On June 1, President Trump walked silently to the vandalized St. John’s Church and held up a Bible. His action was symbolic: the display of a Bible where criminal vandals had torched a Church. The symbolism was lost on the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop Michael Curry (and on CNN’s Anderson Cooper who was equally dense). The Bishop responded with this:
“This evening, the President of the United States stood in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, lifted up a bible, and had pictures of himself taken. In so doing, he used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes. This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us.
The bible teaches us that ‘God is love.’ Jesus of Nazareth taught, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The prophet Micah taught that the Lord requires us to ‘do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.’
We need our President, and all who hold office, to be moral leaders who help us to be a people and nation living these values. For the sake of George Floyd, for all who have wrongly suffered, and for the sake of us all, we need leaders to help us to be “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
Bishop Curry says that the President “used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes.” The President’s visit was, of course, political in that he is the political leader of a nation in political turmoil. The President is not an “un-partisan” Episcopal Bishop. Was the President’s symbolism partisan? To say so is to side with the looters, arsonists, and other thugs who do have an agenda. Bishop Curry did not criticize the church-burners, he only criticized the President.
The country is in “a time of deep hurt and pain”. The hurt and pain come largely from those city and state officials who timidly watch while berserk looters and arsonists riot. These officials “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” and therefore they cultivate a mentality that already permeates too much of America. Why nurture it? Widespread criminal riot is not a proper protest for the inexcusable local actions of four poorly trained Minneapolis policemen. Local protests, of course, were appropriate, even necessary. But what if George Floyd had been white? Nobody knows what might have happened to Mr. Floyd in that case. We have no way of knowing if the policemen’s motives were racist or not. Period. Yet the rioters are sure they know. But there is a vast difference in “They harmed George Floyd because he was black” and “They harmed George Floyd and he was black.” If we assume “because” while we are utterly ignorant about whether something is an instance of “because” or of “and,” then we (and millions of our contemporary Americans) are acting out of the worst kind of subtle, irrational, knee-jerk racism. Our own knee-jerk racism is made clear if we assume that because the cops were white and the victim was black the cops were racists. If a white man is the victim of four black cops, is that proof that the black cops are racists?
Bishop Curry said that the President did nothing to help or heal us, but the Bishop’s remarks themselves probably heated up racist fires by his silence about the rioters. And there is another pernicious silence: millions of American blacks (and whites) today remain silent, day after day, year after year, while other blacks kill one other wholesale, in gang warfare, over “turf,” for being “dissed,” for drug deals gone sour, about who gets the girl (or guy), in murders of policemen, and in deaths from stray bullets that kill innocent bystanders. This is an enormously bigger tragedy than the death of one man, but the outrage does not exist, and that uncaring indifference is racist.
Even so, perhaps the most unsatisfactory of Bishop Curry’s remarks are his appeals to Sacred Scripture: “The bible teaches us that ‘God is love.’ Jesus of Nazareth taught, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The prophet Micah taught that the Lord requires us to ‘do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God’.” Well, Jesus talked about love, but He also said, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31), and Moses and the prophets were quite clear that our thoughts and actions should not include riot. As for the Bishop’s Micah 6:8, “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God,” that is a message better intended for looters, arsonists, and murderers than for a man holding up a Bible in front of a vandalized church. But if you subscribe to the contemporary “Gentle Jesus, come and squeeze us” theology, you might think otherwise.