Our lead minister Sid Hall’s reflections on Trump’s bible wielding photo optics in Thursday’s online version of the Austin American Statesman. You can also hear Sid read this opinion piece on YouTube.
The contrasts were stark. Wielding a Bible, the president stood in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, without invitation to use this sacred space as a political backdrop, without irony by a sign proclaiming “All Are Welcome.” Without understanding, too, that this church within a stone’s throw of the halls of power has a reputation for speaking truth to power.
A black man—George Floyd—a father, a friend, a reconciler of desperate voices, was murdered in broad daylight by police officers in Minneapolis. The authorities have been slow to respond, and the reaction has been an expression of pent up rage against years of promises with no solution, against a backdrop of centuries of violence. It seems the whole world this time has not looked away, has decided to amplify this cry, the cry that went out for Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, and so many more whose last moments were not documented on cellphone camera.
Instead of casting a vision of healing as Lincoln did in his second inaugural address, “With malice toward none, …let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…,” our president tweets “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” After days of unrest on the streets of America, the president stepped out from behind Twitter for a Rose Garden speech, threatening to “deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem,” then performed a victory walk to the church, the peaceful protesters having been cleared without warning, before curfew, with rubber bullets, flash bangs, and violent measures.
As a citizen, I am terrified. As a minister and person of faith, I am outraged.
Jesus of Nazareth was kidnapped and delivered to an authoritarian dictator. It is sacrilege to use sacred Christian symbols for violence and threats, and this president understands nothing about the powerful message of justice in the Hebrew prophets and Jesus’s resistance to empire.
Jesus began his ministry by opening the scroll from Isaiah and reading, “The Spirit of God is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of God’s jubilee.”
The gospel of Jesus Christ was founded upon the Hebrew prophetic commitment to speak truth to power. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey the same day that the Roman governor Pontius Pilate rode in on a stallion, he threatened the very structures of empire. Rome represented peace through force; Jesus illustrated peace through love. Rome governed by economic exploitation and division. God ruled by inclusiveness and humility. Pilate knew Jesus’s Passover protest was a mockery so he did everything he could to bring the nonviolent revolution to a swift conclusion. Rome executed Jesus, a peaceful revolutionary, for claiming a realm of peace, liberation, and radical egalitarianism.
I yearn for a president who will sing Amazing Grace. I yearn for a president who will kneel with Colin Kaepernick. I yearn for a president to begin a speech with the words “I can’t breathe” to acknowledge our shared pain, and for a healer who proclaims that it is time to bind up the nation’s wounds.
The crisis of our time provides an opportunity to accept our own culpability for the United States’ original sin: racism. It is systemic. It is pervasive. It bleeds into every structure. It is everywhere, and it is tearing us apart.
Jesus saw the face of God in everyone, and most particularly in those on the margins of privilege. Those of us living in white privilege have a unique opportunity to repent from complicity and work as quickly as possible to right the wrongs of systemic racism. We need not only to see how people of color are hurting, we need to take responsibility for how we are hurting them.
After the police killings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Minnesota in 2016, R. DeAndre Johnson, my African American colleague from Sugar Land, wrote a hymn called “It Is Enough!” This week he penned another verse: “It is enough! We cannot breathe! Will you stand there and watch us bleed? Are you not moved by cries and pleas? Christe eleison!” Christ have mercy.
It is enough!