Politicians and pundits who so egregiously split hairs over the Nazi flags, white supremacist slogans, and deadly violence in Charlottesville on August 11 have taught a sobering lesson to everyone who proclaims Jesus’s gospel of love. We can work with politicians, and we should. We can pray for them, and we must. But we often can’t depend on them to get God’s work of justice, equity, and reconciliation done as scripture commands. Instead, this is the work of the Church of Christ, sometimes holding those in power to account, other times doing the work ourselves.
This reality should be part of Christians’ DNA. Poor political leadership was normative for most of the Christian era. In Jesus’s own time, anyone who said it was the king’s job to love and be decent to his people would have been laughed to scorn. Herod? Pilate? Herod Antipas? As an alternative to the prevailing corruption of kings throughout all the centuries in which the scriptural canon was formed, God gave us the law, the prophets, and Jesus Christ.
When someone says hate, the gospel, and theoretically all gospel people, sing love. As governments have become relatively more enlightened, Christians have come to expect secular leaders to sing along. And sometimes they have. At other times, the grim politics of leveraging and scapegoating prevails. In recent years, candidates all too often have chosen to succeed by inflaming voters’ grievances instead of singing a song of unity and common purpose and unleashing hearts of love.
Leaders’ encouragement of people’s resentments set the stage for Charlottesville. Justice is losing ground as a result. As our society becomes more divided along socio-economic lines, millions of us still fail to face up the persistence of racism and privilege-based inequities in our country. That’s why for people of faith, for all who proclaim the gospel of love, August 11 was back-to-school day. Our assignments are accountability and action. Our God in Christ beseeches us to stand up and work in the public square on behalf of our core baptismal value: The dignity of every human being.
In the region enclosed by our diocese, dignity-denying barriers to equity and justice abound, each an opportunity to witness for our Lord Jesus Christ.
Remembering centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, continuing discrimination and racial profiling, and the Nazi flags of August, we proclaim, as Jesus does, that #BlackLivesMatter.
We advocate, as Jesus would, for community policing, rigorous fairness in the apportionment of resources for public education, and shelter for the homeless and working poor.
We work for food justice and sustainability as our Lord would have us do, especially in economically-stricken communities. This is the good work of Seeds of Hope, The Abundant Table, and Camp Stevens as it welcomes less-advantaged campers to the mountains each summer thanks to its generous campership donors.
Because hope is the paramount Resurrection virtue, we insist that our government rededicate itself to policies that help give everyone an equal chance for good work with decent pay and benefits.
Singing hope when our government breeds fear is also the work of Sacred Resistance, another ministry of our diocese. The federal government has persistently failed to enact immigration policies that conform to what every Southern Californian knows: Our economy depends on immigrant workers from Mexico and South and Central America. Deacons, laypeople, and priests throughout our diocese are responding by offering ICE’s targets and their families sanctuary, legal advice, and other services.
When Jesus told Pontius Pilate that he had come to testify to the truth, Pilate replied with moral relativism that sounds a lot like what we heard from some quarters after August 11. “What is truth?” Pilate said. When the powerful equivocate, in Charlottesville and in our own neighborhoods and workplaces, it’s time for the Jesus Movement to testify to the truth and stand up for love.
John Harvey Taylor is bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.