Yesterday the President of the United States held a conference call with State Governors, followed by a speech at the White House. During these conversations he called upon state governors to “control the battlefield” and “dominate” their communities in response to protests and riots over racial unrest. In his speech, he also claimed that if governors did not do so, he would deploy the U.S. military against citizens in the streets.
Following this speech, police cleared the area of a peaceful protest, using tear gas, so the President could walk across the street to St. John’s Episcopal Church, stand in front of it, and lift a Bible in his hand for a photo opportunity. The diocese governing that church has condemned this action forcefully. Today, stories have come out that church staff and other volunteers were serving at St. John’s at the time. They were also driven out by the tear gas.
We are living through uncertain, volatile times. We’ve seen acts more horrific than making a few threats and walking across the street. We are free to speak of and condemn these things as we see fit, personally and as congregations. We have the ability to operate within the rights and laws our nation sets out for us.
When a government official makes threats of violence against fellow human beings, then lifts the Bible in front of a church to justify the action, that official makes an incorrect claim about God. When church workers are driven from places of worship and sanctuary so their building can be used as a prop, it calls into question the purpose and power of the church itself.
We should not remain silent in the face of injustice anywhere. Our calling as people of faith is to protect the vulnerable and lift up the marginalized. We must not remain silent when God and God’s Word are used as tools to do just the opposite.
The Bible that the President lifted in his photo opportunity includes these words:
13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends.
As we seek to uphold the law, it says this:
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
When we are tempted to divide the world into “good people” and “bad people”, creating a division between “us” and “them”, it says this:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Even if we believed the rhetoric that is being put before us, even if we feared for our self-interests as we are being encouraged to do, we are commanded to react differently than the President did yesterday. The witness given by that action was wrong, the words and implications incongruent with the book he held in his hands and the church he stood in front of to justify himself.
The people in St. John’s Episcopal church giving aid belonged there. The President did not. His words did not live up to the inspiration of the book he used in order to justify them.
Faith does not oppress.
Love does not dominate.
Our communities are not a battlefield to be conquered, our neighbors are not enemies.
God is not a symbol, a prop, or a tool. Neither is scripture. Neither is the church.
To these things, people of faith say no. On behalf of neighbors who have no voice, or whose voices are being silenced, the people of God rise up and say no. In the face of violence, threats to control or eradicate, being called enemies of order or progress or safety, the church says NO.
We will speak for love, now and always, in every time and place. We will not be used. We will not give up. We will not be silenced or driven out. We do not live or die to ourselves, but to the God we serve…the God who embraces all children, especially the most vulnerable, for the sake of goodness.
Here, and everywhere, we will stand… stand in faith, stand for love, stand together.