Mixed flock: When Democrats, Republicans share the pews


Pittsburgh –

The Sunday after the presidential election, Pastor Rock Dillaman kept his ears tuned to the conversations among members at the church he leads.

He knew from his own observations and general trends that in a racially diverse congregation, there would be plenty of Donald Trump supporters and Hillary Clinton backers, and he could only wonder at the fall-out after the bitterest campaign in recent memory.

“What I found that first Sunday was people loving one another, laughing with one another,” said Dillaman, pastor of Allegheny Center Alliance Church, a North Side congregation with large numbers of white and black worshipers.

Many religious congregations may be almost entirely red or blue in their politics, depending on their racial, theological, geographic and economic makeup.

But some houses of worship have flocks made up of a fairly even mix of donkeys and elephants. Preachers there find themselves “struggling to say something that’s both unifying and prophetic,” wrote Craig Barnes, president of Princeton Theological Seminary, in a recent edition of the journal Christian Century.

“It’s easy to gloss over the divisive issues of a congregation with a declaration about spiritual unity, and it’s easy to make a congregation afraid of the ‘them’ who are to blame for our problems,” he wrote. “But it’s very difficult to preach to a divided ‘us.’

Yet, at times pastors can’t keep silent, he said, calling on them to oppose such things as Trump’s harsh rhetoric toward immigrants, Muslims and others.

Exit polls found that large majorities of white Protestants and Catholics supported Trump, many of them citing hopes for a Supreme Court that would restrict abortion and protect religious liberty. Many racial and religious minorities supported Clinton, citing such things as her support for immigrant and civil rights.

While the 2016 election was especially fierce, previous presidential campaigns were also deeply divisive, and Pastor Dillaman said he used to breathe a sigh of relief when Election Day came and went. This time, however, the acrimony is continuing right through Inauguration Day, particularly on social media, where he said he’s seen where some people “in the course of three paragraphs violated seven of the Ten Commandments.”

“The teams have left the field and the fans up in the stands are still fighting,” he said. Any church that wasn’t prepared to deal with its division before Nov. 8, he said, was unequipped to do so afterward.

At Allegheny Alliance, he said: “We’ve learned too much from one another about one another and spent too much time together to let something as temporary and hollow as American politics divide us. We know elections have profound implications, but they are temporary in the grand scheme of things.”