| |

The powerful letter Baptist pastor Jonathan Carl wrote to Donald Trump

If you were taking wagers on what I’d write about in this space, sincere praise for a letter from a Baptist minister would seem a very poor bet.

Here’s what happened: President Trump got upset with Jonathan Karl of ABC News for reporting on the President’s claim that Alabama was in the path of a hurricane. But his nasty tweet tagged the wrong person: Jonathan Carl, a Baptist pastor in Kentucky.

Predictably, the haters came out in force, following Trump’s lead and savaging the pastor on Twitter.

But Pastor Carl turned the other cheek. Instead of responding with anger, he penned an open letter suggesting that we all take as step back from insulting each other. It’s an awesome chunk of prose. Let’s take a look.

Jonathan Carl, from Facebook

Dear Mr. President, I’m a Casualty of Your Drive-By Tweeting War. We All Are.

Dear Mr. President,

I’m a Casualty of Your Drive-By Tweeting War. We all are. Last week you tweeted an insult my way. It was an accidental mis-tweet of course, I’m just an ordinary citizen (Jonathan Carl) and not worthy of POTUS attention like ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl. Nonetheless your drive-by tweet quickly brought a spectrum of intense vitriol and hatred my way. Although I was an accidental casualty caught in the cross-fire of your “lightweight” tweet, your attack was very purposeful and hurtful. Many others, whether American citizens or global citizens, feel wounded and hurt by the shrapnel and side-effects of your ongoing Twitter attacks.

In light of the lessons of my wounds I thought I would share a few personal thoughts as well as some helpful wisdom for us all from a well-admired man whose birthplace I pass almost every day.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1861)

I’m not mad at you, I’m sad for you.  My first reaction was to laugh out loud at your mistake when I saw your tweet.  My second response was sadness and compassion for you.  Our words overflow from our hearts and can quickly evidence the health or sickness of our souls.  Your heart must be in a dangerous place to have such a consistent flow of defamation and disrespect towards so many.

“I am rather inclined to silence, and whether that be wise or not, it is at least more unusual nowadays to find a man who can hold his tongue than to find one who cannot.”
Abraham Lincoln, Remarks at the Monogahela House (February 14, 1861)

What a great start. Among other good decisions here, the most notable is to take this attack as an opportunity to speak to all of us, rather than respond in kind or cower in a corner, as most of us would instinctively do.

The title and lede are directly on point and suck you in. The bolded sentences are a theme carried throughout — these sentences act as headings and make it easy to scan the letter and see the main sections. I like the vivid “wounded and hurt by the shrapnel and side-effects.” And finally, Carl chooses to quote Lincoln rather than Jesus. Unsurprisingly, Pastor Carl’s a big Jesus fan in his other posts, but he recognizes that he has to reach out to a broader audience of Americans in his letter, including non-believers and non-Christians.

Be Slow to Tweet. It is wonderful that you want to communicate frequently with your constituency and the world.  Exercise self-control and be more patient and selective with your correspondence.  Please don’t make the Twitter-universe such a dark and depressing place.  It shouldn’t be a place to argue, fight, or jockey for position.  We can disagree and debate without childish name-calling. You can make Twitter a better place if you choose a platform of love instead of hate. As everyone’s mother used to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t tweet anything at all.”

“In times like the present men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and in eternity.” Abraham Lincoln, Second State of the Union (December 1, 1862)

Apologize more.  Everyone makes mistakes.  All of us have regrets about past things we’ve said and wish we could change.  When you mess up, please learn to say you are sorry and admit you were wrong.  Even to ordinary folk like me.  Such humility goes a long way.  Aim to own up and stop trying to coverup, hide, deny, or ignore your faults.  No-one is perfect.

“Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say, for one, that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow-men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.” Abraham Lincoln, Address Delivered in Candidacy for the State Legislature. (March 9, 1832)

Be humble. You called an experienced reporter a “lightweight.”  Let’s be honest, you are a lightweight too.  We all are.  God is the only heavyweight who knows it all and gets it right all the time.  That should keep things in perspective for all of us.  You are not the ultimate Commander-In-Chief.  May we all be reminded of our national motto, “In God We Trust” and be more faithful to Him, avoiding the temptation to trust more in a politician, party, or post.

