11/13/2016 Sunday after Trump was elected.
Sermon preached by Rev. Karen Fitz La Barge at North Kent Presbyterian, Rockford, MI
Last week on Tuesday evening after choir, I rushed home to watch the election results come in. I was all set up in my living room with the television on PBS and my laptop on Facebook and various websites that report the election results county by county. And that is when I, like so many of you, got a huge surprise. –The polls that had so confidently predicted a sweeping Hillary Clinton victory were being crushed by a turn out from unlikely voters that the poll takers had assumed would not participate and so whom they did not survey. –But these voters DID come out to their precincts and many of them voted for Donald Trump. I, like many of you were in shock. What had just happened? Was this a dream or reality? As I watched the comments of people on Facebook, who like me were still awake and watching at 2:00 in the morning, the only thing that I could think to do for everyone was to pray. And so I offered up this prayer on Facebook, inspired by the classic benediction:
May God bless us and keep us, even if our candidate does not win. May God’s face shine down with love upon all of us, no matter if we voted for change or for experience. May God be gracious to us and grant us all peace no matter the good or the ill that happens in this world.
I didn’t sleep very well and woke up on Wednesday morning to check on the reaction of the world on social media. Some of my white Facebook friends were jubilantly and loudly celebrating Trumps win, and the white Democrats were crying in shock and grief and disappointment. That was alI as I had expected. But it was the reaction of the Minorities and my Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered friends that woke me up completely. –They were simply and absolutely terrified. This was not the usual lamenting that their candidate did not win and the stages of grief that many of us are very familiar with. This was pure fear. Fear on the level of a terror attack. A personal 9-11. One person described it as feeling that “open season” had just been declared on them, and that all of the haters that were out there had just been given a “license” to act on their thoughts. –That the haters could now be as bad as they wanted to be and that their hateful behavior would now be tolerated with a nod from the president Trump and his new racist, sexist and xenophobic federal government friends. –Were things going to actually get that bad? –God forbid! But it was like I had been asleep and not paying close enough attention to what had been going on.
I didn’t know that on November 2nd, 2016, six days before the election, an African American Church in Greenville Mississippi was firebombed. It is indisputable that this crime was politically motivated. How do we know? The words, “Vote Trump” were also spray painted on bricks on the side of the church.[i] It was a dire warning, and a prediction. It was a wake-up call that many of us did not hear. Since Trumps nomination and especially now that he has won the election, there has been a huge increase and a terrible new boldness in hate speech and intolerance. [ii] This exponential increase needs to absolutely wake us up and terrify every one of us.
In Royal Oak Michigan Middle School on Wednesday during 7th grade lunch, the last part of a disturbing incident was caught on a phone video and posted on Facebook where it has gone viral with 10 million views before it was taken down on Saturday. A group of white students began chanting in the cafeteria, “Build the wall.” -A frequent chant at Trump rallies. The Hispanic 7th graders broke down in tears as the lunch room supervising adults did nothing during the brief video clip. While the school principal and the Royal Oak district superintendant have been working hard on the situation ever since the incident happened on Wednesday, the comments on that Middle School Facebook video are illustrating the stark divide in this country and the hate speech that has now been let off its leash. One comment left on Thursday night read, “Load your assault rifles with hundred round clips and let these #DEVILS know this is the reality.”[iii] Multiple gun and bomb threats, multiple calls for violence, and people volunteering to build the wall to keep out more dirty Mexicans have caused many parents to pull their kids out of the Royal Oak Middle School in fear for their safety this week. While the students at the school have apologized for their bullying jokes and are trying to get things back to normal, the comments coming in on copies of this video on YouTube have not yet stopped being an avenue for terrible hate speech and for threats of violence to minorities. Saturday, a white supremacist posted , “Build the ****ing wall, deport them all.” 1488 and race war now, fam. I can’t wait til the God Emperor, Trump regins in the Fourth Reich.” [iv]
–And sadly these are not isolated incidents of hate and violence this week. A KKK group announced a parade on December 3 to celebrate how Trump’s race had united their people.[v] Women in headscarves have been grabbed and beaten up by Trump supporters wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, repeating slogans. “Whites only” graffiti is being spray painted on bathroom doors. Gay couples have had “Burn in Hell” messages left on their cars.[vi] And my colleague Amy’s young daughter, who has a friend of Mexican descent asked her mother this week, “When is Donald Trump going to come and take my friend away?”
