When I heard the news of the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend, shock doesn't begin to communicate what I felt reading the reports. Horror. Sadness. Disgust. And profound disappointment make a start.
Please let me be clear from the beginning of my comments.
What I am about to say is theological in character; therefore it must also be political in nature although it is not partisan. I join my voice with Republicans and Democrats and Independents who lament where our nation finds itself today. But what I must say will be more direct than some of the statements made by some of our political leaders, whatever their parties; and it will be explicitly from the perspective of our Christian faith. For this I make no apologies.
Reading the published comments of President Donald Trump, I knew as a Christian, as a Presbyterian minister, and as the president of one of our denomination's great seminaries, I had to respond unequivocally. To do less would be to shirk the responsibilities of this calling.
President Trump wrote in a Twitter post on Saturday the following:
"We must remember this truth: No matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are ALL AMERICANS FIRST."
I recognize that this statement was a nod toward "inclusivity," as one report put it. But with all due respect to the Office of the President, I must disagree.
We are not Americans first. We're human beings first.
I am also a Christian, and my faith teaches me something very important that I cannot afford to forget: God didn't go to all the trouble of becoming incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth to make us Americans or even Christians. God plays for much higher stakes than nationalism or religious affiliation.
God sent Christ to make us human. To use explicitly Christian language, God calls us to be human in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.
Whenever we violate that fundamental calling, the calling to be human, we decide that we have given over to other powers, other loyalties, and other gods in our culture and the world the authority to name us and determine our character and destiny. This is idolatry.
We really need to get clear about this.
Jesus of Nazareth, a Palestinian Jew who never ceased to be ethnically and religiously a Jew, was crucified by powers not unlike those being unleashed in our cities today. Let us not pretend otherwise; to be anti-Semitic is to be anti-Christ. To hate others because of their race, ethnicity, country of origin or religion, is to violate the love of God.
This world is beloved of God, every morsel of it. And if there is anything we know from reading the Bible and observing God's creation, God loves variety.
God loves variety because God is love. And the God who is love created and blessed every pigmentation and ethnicity of humanity, and doesn't stand in the door of any church, synagogue, temple or mosque barring the way of anyone who worships.
If we believe for one moment that privileging the voices of hatred is necessary in order to maintain balance in our society, we are kidding ourselves. And if we imagine that the chants of white supremacists, "Jews will not replace us," and "Take America Back," and their complaints like, "I'm tired of seeing white people pushed around" are simply the statements of people of goodwill disagreeing about policies, we are guilty of the worst kind of self-deception.
The U.S. Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech does not put shackles upon our consciences. Not to take sides against hatred is not just to be on the wrong side of history (though it is that too); it is to reject our calling as a people of God.
We are human beings, first and last, by creation and calling.