Wednesday, January 6, on the Feast of the Epiphany, the world was shocked when a group of people including some well-known white supremacist groups, stormed the Capitol. Where were the guards? How did they get in so easily? People were killed, including a young woman and a police officer. It was an act of sedition. Many have been arrested. But not all. Some who haven’t been are threatening to come back for the inauguration.
Since then, I find myself sobbing about our country. How have we come to this? As a student of history, I know that similar times have come before, and will come again. Our country began in protest against what was felt to be unfair and unethical treatment of settlers here by the British government. We fought against one another in the Civil War and killed off an incredible number of men on both sides. In the neighborhood in which I was born, and many other places, there were demonstrations for, and unfortunately against, the Civil Rights movement. Protests against the Viet Nam war brought violence and anger to our streets.
But this – to see flags that had been adapted from our own Stars and Stripes – to see our flag taken down and one of these flags put in its place. To see such hatred a few miles away from where we live…I weep for our nation.
I weep because hatred wears many costumes. Most of those we are familiar with: racism, sexism, homophobia. But one of the costumes hate wears is righteousness. It is a costume, trust me – it is not the real thing. However, that costume is worn with the belief that the wearer is in the right. We saw it in the Capitol that day – the righteous costume on a person changing out our flag. People calling themselves Christian and doing unchristian acts. People thinking they were doing the right thing by scaling the walls of a government building.
There is another hate costume, my friends, and it concerns me as much as these others. It is harder to detect. I am very familiar with it, because I grew up with it. It looks like righteousness too, but not overtly. It is the costume of political prejudice. And I am so sick of it. Because it can look like Christianity, but underneath there is dislike, and disrespect for those who think differently. I’m not talking about the extremes like white supremacy. I’m talking about those within the normal political spectrum, not the far right, or the far left. Democrats who look down upon Republicans as those who are not as well educated, or just downright stupid. Republicans who believe all Democrats are corrupt or have a socialist agenda. Over the last several years these parties have become more and more polarized, and now it is difficult for people of opposite sides to have a civil conversation, because what should be conversation becomes debate.
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” So asks our Baptismal Covenant, and we respond, “I will, with God’s help.” To respect the dignity of every human being is a big task, and we need God’s help to accomplish it. It is difficult to respect the dignity of someone who doesn’t respect ours. Difficult also to respect the dignity of one who has lashed out at our family or friends. Difficult to respect the dignity of someone who disagrees with us. But that’s what we are called to do. Not only are we to respect the dignity of those whose religion is different from ours, or whose background, or skin color, or hair style, or speech, or intelligence, or physical ability is different from ours, we are also to respect those who prefer debate over conversation; those whose opinions we find difficult to understand. It’s not easy. We aren’t called to agree. We’re called to respect.
I will continue to weep for our country, caught in the trap of hatred, rage, and injustice. And I will continue to pray for all of us. I know I want to pay attention to how I treat others, and how I speak of those who disagree with me. I hope we can all come to a place where we realize that all of us are just plain dirt – humus – from the earth. That as humans, we are not always right, and that our foes are not always wrong. I hope you can pray with me for more love, more justice, more understanding, more hope, more power to enact the changes that are required for us to walk in love.
Loree Penner is a priest in the Diocese of Maryland. She serves as one of the clergy at St. Francis Episcopal Parish, a new parish created by the joining of two former congregations, St. Thomas, Towson, and Epiphany, Timonium.