This week we witnessed an egregious act of terrorism as the US Capitol was breached in a effort to overturn a fair and free election. There are many things to name and call out here- first and foremost that these people were incited to these acts by the current president of our country. These acts were a manifestation of the white supremacy that has run unchecked for the entirety of our history, but perhaps been more visible the last 4 years to those whose privilege has otherwise shielded them from seeing the issue. I could probably spend an entire post commenting on the nature of the incident itself, However, I will leave that to those who are more versed in the matter.
Instead, I want to take a moment to evaluate how we as people of faith have responded or failed to respond in the wake of this moment. There have been calls to prayer for an end to the violence of course, What strikes me though is a lack of calls for justice, accountability, and dealing with the underlying issues that led to this moment.
I hear a great deal of words about the need to reunite, forgive, or reconcile a deeply divided nation. While I suppose this comes from a well meaning place, it fails to recognize and hold space for the tremendous hurt and harm that many have experienced. More practically though, it skips over a much needed part of the healing process- the move to create justice and making amends to those harmed.
To try and skip over this hard work and straight to unity and forgiveness, will not only cause harm but will ultimately fail to bring about true unity. If we do not do the work of justice, we will only find ourselves here again.
I have named and will continue to name that extreme harm has been caused by both the Trump administration and his most violent followers. The administration has committed gross human rights violations- from oppressing minority citizens to tearing children from their families at the border or forcibly sterilizing women in ICE custody. Furthermore, his appeals to far right wing supporters in the dog whistles or even not so subtle appeals to white supremacy have fanned the flame of systemic racism that has been burning unchecked for hundreds of years. We saw this come to a violent and very visible reality with this week’s events.
When harm has been done, and it has, to move to reconciliation or unity without first addressing the harm done will not solve the problem. Physical wounds forcibly closed without treatment will fester, so too will forced unity cause social festering if we do first address the toxicity at play.
Believe me, I want unity. However, it must come authentically and not at the expense of justice. In this moment I of course call for no violence. However, non-violence does not mean there is no conflict. Non-violence does not mean there is no tension. We must do the work of dealing with our systems of injustice, of racism and of toxic hatred that are embedded in our cultural identity as a nation. To be clear, when I say “we”- I am speaking to white people- it is OUR job to deal with racism. Yes, there are other systems of privilege and oppression as well, however, these incidents are primarily and deeply rooted in white supremacy.
I want unity. I want a deep and abiding peace on earth. And, I know that this will only come when we do the work of dismantling oppression and injustice. It will only come with holding ourselves and others accountable for the ways that we have caused harm and participated in or benefited from systems of oppression. We must do the work to uproot these systems. Only then can healing and reconciliation be truly created. Anything less, is simply placing a pretty Band-Aid over a gaping, festering wound. This has been our way of dealing with racism in our country thus far-to ignore it. We cannot continue this pattern, or it will only be a matter of time before we see another day like January 6th, or one that is worse.
Furthermore, I want to ask those of us who are white Christians to examine why we have this tendency to have a spirituality that is summed up as being nice, polite, or conflict free. I get it- our faith tradition *does* tell us to forgive. Our tradition teaches the ways of peace and love. But again, I think these matters of forgiveness, of peace, and of love must be created on a foundation of justice and truly doing the work of addressing the issues at play. Conflict is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it is needed to address a problem.
I want to ask- how much our white cultural norms of civility, politeness, and “being nice” influence our tendencies to overly simplify those pieces of Christianity that call for forgiveness or unity. After all, Jesus also speaks about not bringing peace but turning family members against one another (Matthew 10) as he recognized that the call of discipleship may result in very real social tensions. As followers of Christ we are called to be co-creators of a world of Justice- not everyone is going to like that, and it may ruffle a lot of feathers and will cause conflict. But we must be willing to have hard conversations, to hold each other accountable, and to do the hard work.
I also want to raise a very real pastoral issue here, which is that many people have been actively harmed not only by the incident of this week, but of the actions of many over the last four years (and beyond). We as people of faith, need to hold space for and validate the feelings of pain, anger, and hurt that people are expressing. Asking those harmed to move toward forgiveness and unity is at best a pastoral misstep and dismisses the feelings of pain and harm that many feel. In its worst expressions it is outright religious gaslighting. Imagine telling a victim of abuse that they must forgive their abuser or seek unity with those who enabled his harm. We would not. We recognize that their feelings of harm and pain are what's important. A caring response invites the victim to express their authentic feelings and have them validated. For many who have suffered at the hands of the Trump administration, the ask to move toward forgiveness and unity right now feels like a slap in the face. We need to hold space for pain. We need to commit to creating a more just society where people are not harmed. It may also mean we have to own and make amends for the ways we have caused harm. As someone queer who has been harmed by this administration I find myself in both rolls- knowing i have pain to be heard and also knowing that as a white person, I have benefited from systemic racism. I have pain and I also have caused pain.
Of course some, including those who have been harmed, may feel it best for their own spirit to move towards forgiveness, as a means of not allowing the harm done to continue to reside in them. This is certainly valid and is helpful for some, though not for all. As pastors, people of faith, spiritual leaders or spiritual seekers, our role is to hold space for wherever people are in their emotional process.
So fellow church folk, and yes, I do mean white church folk specifically-we have much work to do. I want unity and peace. However, we must build it on a foundation of justice and liberation. When we pray this Sunday, let us not gloss over the work that is ours to do and simply ask God for peace. Let us not speak of love that does not also have accountability. Let us not fail to confess how we ourselves have been complicit in systems of oppression or participated in them. As we pray this Sunday, it must be a prayer to commit ourselves to this work even as we ask God to be with us along this journey. Pray for a society where peace and justice is a reality, but be sure to pray with your feet as you go forth to do the work of co-creating that world with God’s help.
About This Blog
I will write from my own experience and place in life. My goal is to share what I’ve found to be helpful in my life. It may or may not be something that works for you. I aim to share, not to “should” on you. I invite you to explore and reflect with me.