The inscription found on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Of course, these words are not law, constitutional or otherwise, but they are reflective of the values held by an American populace that yearns for freedom and the pursuit of happiness for all people – especially toward those who newly find themselves embarking on the shores of this country.
The preambles of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution likewise address the subject of “unalienable rights” and the intent to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility,” respectively. The founding principles of our nation are ones to be constantly reminded of especially in the wake of yet more violence, death, and injury at the hands of angry people in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday, August 12.
I will be honest and say that I took a step back from passing judgment or rushing to conclusions on what happened and why in Charlottesville. I have my own positions on politics and social issues, and that certainly does not reduce or negate the positions of anyone who may differ from my beliefs or ideologies. However, after listening to high-ranking police officers, the mayor of Charlottesville, the U.S. Representative for the district as well as other officials and local religious leaders with experience of the situation, it is clear that the protests that turned violent and deadly in Charlottesville was instigated and caused by those angrily pushing an agenda that that sets white people in America at a higher value – a much higher value – than those who are non-white. This agenda is the white nationalist or supremacist agenda (not capitalized on purpose).
As well and good and revered as the historic documents of the United States are (I just returned from an exciting trip to Washington, D.C. where I viewed these documents personally), as Christians we do not seek these for instruction (although we may be inspired by them). We seek rather the Gospel of Jesus Christ for instruction. Jesus never once took a nationalist, racial, patriarchal, or other separatist or supremacist view toward another. As a matter of fact, Jesus did the exact opposite: he raised the status of the outcast and of the sinner to full inclusion and value in the community.
One of my favorite gospel stories (which will actually be read this Sunday, August 20) is found in Matthew chapter 15 (v. 21-28) when a Canaanite woman (Canaanites were more or less pagan; oh, and she was a woman, so double negative in ancient Palestine) plead for Jesus’ mercy to heal her demon-possessed daughter but Jesus ignores her. Further, the disciples urged Jesus to “send her away.” Here Jesus is once again approached by an outsider – a religious outcast, a woman, and possibly a single woman/mother since there is no evidence of a husband seeking out Jesus for help – and while Jesus at first ignores her (please read this gospel passage, it’s really good), she persists (hold on, it’s not all that happens here), then Jesus invites her – by what appears to be a rude response about throwing children’s food to the dogs – to enter into the practice of Rabbinical arguing. Her response to the dog statement is remarkable! Immediately her daughter is healed, but something else is remarkable. Jesus invites a Canaanite (non-Jewish, pagan) woman (women had no social clout or standing, but were rather property – certainly not authorities) into a relationship reserved for Rabbis (all men). Jesus elevates her status. Jesus engages with yet another outcast, outsider, non-relevant alien, nobody, and sees her, honors her, and grants her mercy (man, I love Jesus).
Jesus never once looked to the outcast, outsider, non-relevant alien, nobody and demanded they go to the recesses of society. Never once did Jesus take a high and mighty, supremacist view over another and dismiss them, let alone encourage violence upon them. Jesus embraced the other, whomever that other was. And Jesus does the same for us. Even in our sinful state, Jesus reaches out to us and elevates us to a holier place, making us acceptable even before God. And this is why we worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and not any political leader, king or queen, stateswoman or man, billionaire or other influential human. We set our sights on Jesus and follow him as our merciful Lord who denies the dignity or humanity of no one.
The racism that we all witnessed last weekend in Charlottesville is not only abhorrent and ant-American and anti-human, but is also anti-Christ and stands in opposition of God’s purposes for a beautiful world that God created for us all to live in. Not only should the Church of God in Christ stand against this hatred and violence, but the Church must have a voice that addresses the origin of this hatred and violence: fear. When we fail to trust God (and we are all guilty of that!), we become very susceptible to opening ourselves to be controlled by fear. I believe that is what is behind this violence and discord. And not just this past weekend, but in the events of terror all over the world: the attacks in Paris and in Nice; Brussels; Orlando; and way too many other places to list here. These atrocities are fueled by fear: fear of not having enough resources; fear of not having enough work; fear of the lack of opportunity; fear of not being loved or fear that we don’t matter. Fear is a powerful force and it came out raging in Charlottesville.
The only way to overcome fear is to trust in God. It’s the only answer I really have. As Christians (or any other religious affiliation: Jew, Muslim, Buddhist), we must trust that God cares for us, is for us, and is madly in love with us, and we have no reason to fear precisely because of this love. Therefore, Christians and all people of faith must stand not only against racist, homophobic, xenophobic and all other sources of violence, but we must stand for love. We must stand for love. No matter what it takes, no matter what it costs, we must stand firm as children of God, sharing his extravagant love for all others, and living out our Baptismal Covenant (found in the Episcopal prayer book p. 305) to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”
“Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” Lord Jesus, bless us and keep us and may we ever walk in your light. Amen.
A Prayer for Social Justice (Book of Common Prayer, 823)
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.