A four-year-old blog post of mine on preachers inciting violence has been coming to mind lately in light of the recent events in Orlando, and the hate-filled preaching of some pastors. Violence is a sickness, especially violence shrouded in religious piety. More than ever, our world needs those who will love in the face of hate and work to heal the sickness of these preachers. I’m sharing a recent nasty example from a pastor’s Facebook postings, and then linking in my blog from four years ago on preachers who incite violence. Lord, have mercy.
Recent nastiness in the name of Christ…
My post of four years ago: On Preachers Who Incite Violence
We must loudly and strongly, with civil tongues and constant hearts, repudiate these voices and their messages. We must stand against these messages of hate and violence. Silence is not an option, no more than violence. Answer them with sure, true and sincere messages of love. May our voices never cease to sing and weave the story of God’s unending love.
It’s an old hymn, a melancholy hymn that begins with the line “O come and mourn with me awhile; And tarry here the cross beside; O come, together let us mourn; Jesus, our Lord, is crucified.” (Faber) Jars of Clay dropped it on an album a while back and now I’m caught humming the melody as I read the news and mourn again. Standing at the scene of out-of-control violence, let us tarry and mourn.
For all our wars we’ve fought, our deep national pride and our vaunted founding documents that speak of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness… we come here again. A place of violence. Images of jackboot policing that do not come from some history book about regimes we fought in liberty’s name, but from a school in our own country. A school. Mourn with me.
Mourn with me for what we do in our schools. Mourn with me that we create systems of violence and conflict instead of learning and participation. Mourn with me that adults can escalate situations with children to such violent ends, and then we have long discussions on what the child did to precipitate the problem. Mourn with me that we then divide and fight one another over why such violence is needed and who carries the most blame… we are all to blame. We are addicted to violence.
We don’t know how to give one another dignity and respect any more, so we are left fighting for the torn scraps of dominance. We don’t know how to be a community any longer so we violently police schoolrooms and throw children from chairs. We don’t know how to teach any longer, so students are arrested instead. Mourn with me.
Watch again as the student is thrown to the ground. Watch as she is thrown across the floor into a wall. Watch as the officer then pins her to the ground with his knee. Now, this is your daughter. This is your granddaughter. This is your sister. This is your friend. This is your neighbor. This is you. What did you just learn about police officers at the age of seventeen? You learned that they are violent, brutal and just waiting to unleash on you. You just learned to fear.
Watch again as that officer grabs a seventeen year old girl and flips her desk, hitting another student’s desk in the process. Watch the officer take a good hold, plant his feet and with almost a running start fling her bodily from the desk across the floor into a wall. Watch him again leap onto her back and pin her to the floor wrenching her arms behind her back. Mourn with me for this man. Mourn with me for his anger and rage that lashes out at a student. Mourn with me that such misdirection and rage is given a badge and a license to attack. Mourn with me for every single voice that will defend his brutality and blame his victim.
Don’t say, “She should have…” She did absolutely nothing to escalate the situation to that point. She was not physically capable of a fraction of that officer’s violence. The punch with her closed fist that people are taking about is the flailing response of a child grabbed by an adult and physically wrenched around by her neck. Don’t say what she should have done, for nothing she did or didn’t do was deserving of that response from the officer. When you blame the victim for the actions of the brutalizer, you rip away the last shred of dignity and respect from the victim. When you blame the victim you empower the brutalizer and set the stage for the next victim. This man is a monster of our making.
Mourn with me that this is America. Mourn with me that this is policing. Mourn with me that we’ll see the same thing today and probably again tomorrow. Mourn with me until we learn and grow and detox from the adrenaline rush of violence and dominance. Mourn with me until we see a day again when we can teach, live in mutual respect and dignity for one another, and create a community that is not fearfully policed and brutalized.
Mourn with me at the violent spectacle we make of ourselves.
