Saturday evening I got word of the horrific attack on a synagogue in California. In a demented irony the attack came at the end of the commemoration of Passover, when Jews remember God’s victory over an oppressive ruler who wanted them either dead or enslaved.
The white-supremest terrorist who perpetrated this atrocity cited Jesus in his manifesto, according to the Washington Post he even quoted “extensively from the New Testament.” This attack is only one of many that have be perpetrated in the past year, the most recent being the Sri Lanka attacks on Easter, the attack on Mosques in New Zealand in March, and the arson of several historically African-American Churches in Louisiana. It’s the second high profile assault on a Synagogue in a year – both of which used religious lingo in their justifications. The same was true with the Mosque attack. The attack in Sri Lanka seems to be a retaliatory strike for New Zealand. And thus the cycle of power goes round and round and round.
As a minister of the Gospel I have to speak against this desire to weaponize the name of Jesus, and I did so on Sunday even though I was on vacation from my immediate pastoral duties 1. My statement to Central, which was a call to prayer, was this 2,
Whenever you see the name of Jesus being tied to a grab for power, it will end in evil. It doesn’t matter if it’s being tied to an ideology you agree with, disagree with, or are indifferent to – it will end in evil. Let’s pray for this community, which has been horribly shaken, but let’s also keep our eyes open. Stop allowing Jesus’ name, who declared his kingdom was not of this world, to be tied to the desire for power. And don’t let attempts to do so go unchallenged. Because it will end in evil, there is no discussion on this point, that is the end. Don’t let it stand.
This statement would, in general, be true for any ideology which ties itself to a desire for power 3. Even if the desire is innocuous as wanting to make “those people” shut up and go away, it will not end well. Lord Acton, a 19th Century English Historian 4 was pretty much correct when he penned his oft-summarized quote,
Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.
I’d amend this to say it’s the desire for power which corrupts, which is then emboldened when power is obtained. This happens to be a corruption so common we Americans tend to mistrust anyone who seeks or exercises authority because we assume their motives for gaining power must have been nefarious. In fact, it’s a sentiment I’ve both expressed and had directed at me. I cannot count the number of times, early in my pastorate, folks intimated to me I was stretching the congregation because I “just wanted power.” I almost left pastoral ministry on a number of occasions because of this, wondering if the insinuations were true 5.
In America the negativity projected against anyone who doesn’t share our ideological views has become so enflamed that mistrust has become outright terror of the other. So, instead of a healthy skepticism toward both authority and those who holds different views we’ve developed a “get them before they get us” mentality. On social media this becomes waspish hostility. In the real world it’s expressed with bombs and bullets and hatred and death and fear. And fear is what I feel. I confess yesterday morning I looked over at the congregation and saw how the light of the sun fell upon those in attendance whenever the main door to the church opened. As I saw the light fall on the pews I thought, for more than a brief moment, “If someone came in to kill this congregation, who would be the first to die? And what would I do?”
That’s the world this hatred has brought us to, and it must be defied. Fear is real, because there is a growing danger for houses of worship. But as I Christian I also believe this truth is real, “Weaponizing the name of Jesus is an act of evil which will only ever result in evil. It must not be allowed to stand, and the evil it leads to must be defied by love.”
- I still worship at Central if I’m in the area, it’s my community. ↩
- I rambled a bit as I spoke Sunday morning, what’s above is a written summary of my thoughts on the matter. ↩
- I speak to my faith community, which is why my statement is Jesus-centric. But, really, when any ideology gets tied to a desire for power it’s not going to end well. ↩
- Who possessed some glaring blind spots, including his views on the Confederacy and slavery. This, to me, makes the quote more applicable. We can never excuse ourselves from our own critiques. ↩
- Friends gave me a more clear perspective on my situation, it helped. ↩