The audacity of this man knows no limits.
What is Donald Trump doing, posing with a Bible – as if he is a model holding a purse – in front of the historic St. John’s Parish?
He tried to capitalize on a fire that was set to the Parish by vandalizing protesters and was thankfully put out quickly. To do so he also ordered the violent cracking down on peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square so that he could walk to the church, have a photoshoot with a Bible, and with a mean look declare that “we have a great country and we will make it even greater”.
In the midst of chaos, anger and resentment, the country’s president – and the most powerful leader of the world – chooses to stir more hatred, polarization and instability.
Instead of acknowledging and doing something to address the mistakes, the pain, the fear and the injustice, he doubles down on everything that is wrong.
Instead of opening the book he is holding, and so often invokes, to read “love your neighbors” (Mark 12:31), “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44), “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15), “be slow to anger” (James 1:19), “blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) and so much more, he uses it as a photo prop, a political tool. Shame, and shame to the religious leaders that stand idly by.
The Bible tells us to “pray for our leaders” (1 Timothy 2:2), and we will. But it also tells us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9). And we will. But we need to do it in a manner that brings change and doesn’t beget more violence.
In his book detailing the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, ‘Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story’ (1958), Martin Luther King (MLK) writes (p. 191): “A solution of the present crisis will not take place unless men and women work for it. Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Without persistent effort, time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social destruction. This is no time for apathy and complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action”.
And vigorous and positive action he took, without indulging in “irrational emotionalism and social destruction”. Not the least, at a time when racism was not merely a cultural or institutional problem; it was the law, the status quo, the everyday reality in all domains and, for many, the “truth.” His movement was one of extraordinary grassroots organization/mobilization empowered by a strong spiritual awakening – every revolution needs guiding principles and values.
In Montgomery, Alabama, MLK was organizing the Bus Boycott which started in December 1955, after Rosa Park refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus. Naturally, this created reactions from white supremacists. Among other attempts against himself and his family, in January 1956 a white supremacist pulled up at MLK’s house and threw an explosive device onto his porch.
No one was hurt but the angry crowd that gathered outside MLK’s house wanted revenge. These are the same instincts prevailing today. They are understandable, and in many ways natural, but we don’t have to accept or indulge in them. Standing outside his house, after the lives of his wife and child had been in danger, MLK told his supporters to love their enemies: “be good to them, love them, and let them know you love them.” Non-violence was the cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement that was so successful. This a prime leadership example both for the self-centered manager of the White House and those who want to bring about change.
Burning down buildings and vandalizing private or public properties is not bringing justice to anyone. Cracking down violently and indiscriminately on peaceful protesters is not solving any problems either. Both actions are making things worse. There are currently many examples in the United States of police and protesters that have treated each other with respect, but those are not the images you will see on the TV. Hope is not lost.
Just like in every social crisis, we need to rise above circumstances, our emotions and instincts, and be better for ourselves and for others.