Seven or so years ago I stated my journey with tattoos. I had a nail tattooed on one wrist, and then my dear friend (and then boss as well as newly minted author) Suzanne Castle graciously gifted me with the other wrist nail. I wanted these tattoos to mark that Easter Season and the meaning that Christ has held in my pilgrimage through life.
This week as I work on Good Friday devotional ideas and prepare for Easter Sunday, I am stuck not by the violence of what was done to Jesus, but by what a repudiation of the violence the events represent for students of Jesus.
Beginning in the garden when Jesus heals the servant whose ear is struck off in his defense, our Lord lays the foundation for a different way to do life…
Luke 22:49-51 “When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?’ And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.”
Wow, can you see Jesus in your mind’s eye, hands raised and eyes wide, motioning his friends to a halt, “No more of this!” No more of this! Striking with the sword was not the answer. Striking back was not the way.
Later, on trial for his very life, Jesus will again repudiate violence as he speaks to Governor Pilate. His assures the Governor that his followers will not violently storm any chambers or raise weapons in his defense or to overthrow any authority, for that is not his kind of kingdom.
John 18:33-36 “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about me?’ ‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’ Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’”
These passages have caused me to stop and reflect on the exquisite repudiation of violence that exists in the violence to be done to Jesus. That God would enter into life to bear the burden of such violence to open our eyes, to soften our hearts, to change our way, gives me pause and humbles my “wisdom” I am tempted to think I have collected.
I look at the nails tattooed on my wrists and I think that I have tended to meditate selfishly on what they mean, that I am the recipient of such love. Today I am moved to meditate on the awesome burden of love that I am live, instead of the violence that so often inhabits my thoughts, my mind and my heart.
I’m not sure I will ever be worthy of such audacious marks as these inked nails; most days I know that I fall so painfully short. As I’ve been thinking of a new tattoo for this Easter Season, I feel the need to double down on what it’s all about… maybe I read too much news, but it seems that from battlefield torture to Middle America’s children raping children, to living in ignorance of the plight of my poorest neighbor, the world needs a change of pace, a new way.
Here are some of my thoughts on the seeming trend with preachers down in North Carolina who have turned to inciting violence to effect change in people. Have you followed the recent hermeneutical gaffs coming from North Carolina? Here’s the lineup: Mr. Worley & Mr. Harris. They have incited a violent reaction toward male children not acting macho enough and even dreamed of fencing off gay people to ensure their extinction. (Wait, did Worley unintentionally admit that he understands homosexuality as genetic and not preference with the fence idea? And gay people are only born from other gay people? Confusing.) This whole thing of preachers inciting violence on the basis of their personal beliefs is extremely problematic from a Christian standpoint, and so weirdly American.
Let’s chat about why it’s so oddly American. Does anyone catch how ironic it is that Mr. Worley is constitutionally protected to freely speak his beliefs even while he asserts the idea that a group of people might be forcibly and illegally interned behind fences, which won’t happen precisely because of their constitutional rights? As he lays out his grand idea for how he’d like to deal with gay people one has to wonder if he’s cognizant of the fact that he’s wasting everyone’s time on an idea that will not ever come to fruition. I’m guessing not. People are free to speak, even their dumbest beliefs and ideas, and even when their dumbest ideas and beliefs can’t become a reality because of the same constitution giving them their speech rights. This is a true American Drama.
But there’s a dark side to the humor of how silly these preachers sound. We can laugh that this pastor is wasting his time and the time of his congregation by expounding on ideas that cannot happen and therefore are not worth consideration, and yet we all know that as a nation we carry a guilty conscience. Did anyone immediately think of the forced interning of Japanese Americans during World War II? I did, and that’s why this drama has such a dark side. Did you think about the forced chemical castrations we have committed against citizens in the past when identified as homosexuals? I did, and these kinds of national memories scare me. We Americans as a mob/nation can be so fearful as to act outside of our constitutional values. We did it before. Might we do it again? And does this man really want that on his conscience?