Now please understand me. Good Christian people who are loving and wonderful and are not at all racist or sexist or homophobic voted for the Republican nominee for many good and sensible reasons: Some have always voted Republican. Some were voting for change in Washington politics by an outsider, some were voting for a different economic plan with less government spending, and some were voting in the hope for future right leaning supreme court nominees. I know that some of you did and I know that you are also shocked and appalled by all of these hateful words and behaviors. –Many people I know held their noses and ignored the terrible comments that Trump had made during the campaign and they voted for him anyway.
But the underlying tenor of the Trump campaign, the fear mongering, the hate rhetoric and the discounting of another person’s humanity are all things that are not acceptable to Christians who believe that everyone is made in the image of God. Such behavior is untenable as a follower of Jesus Christ. And we must call it out whenever we see it and not just dismiss it as stupid campaign rhetoric or a typical politician’s lies. We cannot ignore it just because it is inconvenient to our celebrating a political victory. We cannot make an idol out of political power and influence and pursue that while blindly allowing ourselves to be unaware of what these hateful words and policies mean to those who are vulnerable. We as followers of Jesus cannot accommodate hate speech in any form, whether it comes from a Trump supporter or a Hillary supporter. —And a Hillary supporter calling all Trump voters sexist or racist for their simple vote or actually beating up a Trump voter in the street or rioting and destroying property are all behaviors that also cross that line from civil discourse and honest disagreement into hate. Tweeting death threats to Donald Trump[vii] is not treating others as a person made in the image of God!
In our Ephesians scripture passage this morning, we have two groups of people who are in fundamental disagreement and in a terrible relationship with each other. The Jewish Christians and the Gentile (non Jewish) Christians had a massive and fundamental disagreement about the need to follow Jewish law in order to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. The Jewish Christians of course were the ones who held to all of the laws that were given to them in the Torah. They followed the laws of circumcision for all of the males and they were very careful to only eat food that was certified by the Priests and the Levites as being kosher. They were especially careful about the laws in keeping the Sabbath holy and would be certain to not work on the day that was dedicated to the Lord their God. To the Jewish Christian, following Christ was done in addition to keeping all of the laws of the Torah and following their prescribed way of life that they had been keeping alive for centuries. For them, there was simply no other way that would be acceptable to live.
The Gentile Ephesus Christians on the other hand had not grown up keeping all of these Jewish laws. They were not accustomed to limiting the foods that they ate and keeping track of what they were allowed or not allowed to do the Sabbath. The grown Gentile men especially objected to the idea of circumcision and were not about to subject that delicate part of their bodies to the knife! For Gentiles, following Christ was NOT dependant on following all of the Jewish laws of the Torah, and they were not about to begin to do so! Into this situation of irreconcilable differences and two cultures and worldviews the Apostle Paul calls the church in Gentile Ephesus to follow the example of Jesus Christ. –That whether you are a Jew or a Greek that you all belong to the same body of Christ. Your old alliances are gone and you are all citizens together in a new kingdom, the kingdom of God. That the concerns and the fears and needs of every person in this new kingdom of Christ are the concerns of all. They are no longer Jew or Greek but are all one new body together and responsible for each other.
So what does all of this mean for us today? In Christianity there is no permission given to allow us to continue to be our worst selves and there is no room for hate speech, bullying, or treating others badly by anyone, Republican or Democrat or Independent. Our lust for political power and desire to win an election cannot come at the expense of our call to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Our commitment to God is a higher calling. As a disciple, God calls us to walk alongside the ones being bullied, the least of these with no rights, the people who have no voice and no political power. We are called to stand up with minorities, those who are GLTBQ, those who are oppressed and victimized. So whether you voted on Tuesday for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or even Mickey Mouse, today I am reminding you that if you are a follower of Christ there is no more RED or BLUE, and there is no excuse to close your eyes to the fact that this is happening or to laugh at the fears of those who are being targeted with such hate and violence. Racism and sexism, hate speech, homophobia and xenophobia are some of the evils that are present today in our country that are getting bolder and louder. As disciples of Jesus, as citizens with both a voice and a vote, we must not tolerate them, but we must take a stand against them.
Because ultimately this is the peace that comes from following Christ:
That illegal immigrant? She is my sister.
That Trump supporter? He is my brother.
That transsexual woman? –Is a beloved member of this family.
That heartbroken Hillary volunteer? He belongs with me.
The NRA gun loving neighbor? Is part of us too.
Because at the table of Jesus Christ, Donald Trump is invited to sit down with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders with Ted Cruz. Paul Ryan and Bill Clinton with the Bushes and the Obamas. The immigrants and the media will have a seat at the table and the peace of Christ will prevail when we are all truly concerned with the good of all.
So be it. Amen.