LILBURN — Seneque Saintil came to America when he was 27 years old. Soon, he and his sister joined their parents, already living in Miami. Saintil would eventually attend Florida International University, earning a master’s degree in mathematics.
In addition to receiving a master’s of divinity, Saintil, pastor of Mitspa Haitian Baptist Church in Lilburn, is currently attaining his Ph.D. in leadership and organizational management. Like his parents, he pushes his children to work hard. Make a difference. Do your part.
It’s a common mentality he sees throughout the members of the Georgia Baptist church he’s pastored the last 17 years.
So yesterday when he turned on the news and heard President Donald Trump had made a vulgar characterization of his home country, among others, it bothered him. Greatly.
He wasn’t alone. Several Georgia Baptist pastors – many who have supported the president in the past – took to social media to condemn the remark.
This morning the president issued somewhat of a denial, but never explicitly saying he didn’t use the particular description in question. Many in attendance at the meeting where it was reportedly uttered, however, claimed he did.
“My kids are coached by people from some of the countries our president cursed today,” wrote Towaliga Baptist Church, Jackson pastor Jay Sanders. “I’d much rather they learn from the man from Ghana than the one in the White House.”
“If [Hillary Clinton] had said these things the religious right would be all over it like stink on a cow pie,” Mike Stone, GBC president and pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, posted on Twitter.
Gabriel Stovall, Baptist Collegiate Ministries director for Clayton State University, had strong words regarding the president’s comment.
“Anyone who can be vocal on every other political issue under the sun, citing Christianity as the reason for their outspokenness,” he wrote on Facebook, “yet can’t seem to find it necessary to use those same platforms of expression to directly and specifically speak out on this foolishness uttered today from the White House simply because they voted for him for whatever the reason, such people are cowards at best and hypocrites at worst.”
Inman Houston, senior pastor of Lawrenceville First Baptist Church, wrote the following on Facebook in an extended post:
“Thanks to the continuing rise of the stock market my retirement account has exploded over the past fourteen months. My kids’ college accounts are up 17% since January 1, 2017. And I would give it all up in a second if it meant that my daughter wouldn’t have to wake up this morning only to find out she is from a ______ country.”
In the post Houston, whose daughter is from Ethiopia, went on to acknowledge media bias regarding the president. However …
“…[T]he words that trouble me the most are the ones that I have heard/read directly [from Trump]. These words have required no spin and no interpretation. I can take them at face value. The latest comments … are not ultimately about immigration; they are about basic human decency.”
Much of Saintil’s Thursday evening was spent in conversations with church members. “Why is the president so ignorant?” they asked. “Why so divisive? Why so racist?”
They talked about it and calmed down. Eventually, it became a prayer meeting over the phone.
Americans don’t understand Haiti’s history, says Saintil. The country’s condition didn’t arrive at its current point without European and American influence.
“In 1804 European countries and the United States didn’t recognize our independence. So, they made Haiti pay $120 million in gold. Because of that, Haiti has always struggled. That’s why these comments are so hurtful.”
Last night Saintil talked about it all with his son Gallil, a student at Lilburn High School.
“He wanted to know about what the president said. I explained and he started crying,” Saintil noted.
Galill, a star football player drawing recruitment interest from schools like Auburn, carries his father’s mentality on working hard, making the most of your opportunities. “The tears came from anger and hurt,” Saintil figured. “I told him that we must learn to respond to these things in love.”
But, the pastor admits that can be tough.
‘I can speak my mind’
“It makes you wonder why so many people claim Trump is a Christian. How can a Christian be so hateful? How can an evangelical Christian defend a man like him?” Saintil asks. “It’s very true that we didn’t vote for a pope or preacher, but we should not encourage a man like Trump to have power like he has today.”
Does strong language condemning the president go against one’s declaration to “respond to these things in love”?
“I can speak my mind,” Saintil asserts. “Speaking my mind does not mean I’m being hateful toward him. I’m speaking the truth.”
The gospel is for all, no matter race and nationality, he points out. And despite how he currently feels toward the president, Saintil claims a deep love for his country.
“When Jesus comes back He’s not going to look for Haitians, Europeans, Asians, or whoever. He’s going to look for His children. If we cannot live in harmony with each other now no matter our color, how are we going to live in heaven with Him?
“Many – like my parents – came to America because it’s the greatest, richest country in the world. We have businesses and pay taxes. Many become politicians and lawmakers. Europeans, Africans, Asians – we all help make America what it is and recognize that we should live in harmony and love.
“We come here to contribute, to make America great.”