In the run up to the United States’ 2016 presidential election this November, TMS is publishing a series of interviews showcasing different opinions about President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden to give readers insight into the views of candidates’ supporters and detractors.
Our first interview was with a Trump supporter, Andrew Shecktor, who is involved in local government and served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 2016 and 2020. In our second and third interviews, we asked two progressives why they would or would not be voting for Biden.
This interview is with Rev. Dr. Casey T. Sigmon, an Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Saint Paul School of Theology. She received her Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University and Master of Divinity from McCormick Theological Seminary. She is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and has pastored congregations in Tennessee and Missouri.
Sigmon says she did not vote for Trump in 2016 and will not vote for him in 2020. In this interview, she provides her reasoning based on her faith and theological understanding of Jesus Christ.
This interview has been published with only minor edits made for clarification purposes and readability. If for any reason the content conflicts with the accepted facts of a given situation from nonpartisan sources or if some additional information could provide clarity, the reader will be informed in the “Editor’s note” following the interviewee’s answer.
You have said you didn’t and never would vote for Trump. Why not?
As a Christian, I do believe that we are known by what comes out of us – our words, our actions. Nothing Trump says or shows reflects faith in Jesus, whose primary commandment is to love God, self and our neighbors as ourselves.
As a child of the 80s and 90s, what I heard and saw of Trump was not the markings of a human I would trust to lead the free world. As a mother, I was horrified that a man who makes jokes about grabbing women by the pussy was the [nominee of the] Republican Party. I could go on and on and really, each action against women, against nonwhites, against creation only reaffirms my original decision to not vote for Trump. His campaign is rooted in the worst of America’s history and present. It is a desperate attempt to extend white supremacy and with it, patriarchy, into the future.
Would you call yourself a Joe Biden supporter? Why or why not?
I call myself a Biden voter and a [Senator Kamala] Harris supporter. Biden is flawed like the rest of us. But he does model intention, care and the capacity to work with people who disagree with him (evidenced by his selection of Kamala Harris). That’s the type of leader we need for a diverse country still figuring out how to live into democracy and diversity.
Do you now consider yourself a Republican or Democrat? In the past, were you more or less political than you are now? Has your political perspective changed much due to your education and ministerial work?
I now consider myself a Democrat. In the past, I was registered unaffiliated, even Republican. But that all changed with Trump. The Republican Party may be pro-birth but they are in no way pro-life (shout out to Sister Joan Chittister for this). Their decisions to protect and invest in weapons over education, health care and a reasonable living wage prove that it’s not a holistic life they care about. Kids being shot at school? Not their problem, with the NRA holding the party’s hand. Republicans today worship money (and so, whiteness) and any lobby with it. They protect billionaires and big business over everyday people. So, when Christianity is used to defend these choices, my rage boils. Please show me where Jesus praises money and violence? Paul? You need to do a lot of theological gymnastics to make the argument. Or just stay silent and throw out a vague proof-text.
Can you elaborate on this point: “Republicans today worship money (and so, whiteness) and any lobby with it.” Why are whiteness and money associated?
In this country, the great wealth controlled by white people is the result of 400 years of chattel slavery. Since the end of slavery, other means of keeping the cost of labor cheap is to underpay mostly brown and Black people to do the work that “no one wants to do” (which isn’t always the case, rather I take this statement to mean, “what no self-respecting white person who knows what a fair wage is wants to do because these wages and conditions are totally unfair.”)
Another way the wealth gap was engineered in this country was through redlining. Corral all people of color into one cramped space in the city. Create Homeowner Associations with restrictions that prevent even BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Color] with money from buying the homes deemed more valuable (because white people live in them). Trump’s appeal to suburban housewives was a direct link to those practices of control. He is playing to white fear and white people are all in. Because money. Because power.
[Editor’s note: PerInequality.org: “The median Black family, with just over $3,500, owns just 2 percent of the wealth of the nearly $147,000 the median white family owns. The median Latino family, with just over $6,500, owns just 4 percent of the wealth of the median white family. Put differently, the median white family has 41 times more wealth than the median Black family and 22 times more wealth than the median Latino family.”]
[Editor’s note: On August 12, Trump tweeted: “The ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me. They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood. Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with Corey Booker [sic] in charge!”
I know labels can be restrictive, but what denomination or sect of Christianity are you aligned with? For the layperson, what does that mean in terms of theological beliefs?
I am ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We are one of the mainline Protestant denominations, split from the Scottish Presbyterians in the United States in the early 1800s. Theologically, we turn to Scriptures, using reason and research, to order [to determine] right belief and action. “No creed but Christ” we say and try to live up to. We are rooted in a sacramental Table fellowship that embodies an oft repeated phrase, “unity, not uniformity.” Because we practice local and contextual leadership (no bishops, no pope) there is diversity in worship and belief. But we agree to come together in spite of differences and disagreements as we continue to discern how now to live as followers of Jesus. It’s a messy model. But it’s holy. We see our work as being an extension of Jesus’ work: bringing healing and wholeness to a fragmented world. Rev. Dr. William Barber, co-leader of the Poor People’s Campaign, is a leader in our denomination. Just go listen to him to hear crystal clear what Jesus would speak into this context right now.
What role does your faith play in your political choices? Is there a Biblical principle that informs your view?
