While I feel inadequate about expressing the depth of need, pain, and understanding that we need in the light of the present wave of protests and anguish, the following is my attempt to humbly present a view of my own grief and outrage.
Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers. What we see in our country from our highest leaders goes directly counter to these words. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because it did not know what makes for peace and, so it seems, neither do our leaders.
Instead of seeing these protests as a cry for justice and need for help, the language becomes ever more vicious and volatile. As a follower of Jesus who believes we must care for all, that violence is not a solution and dominating others just leads to greater injustice, I grieve the events of the last few days.
The president’s clearing protestors with tear gas and force and using a Christian church and the Bible as props is one more reason for outrage. Attacking peacefully protesting folks with tear gas and other nonlethal but violent methods is counter to ideals we hold as a nation.
All this so the president could walk to a church of all places.
As a follower of Jesus, I believe Trump’s attempt to use the power of religion and the potent images of Christian faith to bolster his own image seem disgraceful and mock the true message of Jesus. As a follower of Jesus, I am invited to love even those that do not love me nor care for me.
However, I do not have to condone actions that misconstrue who God is. God offers grace to heal our brokenness. Since we have seen no grace and little attempt to care for those that are hurting from our leadership in the White House, I can only assume it has no idea what the real message of Jesus is. I fear a nation at war with itself instead of “one nation under God.” Jesus reminds us that a house divided does fail, and we are nearing the precipice of such a failure.
I cannot as pastor and leader of a faith community stand mute to the flagrant use of Christian symbols to bolster power and image instead of using the faith as means of healing and hope. We have seen tragic loss of life over and over again. We have seen the murder not only in the well-publicized deaths of black men, women and children such George Floyd, we also see the insidious economic and social strictures, the disproportionate deaths from coronavirus in the black community, and unequal health care that lead to higher incidence of death and debilitation in black communities.
To maintain this inequity, power and violence have been used to remind particularly black people and other ethnic minorities (and perhaps soon anyone that dissents) of “their place” and to “keep the peace.” We have been told that the violence reduces violence. Instead, we have a situation in which we have more and more violence and it becomes more and more clear that walking down a street unafraid is only for the powerful.
Jesus came in a time of violence and oppression and taught his followers a different way. If I am to follow Jesus, I cannot condone the violence. I am left wondering how we have veered so far from the national values we claimed aligned with the teachings of Jesus and the scripture.
Today we see a sharp contrast with leadership that uses violence and vitriol and a Jesus who offers us such a different way. I am not sure how to be a peacemaker in the present circumstances, but I know that neither the violence of power, nor the anger of division, nor the perpetuation of prejudice, nor the attempt to dominate others fit.
I will lament and I will pray and I will hope we can in our community commit to work together for the gift of peace. I will not close my eyes to the incomprehensible hatred on display, the incredible abuse of power as well as the flagrant exploitation and thus degradation of Christianity, and the oppressive, tragic loss of too many lives.
I will remember what God requires of me, that I “act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with my God.” I hope we can together resist further division and be a people who know when to say no to hatred, prejudice, and violence and come together for the good of all.
Grace and peace to you.
Rev. Norman Fowler is pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Moscow.