Despite the title, this book isn’t so much a reflection on Christianity in a post-Trump world or where the evangelical church goes from here. It’s a thoughtful memoir of what Heidi Neumark’s ministry and congregation has been doing before Trump, during Trump, and will continue to do in the wake of Trump that stands polar opposite to the current political administration. This conversation, recorded on the Friday after the end of the 2020 election, is raw, honest, and a comfort.
The Conversation | Heidi Neumark
This excerpt has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. You can listen to the full interview by clicking the play button above or subscribing at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Josh Olds: Reverend Neumark, your book is subtitled “Being Christian in the Wake of Trump.” [At the time of recording, the 2020 election had not yet been called.] Do you feel like any of what you wrote changes if he remains in office for four more years?
Heidi Neumark: Not really. I titled it “In the Wake of Trump” and with the sense that it’s true whether Trump is president for four more years or not. Trump hasn’t invented any of the divisions and divisiveness and violence against people that that I see in our nation today. Obviously, Trump didn’t invent white supremacy or racism or homophobia or, you know, xenophobia, misogyny, but what Trump does is—he doesn’t try to cover it over—he exploits what’s already there. Now, that creates a level of danger. And I do think that if Trump is president for four more years, the level of danger for vulnerable people of death and violence will rise…But it was here before Trump and is clearly here even if Trump is voted out. And that means there’s a lot of work for us to do.
Josh Olds: That’s so true. This election cycle, even though it appears that Trump will probably not win, has mad it obvious that in terms of a large portion of the culture like his style of politics. Trumpism and everything that it entails seems to be here to stay in American life. And that makes your book very important because it shows us a different way of living, and a different way of being. You very much set up your book as a depiction of your ministry and your church and the work that they’re doing as a contrast to the words and actions of the 45th President. This book is about what you were already doing before Donald Trump, what you have been doing, during his leadership, what you will be doing after his leadership. Why choose to tie this book specifically to the 45th president in that light?
Heidi Neumark: Well, I didn’t start out doing that. But I noticed that, as I was writing, as I was preaching, as I was living—Trump kind of loomed over it all…in a larger than life way, kind of representing so much that is antithetical to the gospel. And so it just because it was so much in my mind, it found its way as part of the pattern of the book. But as you say, the stories in the book from this community of faith and in this larger community were going on before Trump, during Trump, and will continue on perhaps with even greater urgency after Trump.
Josh Olds: Let’s go back to closer to the beginning of your own personal story. How did you come to be involved in this work towards social justice?
Heidi Neumark: It was interesting. And I think this is important for the church today, especially, you know, white, middle class churches. That’s the church I grew up in: a white middle class suburban church. And that church really shaped me to connect the gospel with social justice…. and then my life experience pushed me in that direction. I went to seminary in Argentina under the military dictatorship for a year and a half. That that was a very formative experience for me. And then I also think, kind of, under the surface, this is more of a mystical thing. But I discovered not less than ten years ago, that my father—who came to the United States in 1938 as Lutheran—but he, his family was German, a family of German Jews. And my grandparents sent him here to escape Hitler…My grandfather was murdered by the Nazis. And I started to think that, you know, I didn’t hear the cries of my ancestors. I didn’t even know they were crying out, and many died because they were all German Jews. But I feel like they have spoken to me through the voices I do hear. So, you know, that’s kind of a more, I suppose, mystical part of it.
The Book | Sanctuary: Being Christian in the Wake of Trump
Read the full Life is Story review here.
Throughout her nearly forty years in ministry, Heidi Neumark has strived to make communities of faith into sanctuaries amid the turmoils of life. Now, with the social and political upheaval of the years since Donald Trump was elected president, Neumark believes the true Christian calling is to live out a counterpoint to today’s prevailing spirits of exclusion and hatred. Using her own bilingual, multicultural congregation as a model, she moves through the seasons of the church calendar to reflect on what it looks like to live out essential Christian convictions in community with others.
Sanctuary is an amplifier for the many voices crying out against policies and rhetoric that are cruel, dehumanizing, and dangerous. Neumark begins each chapter with a quote from Donald Trump that she defies and dismantles with the power of her own stories—anecdotes about offering shelter for queer youth in her city, supporting immigrants and asylum-seekers being harassed by ICE, and embracing her church’s diversity with a Guadalupe celebration, to name a few. Timely, but also timeless, this book speaks to the deep wounds of this era, inflicted before and during the Trump presidency, which will remain long past its end.
The Author | Rev. Heidi Neumark
Heidi Neumark is an author, speaker and Lutheran pastor who has served congregations in the South Bronx and presently in Manhattan. Her experiences in congregational and community leadership in the Bronx led to a highly acclaimed book, “Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx” (Beacon Press 2003), winner of the 2004 Wilbur Award given by the Religion Communicators Council. She has chapters and sermons in numerous other books and writes regularly for the Christian Century and other journals. In her present position, Pastor Neumark also serves as the executive director of a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth. She holds an honorary doctorate of divinity from Muhlenberg College. Heidi is married, has two adult children and lives in New York City.