A statement on the violence at the Capitol from the Coalition of African American Pastors
Are we losing our capacity to love and empathize with others?
Last week, I was stunned to see violent protests erupt in the halls of our Capitol building. The violence was inexcusable, and the subsequent loss of life was a terrible tragedy. I have nothing but the deepest compassion for those who were injured or terrorized on that awful day.
In many ways, it seemed like the exclamation point on a year that was marked by turmoil, unrest, and violence. This time, the constitutional process itself was under assault, and innocent people were once again the victims of the deepening division and hateful rhetoric that have infected our national discourse.
The symbolic nature of the location is impossible to ignore. It was not an exaggeration to say that democracy itself was under attack. However, we cannot overlook the fact that similar violence occurred across the country in the riots that broke out last summer. Something has gone very wrong in the way our country copes with political disagreement.
We unequivocally condemn the violence at the Capitol – and all violence, which has no place in our nation’s recent tradition of peaceful, nonviolent civil action.
As a veteran of the civil rights movement, I was taught to endure insult and injury in the cause of justice (and without retaliation). I marched with Dr. King, and I have spent decades as an activist and advocate for justice. Now, I am grieved to see what has changed in our political landscape.
The United States of America has weathered many storms. Over the years, we have had to deal with many deep and profound political disagreements. But we have been held together by a belief in our founding principles.
Recently, however, we’ve watched as public discourse became uglier, nastier, and more aggressive. This change isn’t solely political, but it has permeated our political language. Fostered by the media and nurtured by social media, we have seen a concerted effort to label political opponents as “the other” and use that as a reason to heap scorn, anger, hate, and bigotry on them.
In short, we have been encouraged to dehumanize our political opponents. That effort has been so successful that violence, anger, online mobs, and censorship have been the inevitable result. Now, we are seeing Christians and conservatives silenced online because of their views or their associations. There was a time when such censorship would be rightly castigated as a “witch hunt.” Now, all you can find are apologists and people who are too busy piling up wood at the base of the stake to worry about the consequences to our country.
At this point, some might be tempted to point fingers and talk about who started it, who the worst actors are, or who deserved what.
It doesn’t matter.
When people are rioting in the streets and storming our Capitol, we have gone past the point of placing blame.
We all need to take responsibility for our part in what has happened to our country. And we need to ask what we can do to restore a sense of peace and community.
In other words, we need to realize that we have forgotten about love. We have forgotten to love our neighbors.
As Christians, we are called to love others without exceptions. The Bible doesn’t say, “Love your neighbor … unless you disagree on immigration issues and tax rates.” We must love him regardless of our disagreements. Remember the instruction given to us by John the Evangelist:
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4: 20-21)
There has been too much anger- and too many excuses made for hate – in the past few months. Yes, it is true that some of the political issues that divide us have grave consequences, such as the issue of abortion, which is literally one of life and death. But we cannot bring people to our side through anger and hate. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can.”
It is tempting to say that we will act with love and tolerance as soon as we see those virtues demonstrated to our satisfaction by our political enemies. But that is not what the Bible is calling us to do. We are to act with love for our neighbor regardless of his actions or beliefs. We must demonstrate Christian love through our own speech and actions at all times.
This doesn’t mean that we cannot still work for justice and the defense of our beliefs. Those are both vital missions and we should never abandon our efforts to preserve freedom, faith, and family. But it is possible to adhere to this mission from a place of love and charity for all.
For too long, our nation has allowed the rhetoric of division and anger to chip away at our American values. It is time that we remember all that unites us and come together, in love, to heal our country.