It’s been a long week. As I sit in my office writing today it’s been exactly one week since our youngest child had surgery to correct the shape of his head. Needless to say, our family has been through a lot. In that same period of time, however, it seems as though our country has been through a lot as well.
About a week ago there was a rally of White Nationalists, Neo-Nazi’s, the KKK and others sympathetic to their views. This was met with counter protests. The clashes between them grew violent and upwards of 30 people were injured and one person was killed when a man drove his car into the counter protestors. These events were then followed by a series of statements and press conferences by our president in which he clearly aligned himself with the White Nationalists and other white supremacist groups.
I am deeply saddened by these events and the response of our president. I am not, however, surprised. While it is true that the overarching trajectory of our country is towards equality, it is also true that racism is the original sin of our country. Somewhere in our DNA as a country is the belief in White Supremacy, and in no way does it surprise me when it comes bursting out into the open.
As I’ve tried to personally find my way through the events of the last week, what I have found myself thinking a lot about this week is not simply the events themselves, but this consistent refrain for politicians, clergy and other public individuals to “respond” to these events. There are demands for people to “make a statement” or do something in response. There has also been a crying out of people who want to counter this kind of racism and hatred, trying to figure out how they might respond.
Particularly, as members of a peace church, how are we called to respond to these events and others like them? As I’ve thought about this, I find myself coming back to the need to respond, but not to be reactionary. Many times throughout our history, people have been critical of the peace church tradition for being too reactionary, or simply being against things: against war, against violence, against hate, etc. At times, I think this has been a fair critique. Ideally, however, we in the peace church are not simply against bad things, but rather we are working towards the image of the society that we find in the Bible. This ideal society, this ideal way of being with other people, is consistently referred to as the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God.
The goal that we are working for in this world is to further the Kingdom here and now. All one has to do is remember the Lord’s Prayer. “…Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”
Throughout the Bible the ideal Kingdom is one where all people live in right relationship with each other, with God, and with all of creation. It’s the vision that we see in the creation stories at the beginning of the Bible. It’s also the vision that we see in the Sermon on the Mount. And it’s the vision that we see in the book of Revelation, where John says, “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” The Kingdom of God is one that is defined by God’s radical love for all people, a love that we are called to emulate and embody.
To be a peace church really means to have that Kingdom vision front and center and to be constantly working to make that Kingdom more and more of a reality in our own lives and in this world. Our goal is the Kingdom, and any-thing that we see around us that doesn’t match up with that Kingdom vision we need to try our best to change.
And so yes, when we see people promoting an ideology that values one race over another, we should respond be-cause that does not match the Kingdom vision that we’re working towards. At the same time, when we become aware of how we might be participating in unjust systems that perpetuate systemic racism, we must also respond be-cause that too does not match the Kingdom vision that we’re working towards.
There are many specific instances where we might be-come acutely aware of how this world does not look like the Kingdom of God that we are ultimately working to-wards. We have a responsibility to respond in many different ways to each of those instances. Sometimes responding means listening well to someone’s pain. Sometimes it means standing in a protest line with our brothers and sisters. Sometimes it means wielding a hammer to repair a destroyed home. Sometimes is means repenting of sins we don’t know we’ve been committing. Sometimes it means having hard conversations. Sometimes it means sticking our necks out and making mistakes as we learn from others. Sometimes it even means eating BBQ with new people and simply making friends.
Each situation that we encounter will require a different response, a response shaped by our ultimate goal of working for the Kingdom of God’s love for all people. Without that, however, we run the risk of simply being reactionary, chasing whatever wind might be blowing through our world during the most recent news cycle.
1The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Re 7:9). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Each month for our newsletter Pastor Alan writes a short article on a variety of topics. At times he will also create a video version of the article.