Religious Communities In Kansas City React To Outcome Of Presidential Election

Nov 22, 2016

It goes without saying that religious communities are not monolithic. That may be especially true after this election.

So when I got an assignment to get “the response of religious communities” to the presidential election, my impulse was to visit with every religious institution in the area. Not possible. So I arbitrarily selected representatives of a few denominations, knowing it would be but a sample, a snapshot, of what some houses of worship were feeling.

I began with mosques. 

Hanif Khalil ministers at prisons, among other places. He worships at the Al-Inshirah Islamic Center at 36th and Troost. It’s a community of primarily black, American-born Muslims.

He told me he thinks Donald Trump will be good for America.

“I don’t think what he says resonates with me same as it would with any immigrant,” he says. "Some Muslims quite honestly have come here with intentions other than to the health of America. If you don’t want to contribute to the good of America, then they’re better off staying in their country of origin.”

The President-elect talked early in the campaign about a ban on Muslims entering the country and hinted he might support a Muslim registry.

Zarrief Osman, also of the Al-Inshirah Islamic Center, talked about being born and educated in the United States.

“We know our civil rights and the constitution,” he says. “This rhetoric bothers me because it’s inconsistent with our constitution, the foundation of our country.”

Moben Mirza of the Johnson County Islamic Center worries about more expressions of hostility toward Muslims
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

At the Islamic Center of Johnson County, Moben Mirza is concerned about a backlash against Muslims. Recently, he saw a truck driving by.

“It was waving a flag saying ‘Muslim immigrants leave and take Obama with you,’or something like that,” he tells me. Girls wearing a hijab are facing bullying, he says, and Muslim college students report an increase in discrimination.

“They feel worried; they feel threatened," Mirza says. “That overarching voice that says it’s OK to discriminate is not going away because the President thinks it’s OK.”

The American Jewish community historically votes disproportionately Democratic – and did this year. But it’s complicated.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are friends of Israel. Trump, however, made a point to say he’d work to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem. Such a move has long been a flashpoint in Mideast peace efforts

What we saw this year is more Jews voting Republican than voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, according to the Pew Research Center.

“The election was a difficult one for our congregation,” says Rabbi Alan Londy of the New Reform Temple. "We had people who supported both candidates. My concern is not so much who wins the election but what policies and appointments come out of the election.”

The Jewish Community has a complicated relationship to the President-elect.
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

Rabbi Daniel Rockoff with Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel Abraham & Voliner says he wouldn’t address questions of policy or politics from the pulpit.

”What does Judaism have to say regarding building a wall along the Mexican border?” he says people wanted to know. ”It’s tempting to say, 'Oh, here’s what Judaism has to say,’ but it’s not always that simple."

The campaign rhetoric and recent appointments are of specific concern to Jews, says Rabbi David Glickman of Synagogue Beth Shalom. Kansas City is home to some 150 Holocaust survivors.

“There is great concern in our community about the registration of Muslims,” Glickman says. ”Our community is very sensitive to religious minorities needing to self-identify and register with the government.”

The local Catholic church likewise is concerned about issues of discrimination. Of the 11 parishes in the Kansas City, Kansas region, six offer masses in Spanish. More than a quarter of the population in Wyandotte County is Hispanic, 85% of them of Mexican heritage, according to the Archdiocesan pastoral plan. 

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann says the President-elect’s immigration policies directly affect his parishioners.

“We’re hopeful about what the President-elect is saying now, talking about not deporting every undocumented immigrant in the country but focusing on those that have serious criminal records,” he says.

At the same time, the archbishop says Catholics are excited about the prospect of a conservative Supreme Court nominee with a broader view of religious liberty.

Kansas City, Kansas, Archbishop Joseph Fred Naumann worries about immigration policy but is hopeful about more conservative religious liberty standards.
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

“We’re very hopeful that the new administration will undo some of the things that President Obama has done that have a direct bearing on our ability to function as a church,” the Archbishop says.

“I think I can firmly speak for all of us that it was a bit surprising!" chuckles Le Ron Evans, pastor of the predominantly African American Swope Parkway Church of Christ.

Some of his flock were sad. Others were angry about how the President-elect characterized their communities as uninhabitable war zones. They feared Trump’s association with avowed racists, and policies he endorsed such as 'stop and frisk.' 

“It will definitely target certain demographics,” says Evans. “I’m an evangelist and also an engineer, but I don’t always dress for work. I worry about being stopped.”

LeRon Evans of the Swope Parkway Church of Christ says many in his church were surprised, angry or sad.
Credit Laura Ziegler KCUR 89-3

Finally, I traveled to South Overland Park to an ecumenical church. I was asked not to use the name.

People walked in to the morning service casually dressed. Contemporary music blared through the walls. One young woman told me she liked the church because she could come in her pajamas if she wanted. Another young couple, in jeans and sweatshirts, say they're looking for a church and this is only their second time here. They like that this community seems to share their delight at the outcome of the election. They also asked I not use their names.

"I hope things change for the better with health care, the economy and that [Trump will] make America great again.” the husband says cheerily.

His wife, beaming, says “I was happy about the outcome of the election. He’s going to be making some big changes that will be great for America.”

As our conversation wrapped up I was kindly escorted off the premises by church security. They tell me the church would like to keep politics and worship separate, that they want church to be a place to relax in the wake of an exhausting election.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer. She can be reached on twitter @laurazig or at lauraz@kcur.org