by Michael Usey, Matthew 2.1-12
Like you, I’ve been so disgusted and so sad that I could hardly breathe. This is a time for lament, most of all. We are all justified in being exhausted this week. None of this is normal. And yet, we have grown so accustomed to our national chaos that we’ve lost the ability to name our own dire circumstances. America needs help. Our schools, hospitals, and churches need help. We all individually need help. We are in deep distress.
During our Tuesday staff meeting (the day before the insurrection), we discussed about whether or not to include Herod’s murder of the male infants in the passage of the visit of the magi. Herod is present in all our manager scenes, really. The specter of death haunts the birth of divine love. We decided that this passage ends with the foreboding verse 12, And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
At 5:30 on Wednesday, right before the curfew in DC, one of the leaders of Greensboro’s ministerial alliance called together a number of ministers to craft a cogent response. That response is the backbone of my prompt to you today as we continue to process, lament, grieve, and rage about the tragic events; we are here to listen to each other. While an excellent statement came out of this process, there is a subtext. One of the black ministers who had good things to say on the call–he was one of three ministers that confronted me on the first hour we were in Israel a couple of years ago. He and two other ministers said to me, “We know that you’re gay friendly [his words] and you advocate for gay rights, and we don’t want to hear any of that on this trip.” It was literally in the first hour we were off the overnight plane trip and I was fuzzy with lack of sleep. I was so shocked that these other ministers even knew who I was, I don’t think I said anything except “Okay.” [What I should have said is, “So a kiss from you guys is out of the question?”] Honestly, what did they think I was going to do or say? If I had my wits about me, I might have quoted Dr. King, “None of us are free until all of us are free.” That same thought buzzed my brain during this ministers’ meeting, at the irony of this minister’s understandable outrage while his own unwillingness to care about the LGBTQ community injustices from churches. Helping everyone to live into the freedom that God in Christ gives to us is a quest all of us need to undertake.
On Epiphany proper we witnessed the seditious riot by domestic terrorists on our nation’s capital. We at College Park join countless other US citizens in grief and outrage after Wednesday’s attack on democracy at the center of American government. We believe that all of us are created in the image of God. Our understanding of the justice and love of God, which unites us in common commitment and compassion, flows from the life of God in Christ. All of us grieve this insurrection for its deep disturbance and fundamental threat to our democracy. We are outraged at the violence that led to the death of at least five people, while initiating trauma for so many others as it reinscribed the fear experienced by so many of the most vulnerable in our nation. However, our anger should not be mistaken for surprise, nor our grief for resignation. This is who we are. It was an American reckoning on race, not the first, nor the last.
The holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel wrote: “The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.” We will not be indifferent but stand against injustice. We will not be silent, nor choose what Dr. King called “a negative peace” that is the absence of conflict, but rather work for the “positive peace” that is the presence of justice.
People have been calling it a dark event, but more correctly it was a white insurrection, white supremacy and privilege on nefarious display for all the world and America’s shame. This domestic terrorism was centered on race, America’s original sin, the deep cancer that is causing so much pain, suffering, and death.
A couple of insurrection images are horrific:
- the tool in the Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt, so there were actual (not figurative) Nazis in that sedacious crowd ;
- the Jesus Saves sign, making sure everyone mistakes the heresy of Christian nationalism for actually following Jesus;
- the ignoble confederate flag waving inside the capitol building, celebrating the Myth of the Lost Cause, racism, slavery, segregation, white supremacy, and lynching of African-Americans;
- At least one NC flag–not surprising, but chilling;
- The gallows erected in front of the Capitol, not there just for show;
- and honestly the most grim sight of all: the pendejos carrying flex cuffs. They suggest that they meant to murder someone, and I believe that Speaker Nancy Pelosi was top on their hit list.
I haven’t seen a picture thankfully, but there are several reports that the terrorists defecated inside the capitol and they tracked feces everywhere. A literal metaphor for their heinous actions and disdain for democracy. White supremacy and Christian nationalism are not recent aberrations, but part of a longstanding legacy in our country. Many times throughout U.S. history white Americans have supported unjust election processes and thwarted judicial justice to marginalized and vulnerable Americans. Such inequity continues to plague America, while standing against the goodness of God and God’s will for beloved community. Consider the treatment of Black people protesting police brutality and centuries of racial injustice over against the treatment of white insurrectionists storming the Capitol to disrupt the certification of an election and the peaceful transition of power because of a conspiracy theory. Our country is apt to regard black protest as a threat, while white rioting is treated as an entitlement.
People kept calling this an assault on our sacred space, but I believe that type of sloppy use of language contributes to the problem. Our capital and federal buildings are dear to all Americans, but they are not sacred spaces; they are not temples, synagogues, church buildings, or houses of worship. Let’s not conflate the two.
The photo of the two senate aides who had the presence of mind to scoop up the box with the electoral votes should be given the medal of freedom. The New Jersey Representative Andy Kim was seen helping clean up the capital after the looting. “Look for the helpers,” Mr. Rogers used to say, and we see them now. The image of the black capital workers cleaning up behind white supremacist thugs who attempted a coup just a couple of hours before is almost more than the heart can take.
