Letter From an African-American Pastor Who Met With Donald Trump

By Rev. Bill Owens Published on August 16, 2018

My Dear Fellow Clergymen,

As a 79-year-old man who travels more than most 20-year-olds, in the pursuit of just outcomes for every American, black, brown, or white, I rarely stop to spar with those who criticize me. I frankly do not have the time. I am constantly speaking, writing, or organizing with other members of the Coalition of African-American Pastors (CAAP). We work to defend religious freedom, social justice, innocent life, and the biblical model of the human family. But since I assume your good will, I took the time to answer the charges you’ve leveled against me and other pastors who met two weeks ago with President Trump in the White House.

As men and women of God, we are willing to meet with Caesar.

For this you issued an open letter calling us “Trump’s preachers.” I ask you if that was fair, or just, or even charitable. Were you “Obama’s preachers” when some of you met with him, despite his radical views on unborn life and marriage? I never said so, and I wouldn’t. I recognize that all of us strive to be Jesus’ preachers. And each of us acts on behalf of under-served communities as best as his conscience leads him. We should assume the best of each other, even when we differ.

We Will Meet with Caesar

As men and women of God, we are willing to meet with Caesar. As St. Paul taught us — speaking of Nero! — he “does not bear the sword in vain.” In America, thanks be to God working through our founders, Caesar’s power is distributed via the separation of powers. The president is no king. But he does have considerable influence to right social wrongs, as we must urge him. Or make them worse, if we don’t prevent him. That is why we met with the president. As partners in dialogue and correction, not flatterers.

As I once faced blows and spitting while desegregating lunch counters in Jim Crow Tennessee, so now I’ll face whatever condemnation comes from breaking ranks, for the greater good.

Empowering Black Citizens

Our meeting addressed three crucial topics: 1) Rebuilding America’s cities, such as Chicago and Baltimore. 2) Empowering black citizens to go into business, and benefit from the economic growth our country is seeing. 3) Addressing prison reform, fixing laws that Bill Clinton signed which assign disproportionate sentences.

How tragic that more than 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, this topic would be so central to our community. President Donald Trump didn’t cause that. No one man did. But the policies of the Great Society indeed took the rising black community and trapped it. Our black brothers and sisters are tied to federal programs and government dependency with a thousand invisible chains. As economist Thomas Sowell has documented over and over, the welfare state incentivized black families to shatter, black people to give up on the hope of social mobility. The rungs on the ladder to success have been removed in black communities across our nation. It’s those broken families where fatherless boys grow up on the streets, abandon school, and end up in our prisons.

Thousands of Invisible Chains

I grew up in a strong, hard-working, God-fearing family. We fought back against the unearned shame that white racists put upon us. But nothing they did back then was nearly as debilitating and destructive as all those ball-and-chain programs which President Johnson promised would help us. Not even close.

As economist Thomas Sowell has documented over and over, the welfare state incentivized black families to shatter, black people to give up on the hope of social mobility.

Now many of you, I suspect, still support such programs. I think you are wrong. Dead wrong, on the facts. But that will not lead me to accuse you of malice or corruption. Of cozying up to the prestige, power and money dispensed by the Democrat party, which counts on monolithic black support, even as it puts most of its energy into serving foreign immigrants both legal and illegal. No, I will posit that you are honestly mistaken, and use my free speech trying to convince you. Because I believe that you have needy people’s best interests at heart. I just wish you would engage your minds more rigorously to discern how to best serve these brothers and sisters groaning for relief. But I don’t accuse you. I’d ask you in justice and charity to withdraw the harsh comments you aimed at me and 19 other faith leaders, many of them African-American pastors.

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Our people bear enough wounds and scars of history. The scabs heal only for a little while before they are ripped off again. We need not to carve any more in our flesh through bitter divisions. Instead, I say, Let us pray and, “Come let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). I hope we can meet in person not as partisans but fellow preachers, to talk through our differences in pursuit of a common cause.Whether at the pool of Bethesda or in the Oval Office, I believe Jesus can and does perform miracles.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,


Bill Owens

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