A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and wailing. It’s Rachel crying for her children; she refuses to be consoled, because her children are no more. – Jeremiah 31:15
In the past week, our country has been rocked by two racially-motivated shootings and an attempt to murder a number of public figures with bombs sent by mail. On October 24, a Kentucky man attempted to enter an African American church with a gun, but was unable to get in because the doors were locked. He then went to a local Kroger store, where he shot two people, both of them black. The following Saturday, a man with a history of anti-Semitic remarks on social media entered Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and murdered 11 people. Finally, over the course of the week 14 pipe bombs were sent to various politicians, public figures, and media personnel, all of whom are critical of the president. None of the bombs detonated, but all were real and live. None of these events took place in a vacuum. They reflect the public tension in which we now live. They are extreme examples of the polarization of our society, but they cannot be separated from the broader public conversation (shouting-match) we are having about racial and national identity in America.
How did we get here? It’s no secret that America is extremely polarized right now. It used to be possible for Republicans and Democrats to duke it out on the floors of the House and Senate, and then go out and play golf together. Whatever disagreements there were about policy, they didn’t generally interfere with our ability to live together peacefully. And while racism and anti-Semitism have always been present in our society, the extreme fear, hatred, and violence we see today are truly shocking. So many people would prefer to blame all of their problems and insecurities on one or another racial, ethnic, national, religious, gender, or political groups. How did we get here? More importantly, what do we do about it?
Like everyone else, I have my own political opinions and beliefs, but I generally try to keep them out of my pastoral work. I try to keep my focus on theological and ethical issues, without making them partisan (an increasingly difficult task!). I am pastor to both Republicans and Democrats, and I don’t think either party is wholly good or wholly bad. At the same time, I don’t feel that I can just remain silent on the crises facing our society today. I would never presume to pontificate on what our national policies on immigration, taxation, health care, gun control, and a host of other issues ought to be. Again, I have my own opinions, but I don’t presume to speak for God on those issues. But where I will stick out my neck and declare, “Enough is enough,” is on the extreme animosity and vitriol that now saturate our public discourse. Shame on us, as a society, for losing the ability to treat those with whom we disagree with respect and kindness. Shame on us for thinking we can say whatever we want, regardless of how it affects others. Shame on us for thinking that we can click “Like” and “Share” without taking responsibility for the content of what we are approving and re-publishing. Shame on us, because all of these things have brought us to where we are now. We have created a culture in which people we disagree with are seen as enemies and threats. And while most of us would not go so far as to shoot them or send a bomb to their house, our careless words, whether spoken or written, reverberate and amplify in the public conversation to the extent that someone will eventually take violent action. That is what happened last week. Who knows what it will be next week?
Where is the American Church in all of this? From what I have observed, we are as much a part of the problem as anyone else. From our high profile leaders down to the average person in the pew, we behave in pretty much the same manner as the rest of our society. We don’t tame our tongues (James 3:8). We don’t speak truth in love (Eph 4:15). Instead, we join right in without a second thought. Around 70% of Americans claim to be Christians. If we alone resolved to clean up our speech, to speak with love and grace, it would make a huge difference. If we decided that modeling Christ’s love, even for those who hated him, is more important than winning a culture war, we would change the whole tone of our society. If we would just live the gospel, it would do far more to make America a “Christian nation” than all of our lobbying and political activism ever could. It’s time we get our act together. It’s time we go against the flow of a hate-filled culture. It’s time we say, “Enough is enough.”