On a Sunday in September, we considered what our reaction might be to a coup attempt–which has been happening since the election results came in several weeks. I’m grateful that both the hard and soft coup attempts have not been successful. But it has done permanent damage to our democracy, exposing how vulnerable it is, and has served to delegitimize the incoming administration for millions of Americans. Plus, our next would-be dictator will be worse and much more competent. We are lucky that our criminal president was so incompetent. The next up-and-coming American despots will be better at their facism. Wednesday’s insurrection was not the last grasp of American fascism; it was the latest salvo in an escalating war.
Given our history as the city where four NCA&T students sat down at a lunch counter in order that others could stand up for justice, we have a particular appreciation for seminal moments such as this. Let’s recommit ourselves to the urgent work of this moment — nationally and locally — acknowledging that peace cannot come without justice, and reconciliation must be preceded by repair. We will strive to embody God’s love in our own lives and communities, and we will work with all people of goodwill to join us. May our grief motivate compassionate action and our anger inspire transformative work.
These domestic terrorists killed a US Capitol police officer, Brian Sicknick, to their everlasting shame. This will not be forgiven; they injured several more police. Five dead, more than at Benghazi. The irony is that few of the terrorists wore a mask, making it that much easier to identify them. Although the dolt dressed like Manbearpig won’t be hard to identify in his furry bikini and horns.
Of course there are serious concerns about the security of the capitol inself. We saw in the images that poured out of the Capitol more than a disturbing breach of security by people who believe Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud. We saw white privilege and double standards and questioned whether the police response would have been the same had the rioters been Black or brown people or their allies.
“No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesters yesterday that they wouldn’t have been treated very differently than the mob that stormed the Capitol,” Biden said Thursday. “We all know that’s true — and it’s unacceptable.” Law enforcement officers treated pro-Trump rioters with restraint — even as they broke through barricades, windows and doors, strolled through the halls of the Capitol, and posed in Senate chambers, tearing up and stealing — that was not afforded to peaceful demonstrators during the protests in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere over the summer following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. By contrast, police used pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets against people protesting unprovoked police violence against African Americans near the White House in May.
Three years ago the capitol police hauled out of their wheelchairs disabled peaceful protestors, who were there because they wanted better healthcare. Yesterday The DC Police Chief was quoted as saying, “There was no intelligence that suggested there would be a breach of the US Capitol.” Yet we saw numerous rioters with professionally printed T-shirts that said, “Civil War. January 6, 2021.” Wait, what?
If someone is mad that a woman (from San Diego I’m ashamed to say) was shot dead storming the capitol, you have to wonder why that same person wouldn’t be outraged that a woman is shot to death sleeping in her own house (Breonna Taylor). As Jacqui Lewis tweeted, “So damn tired of living in a country that treats black grief as a threat and white rage as a sacrament.” As my high school friend the Rev. Joanne Hoyle, “We’re not asking you to shoot them like you shoot us. We’re asking you not to shoot us the way you don’t shoot them.” These deeply disturbing events were also the logical trajectory of the actions and rhetoric from the highest levels of leadership — particularly presidential leadership. The recent attempt by the President of the United States and some of his supporters to undermine election results is the latest episode in a pattern of leadership that has emboldened white supremacy and utilized nationalistic fervor for political gain. This was evident in the use of religious symbols in the attack on the capital, right alongside an erected noose and artifacts of the Confederate rebellion against the United States.
I know that a few of you have been peeved with me for my consistent anti-45 fb posts over the last four years. But I know that many more of you saw clearly the danger, as I did, of an unhinged malignant narcissist given the most powerful weapons on our planet; indeed he had (still has?) the power to destroy all human life on earth. That is not hyperbole: less than 100 nukes would do it. And when he got kicked off Twitter for 12 hours–now permanently–didn’t you think: the person with the nuclear codes has been deemed too dangerous to have a Twitter account.
In other news, 4000 people died from Covid-19 in America on Wednesday for the first time topping 4000 … and it was repeated on Thursday, Friday, Saturday. And will likely be so today. The ghastly march to 400,000 dead Americans by Jan 20 continues to pick up speed. This would have been unthinkable a year ago. American carnage indeed.
As Chrisitans we can commit to do our part, drawing on the resources of faith and community to learn and grow, and help work past racial hatred. In our upcoming study of the book The Common Good, for example, we’ll discuss the intersecting issues that are reflected dramatically in this moment, but continue systematically in so many moments unseen. This is a week to listen to each other, particularly to people of color, and to keep listening, reading, and working together to overcome this inbred American racial hatred.
Let’s also continue to join in prayer. We’ll keep praying for our country, our public servants, and the peaceful transfer of power to the new president on January 20. We’ll also pray for our community, that this city we love might live out its own ideals, celebrating diversity, working for the enfranchisement of all its citizens, encouraging neighborly love, and pursuing more fully the justice and love intended by God.
The magi were warned to go home by another way. We can too. We’ve been warned, not in a dream, but in a nightmare.