I cannot silo my faith from any choice I make in life. So yes, my faith plays a role. As I stated above, the principle that informs my view is Jesus – what he taught, what made him angry, what moved him to tears and shouts. Matthew 25:44-46 (CEB) reveal Jesus’ core mission:
44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ 45 Then he [Jesus] will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ 46 And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.”
Which party or person is caring for the least of these? Which party or person is privileging the rich on the backs of the poor? The one that cares for the least of these is the one I vote for.
For many Christians, the only issue that matters isabortion, which they feel is murder. Democrats are traditionally pro-choice and Republicans are traditionally pro-life, therefore such Christians vote Republican. Is abortion an issue that enters into your consideration when picking a president and if so, do you separate the issue from the parties?
Pro-choice means that I, as a Christian, can in this country choose not to abort a baby and go against my faith system. It doesn’t mean that the government is forcing abortion on me.
I am pro-life, in a way that is holistic. Water should be clean, justice should restore not murder, health care should be accessible to all. I wish that Christians who are pro-life actually then expected their party to be for all life and against all that murders: unregulated guns, lack of social services, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, education, racism, sexism, homophobia, pollution … but those issues don’t seem to matter as much to Republicans claiming to be pro-life as they do for Democrats. Again, I think Republicans are in actuality pro-birth, but not actually pro-life in praxis.
You were a pastor for many years. Some pastors believe faith and politics should not mix, especially at the pulpit. Others believe faith and politics are intrinsically linked because they are both about values. Where do you stand? Would you ever advise members of a congregation on political decisions?
Again, we are delusional if we think faith and politics do not mix. Jesus was executed by Rome for what he said and the movement he created. Christianity was always political, though the main thread was polluted by wedding itself to the Roman Empire. This does not mean I name a party nor a politician from the pulpit. I have not done that. But I have preached about care for the immigrant and been threatened by a congregant. Trump politicized hospitality. The Gospel does NOT draw boundaries. But preaching the Gospel these days makes many uncomfortable, even angry, because something else has been worshipped in the American Church for a long time now: white supremacy. American exceptionalism. Xenophobia. Capitalism. Comfort.
None of that comes from Jesus. It comes from the American Empire wedding itself to Christianity.
Have you lost relationships with fellow Christians because of your opposition to Trump?
Not real ones. No one in my network of pastoral colleagues, immediate family, or friends supports Trump. Some on the fringes do and as soon as they try to use faith as a defense, it’s over. I know the real reason has nothing to do with Christian beliefs. Just a reminder that not all Christians support Trump. However, most white Christians do (for the record, I am white). More evidence to me that Trump’s vision comforts white people as this country shifts to a minority white population. It is not about Jesus’ teaching.
Now, I am not serving in pastoral ministry anymore. When I did, I had heated arguments with congregants when they tried to [separate] the gospel of care for the poor, the needy, nonviolence, love of neighbors and other people. Again, I never promoted a party in the pulpit. But Jesus’ gospel has been politicized by some conservative Republicans to the extent that they cannot believe this radical welcome and ethic of care even exists in Scripture. But it does. And I preach it.
What is something you wish other Christians would consider before voting for Trump?
Christians specifically: Please tell me why you are voting for Trump if specifically for faith reasons. And it cannot be the single issue of abortion. If you bring up walls, stocks, guns, or the value of suburban homes, you aren’t speaking to Christian belief. You are speaking to American individualism and, more deeply, white supremacy. And don’t tell me it’s about family values either. Education, affordable housing, affordable child care, health care, laws that restrict corporations from polluting the air and water of poor people ARE family values and ARE concerns members of the Democratic Party have fought for.
And if you honestly want corporations to get all the breaks, health care to be for the elite, education to be all private and to remove all protections for the environment, oh, and also to keep kids in cages at the border and cheer on the NRA, for the love of God, do not throw Jesus into your argument. You obviously haven’t met him as revealed in the gospel yet.
You said: “If you bring up walls, stocks, guns, or the value of suburban homes, you aren’t speaking to Christian belief. You are speaking to American individualism and, more deeply, white supremacy.” Are you saying there is a link between American individualism and white supremacy?
I think you get a hint in my response to the question of the link [between] white supremacy and money. Individualism is born out of not seeing the humanity of those who don’t look like you. But the sickness spreads and impacts even people who do look like you (look at the protests of white people around wearing a mask and you see the sickness of American individualism in full view).
Historically, individualism erased humanity from others, in order to allow the rugged American Individual (white) to oppress and abuse the other in the name of Manifest Destiny. I won’t get into which came first, but in order to live into white supremacy, a numbing (which is what apathy implies) toward nonwhites (including creation) must coexist. How else can white people ignore the cries in Flint where water is still poisoning mostly BIPOC? How else can white people not set [free] the children locked in cages without their parents at our borders and rush to help? How else can white people not scream in anger over the murder of Breonna Taylor without any consequence for those who shot up an innocent woman, IN HER OWN HOME?
Apathy. Individualism. White supremacy. And all of this is hogwash in a Christian faith system ordered by the witness of Jesus rather than the whiteness of charismatic preachers. But I see these postures guide the Trump administration and, so, I do not support them.
[Editor’s note: In 2015, after there were reports of children in Flint, Michigan falling ill, the Environmental Protection Agency found dangerous levels of lead in the water supply which came from the local Flint River. In 2019, it was reported most of the city’s pipes had been repaired and the water was within federal guidelines and, in fact, cleaner than the water supply of most of the country. However, the impact of the poisoned water is expected to be felt for years in a community that is more than 50% Black and less than 40% white.]
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