More than 700 prominent female clergy and lay leaders have added their names to a letter denouncing Donald Trump’s comments about groping women.
Among those signing the four-paragraph letter were Suzii Paynter, the executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a Georgia-based global Christian network that includes nearly 1,800 congregations and thousands of individuals; and the Rev. Cynthia L. Hale, the founder and senior pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur.
Last week a video surfaced from 2005 of the Republican nominee in a hot-mic incident bragging about forcibly groping and kissing women.
The wealthy businessman-turned-reality show star-turned-politician said he was able to get away with it because he was a star. Trump apologized Sunday during the second presidential debate, calling it “locker room talk.”
The letter is signed by a diverse group of faith leaders. It’s significant because Trump has enjoyed tremendous support among evangelicals, some of whom continue to stand by him.
“I was disappointed and shocked,” said Paynter, who declined to say which candidate she supports. “It’s just not the way we communicate about women in my family, my church and in the general culture that I’m a part of.”
Paynter, in her various roles, has worked on clergy sexual misconduct issues. In many cases, she said, the offender uses power to make unwanted sexual advances.
The public deserves a sincere apology, she said. “The fact that he dismissed it with a phrase like ‘locker room talk’ is not anywhere near being actually remorseful or contrite or doing anything that even approaches a serious apology,” she said.
One of her biggest concerns, Paynter said, is that dismissals of his actions may tend to “normalize this egregious breach of ethical conduct.”
The letter reads in part:
“As Christian women we are appalled by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s recorded remarks that disparage women and condone sexual assault. Such language cannot be dismissed as ‘locker room talk.’ Mr. Trump must offer public contrition that fully acknowledges the seriousness and depravity of his actions.
“The sin of misogyny has caused many of us to experience sexual assault or sexually abusive language that threatened our safety, dignity and well-being.”
The letter was spearheaded by the Rev. Jennifer Butler, the CEO of the Faith in Public Life Action Fund.
“When some Christian leaders dismiss or minimize sexually abusive remarks from a presidential candidate, they do violence to women — particularly those recovering from abuse,” she said in a statement.
Hale, who delivered the invocation on the opening day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, said the comments only heightened her concerns about Trump. Her church has about 6,000 members.
“I’ve been concerned about Donald Trump’s candidacy for some time because of his discrimination against just about everyone,” she said. His comments show “how he really has no regard or respect for women and, quite frankly, I was appalled.”
Others, such as Atlanta evangelist Alveda King, still support the Republican nominee.
“I really do not appreciate Mr. Trump’s remarks at all,” said King, who was not among those signing the letter. “However, I’ve heard and forgiven so much worse.”
Her focus is elsewhere.
“From the beginning of this election as I prayed, I was led to consider the platforms and not (the candidates’) personalities. That position remains. While I pray for Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump, I am most inclined to vote for a platform that will value the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.”
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