Beloved of the Lord,
This is not my normal kind of letter for our newsletter. But this is not a normal time.
Like you, I am still reeling from the sights and sounds of yesterday’s violent assault on the U.S. Capitol. Watching the Capitol police bravely try to protect the building and our Congress, I thought of another day of terror—9/11, when foreign terrorists attacked the Pentagon, and I, along with thousands of others, were forced to evacuate. Yesterday I watched as rioters forced their way into the building that stands at the heart of our democracy to run rampant, destroy, property and threaten lives. And yesterday, I watched and witnessed among the many flags carried by rioters the symbol of another insurrection—a confederate flag, now used as a symbol of racist hatred—being carried through the halls of Congress.
January 6, 2021, is a day we will all remember as a day of tragedy for our nation. Four lives were lost. We pray for them and for their families. Hundreds were terrorized. We pray for them and for their safety. Law enforcement officers were injured. We pray for their recovery. Our nation and its democratic ideals have been traumatized. We pray for our nation.
We must be very clear about the events that unfolded at the Capitol. This was an insurrection against the duly constituted government of the United States. Its purpose was to overthrow the will of the American people as expressed through last November’s free and fair election. Those who dislike the results of elections in the United States have two ways to express their disagreement: through the ballot box at the next election, and through peaceful protest. Those who protested yesterday crossed the line when they broke into the Capitol, ransacked offices, and threatened lives. This violence was totally inappropriate and must be condemned. Among the rioters, some carried banners with words like “Jesus” and “Jesus Saves.” To quote our Bishop from her response to the violence: “This is not what Emmanuel came to earth to embody. This is a perversion of the Gospel. This should drive all of us to our knees.”
There is one other thing we should be very clear about as well. We, as a nation and even as a people of God, have come to this point through faults of our own. This did not happen overnight. Over the course of several decades now, we have willingly engaged in language and dialogue that purposely demonizes and denigrates people with whom we disagree. Social media is often blamed for this, but social media is a tool. It can be used to connect people to one another, or to cut them down. It has been used as a megaphone to amplify our own opinions, and as a cudgel to batter, beat, and berate anyone who disagrees with us. Sadly, this is just as true among Christians as it is with those who express no faith in God.
Here’s the important thing: words matter. What we say to one another about one another makes a difference. As one writer observed, “Words create worlds.” For Christians, we believe words brought the universe into existence: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light…’” Words can create or destroy, build up or break down, it all depends in how we use them. The Apostle James, the brother of the Lord Jesus, warned us of the danger:
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire….but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so (James 3:5-6, 8-10).
What brought us to this place are the worlds our words have created. We have “made worlds” wherein we are right, where others are wrong, and where the divide between us is a ditch of our own digging. The comic strip character Pogo was right: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Let me repeat the words of James here: “My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.”
We are the people who follow Jesus Christ. We must not engage in talk that demeans, disparages, or vilifies others. To do so is to shred the image of God born by every human being. To do so is sin of which we must repent.
At the same time, we must condemn the language and ideology of hatred in whatever forms it takes. Whether it is the language of white supremacy, extreme self-centeredness, religious hatred, gender discrimination, social superiority, or exploitive power, all of it is sin and must be rejected.
Despite what has transpired and what will happen in the days ahead, we Christians remain a people of hope. There is difficult and courageous work ahead as we seek to embody the ideals of our Savior that commit us to love one another as God loves us, and in the words of the Prophet Micah: “…to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). We hope because the One whose birth we just celebrated brings the light of God’s love into this darkened world. We hope because hope is born of Jesus Christ, and we are born anew in Him.
Let us pray for the future of our nation. For the peaceful succession of one presidency to the next, for the restoration of order, and for equal justice for all.
May the God of all Grace be with you and sustain you, now and always.