportunities and risks facing scholars of religion.” And the AAR board has added a second dimension to the mission statement. The original goal “to foster excellence in the study of religion” now adds a commitment to “enhance the public understanding of religion.”
Previous AAR president Eddie S. Glaude Jr., a professor of religion at Princeton,:
“These dark times call for a different kind of scholar. We must step into the fray… If you choose to sit on the sideline, you have chosen a side.”
Hundreds of attendees did take a side Monday. They slipped away from the official sessions to join clergy at the historic Old South Church,where they donned sackcloth and ashes, religious symbols of mourning, and issued a “Boston Declaration” of opposition to the president’s agenda.
The Rev. Susan Thistlethwaite, former president of Chicago Theological Seminary, smeared ashes again on her face later that afternoon when she joined fellow authors of essays included in “Faith and Resistance” for a panel where she called for “embodied activism.”