“I rejoice with you in the success which has, so far, attended that cause. Yet in all our rejoicing let us neither express, nor cherish, any harsh feeling towards any citizen who, by his vote, has differed with us. Let us at all times remember that all American citizens are brothers of a common country, and should dwell together in the bonds of fraternal feeling.” Abraham Lincoln, Remarks at Springfield, Illinois (November 20, 1860)

Choose kindness.  Goodness speaks much louder and more effectively than harsh words.  Gentleness builds up instead of tearing down.  The world is hateful enough.  Meekness is not a weakness, but a strength.  The world needs more light and hope.  My prayer is that you grow into a bright beacon of joy and peace in a traumatized universe.

“This struggle is too large for you to be diverted from it by any small matter.” Abraham Lincoln, Speech to the One Hundred Sixty-fourth Ohio Regiment, Delivered at Washington, D.C. (August 18, 1864)

Carl takes his moment in the spotlight to communicate wisdom we can all embrace. The world would be better off if this president, all future presidents, and all the rest of us would be slow to tweet, apologize more, and be humble and kind.

While I don’t share The Reverend Carl’s view of God, his point that we are all lightweights is well taken. Humility, gentleness, and the ability to disagree without denigrating are all qualities I can take on board. Carl proves his own point with reminders that attract admiration rather than resistance. I’ll try to live up to your example, Pastor.

Let’s Keep Things In Perspective.  At the end of the day, being right or wrong on social media regarding the prediction of a catastrophic weather event like Hurricane Dorian isn’t the main issue.  Thousands of souls are suffering and they need our prayers, encouragement, and support.  We need good leaders.  Please lead us well.

Jonathan Carl, A Lightweight Husband, Father, Pastor, and Latest Trump-Tweet Casualty

A higher calling. Jonathan Carl has one. Trump should have one. And I feel like I need one, too. I’m a middling leader; this makes me one to be a better one.

A 9-11 message

Eighteen years ago on September 11, 2001, the whole country was united in pain and solidarity. I thought it would last a long time. It sure hasn’t.

But if a Baptists Minister like Jonathan Carl and a secular curmudgeon like me can share a perspective, there may be hope.

I would like to believe that love, gentleness, a desire to inspire, and fellow-feeling for the suffering are ideals we can all embrace. These may be Christian values, but they are not exclusive to Christians.

The next year will be a contentious time for all of us, with impeachment hearings likely and a hard-fought presidential election. Whatever comes next, it will demand a lot of warmth towards our fellow humans, even those who’ve wronged us. If Reverend Carl can do it, I guess I can, too. Can you?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. Thanks for connecting this with the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. Both the pastor’s letter and your comments remind me that, while the World Trade Center property lay in rubble and people debated what to do with the site, I remember someone suggesting that we offer it as the site for a new United Nations campus, in the hope that the diplomas who went to work there would be reminded every day of the damage that can result if they fail to bring us together.

  2. Josh (and Pastor Carl), this is magnificent. Like you, Josh, I am a devout secularist. But there are many values I share with Pastor Carl and deeply respect his voice, his lessons and his personal humility and deep kindness. Thank you for holding THAT mirror up for our consideration on this day of dark memories.

    1. Now, this brought a tear to my eye, all the way from Australia.
      May we all be bound in love, kindness, and humility.
      Good reminders, indeed.

  3. I wouldn’t assume the pastor chose to quote Abraham Lincoln rather than Jesus in an attempt to reach out to a “broader audience of Americans in his letter, including non-believers and non-Christians.” Maybe he’ll tell us. But it’s public knowledge that Lincoln is the only past president trump seems to have any respect for, which he suggested in several interviews and tweets. The assumption –whoever made it– is insulting to non-believers and non-christians. It implies they behave as badly as trump and his angry followers. They don’t. I will leave it to you to research prison populations by religious affiliation.

  4. Dear Pastor Carl, I’m deeply move to commend you for such a David-like step in your response to President Trump. After reading your replied tweet, I praise God for being such a wonder messenger of God. Interestingly, I immediately shared your email on my Facebook page as a testimony of faith in Jesus. I’m also please to extend a friendship to you on behalf of the First Baptist Church Paynesvile, Liberia where I serve as Vice President for the Men’s Department. Finally, it is my hope and prayer that God will continue to perform greater things through you.
    Your brethren-in-Christ
    Rufus M. Zerlee