I am not sure what to write about. It always comes as a bit of a shock when Danie, our parish secretary, tells me it is time to submit an article for the newsletter. Except this time, I knew I would be writing something about the coronavirus pandemic and had some thoughts for the framework of an article mulling around in my head.
Then the death of George Floyd, an African American in Minneapolis, set off an explosion of civil protest across the country. Suddenly our nation is embroiled in dissent and anger which I have not seen since the 1960’s. I did not think anything could push the pandemic out of the headlines. The long smoldering bomb of racial tension has done just that.
I was appalled by the sight of the four policemen’s abusive treatment of George Floyd and I have prayed for justice to prevail, that anger and hate will not rule the day. Our country is already divided, and the events of these past days may have deepened and widened the rupture.
Times such as these make it difficult to separate the angry man from the Pastor who has made the teachings of Jesus the foundation of my life. I have no desire to add to the acrimony of our times, yet it is difficult when values foundational to my faith are politicized for the sake of self-aggrandization or the depredation of others. Especially when sacred text and sacred places are used to do so. “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.”[i]
If we are unable to respect the cultural diversity of God’s children, or when we can no longer accept the difference of ideas and we choose to see each other as labels and stereotypes for things we disagree with, then we can no longer be the disciples that Jesus called us to be. Scripture tells us, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”[ii] It is disheartening that the racial and political turmoil which marked my youth has returned to weaken not only our constitutional principles but our faith doctrines as well.
I heard once that an angry man can only see what makes him angry. A penitent man sees beyond the angers and seeks the truth. If we can somehow look beyond what the news wants us to see or the politician want us to hear or the self-righteous want us to believe, perhaps we can see and hear and know the truth.
Images from the 1960’s remain in my mind. Blacks stood on one side demanding equality and justice while whites opposed them with firehoses and snarling dogs. The anger was visceral, raw, and open.
Today I see and witness different and more hopeful images. Whites and blacks were standing in unity, marching together. Signs which read “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” were held by white hands as well as black. The sharp black and white contrast of the 60’s is today blended in a mass of people who valued justice and equality. Yes, there are those who chose to vandalize, who seek to destroy and promote division. Anger still lashes out with pent up tension. There were also those who stood in front of stores refusing to allow others to vandalize, those who turn strident demands for hate into pleas for justice. I saw police officers kneeling humbly before the protesters, National Guardsman hugging and shaking hands with demonstrators. Most hopeful were men and women who swore to serve and protect praying with those who saw them as symbols of oppression.
Am I too naïve to hope that when there is a call to dominate and divide, the response is to reach out and reconcile? While some choose to promote division and self-serving agendas, others choose to acknowledge injustice and share in its repudiation. Perhaps the angry man in me needs to look beyond that which breeds anger and the penitent Christian needs to see and hear and feel the truth.
Is it possible that better people will recoil from the call for punishment and instead hear the words of scripture: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[iii]
I pray that we will.
[i] Leviticus 19:12 ESV
[ii]1 John 4:20 ESV
[iii] Galatians 5:14 ESV