And then there’s the case of the other preacher, Mr. Harris. He actually had the temerity to encourage physical violence against one’s child. He crossed the line in advocating violence. He wrapped up his own personal ideas of masculinity and what he perceives as an acceptable male role, disguised them as scriptural expectations, and called on fathers to enforce them with violence. “Walk over there and crack that wrist. Give him a good punch.” Yes. He did. But wait… what could be more Americana than the strapping sawmill father who rules the roost with an iron fist and fast flying leather belt? What could be more Americana than depressed, guilt-ridden fathers who are made to feel that they have failed in their one great cosmic duty (to raise heterosexual sons and subdue wives), and so turn to their only two possible balms: booze and beating said sons and wives. It’s sad, but so American it hurts.
Problematic for a Christian, Much Less a Preacher
This is all very problematic for a Christian, especially a Christian Pastor. One simply cannot find Jesus making sexuality a keystone of proclaiming the Kingdom, and therefore these preachers must realize when they are “leaving the map.” In the most memorable cases of when Jesus might have made sexuality an issue (in the cases of two women, one at a well and one about to be stoned… John 4 & John 8), he did not. Indeed, human sexuality is a complex and very present topic throughout our scriptures, and therefore does enter into sermons, but a preacher must ask himself or herself why they have made it a keystone salvation issue and Christian identity issue when Jesus didn’t. And even when sex and sexuality is a needed conversation from the pulpit, where does this sense of entitlement to meanness and inciting violence come from? Not the Bible. Encouraging fathers to physical violence in the name of Christ is simply despicable. Enjoying fantasies of fencing off the people you don’t like and denying them dignity and joyful existence is sick. This sounds a lot less like preachers fretting over a culture war and more like terrorists plotting their next move.
Hey, I’m a preacher. Can I just say that I get how intoxicating it is to feel an audience vibe? Can I admit that it’s so very tempting to say things that will get an amen, a nod, a smile, an affirmation that I’m ok? I know how Mr. Worley and Mr. Harris both felt that morning. They were on top of the world! They were feeling great. Did it bother them that their personal elevation was effected at the cost of encouraging violence toward children or fantasies of forcibly interning American citizens? It seems not. Did it bother them that they were garnering feelings of affirmation for themselves by inciting feeling of disenfranchisement for others? I guess not. Once you start to get the buzz, the bar tab gets a bit hazy and you just keep ordering drinks without worrying about the cost. These guys might be good teetotalling Baptists who never touch a bottle, but they obviously like the buzz. Preachers need to renounce the buzz. And the next time a preacher says something so amazingly dumb and a friend asks, “Is that dude high?” you can answer, “Yeah, he totally is.”
And to set the record straight, at least from my view of scripture and the role of a pastor, and the message of Jesus Christ: These pastors are definitely not just “defending the Bible”. These pastors are not simply defending their beliefs or taking courageous stands, as cornered supporters like to say. Though constitutionally free and able to make those statements and hold those beliefs, they are not defending a Christian message when advocating physical violence to change a child’s character, identity or sexuality. They are not defending the biblical message of Christ when advocating the forced incarceration of U.S. Citizens based upon their sexuality, even if the pastor is so kind as to suggest dropping food behind the fence for them. If they want to defend the Bible, or in actually have the Bible defend them, then let them take their stand on a beautiful line from St. Paul, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” (Philippians 4:5) Because you simply don’t fence your neighbor off from life and liberty or crack your son’s wrist with gentleness. Those actions require violence. Those actions are not biblically defensible, nor can they be invoked in defense of biblical things.
Jesus Has Left the Building
I believe that when these preachers go off into their dreams of violence that Jesus catches the bus to the mall. He has left the building. The Jesus who sat in the midst of dropped stones will not be standing up there with the preacher waving his stone from the pulpit. As American as free speech might be, this is not at all Christian when “Christian” means “identifiable with the life, message and meaning of Christ.” When these guys sober up, I hope they get it right.