Dear Emanuel Members and Friends –
“Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Send everyone away from me.’ So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ And they came closer. He said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.’” Genesis 45:1-4
The reading above, our Old Testament reading for August 20, gives us a moment of reconciliation. Joseph was one of Jacob’s many sons, and his father’s favorite. Joseph’s brothers were jealous because of their father’s favoring of Joseph. When Joseph was seventeen years old, his brothers sold Joseph to Ishmaelite traders, who sold Joseph to a member of Pharoah’s court. This set into motion a series of events by which Joseph eventually came to great responsibility over the affairs of Egypt, second only to Pharoah himself. Joseph had interpreted two dreams of Pharoah as predicting an oncoming famine, and made preparations by stockpiling grain. Jacob and his sons were hungry because of the famine, and came to Egypt to buy grain. And it was there at Joseph was reunited with his brothers, and later with his father Jacob. What began with an act of hate came, after many years, to a happy ending of reunion and reconciliation.
Recent events in Charlottesville, VA remind us how far we are from reunion and reconciliation in our country. A rally of white supremacist groups such as the Klan, various neo-Nazi groups, newer formations such as the Proud Boys, all under the heading “Unite the Right”, engaged in acts of intimidation and violence, including surrounding an interfaith church gathering the night before their rally, and numerous acts of violence against counter-protestors. The Rev. Traci Blackmon, the Executive Minister for Justice & Witness for the United Church of Christ, was among a group of clergy who were menaced by the marchers. They came, chanting the 1930’s Nazi motto “blood and soil” along with the anti-Semitic chant “Jews will not replace us.” Late in the day, a neo-Nazi sympathizer drove his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing one and injuring dozens of others. A police helicopter monitoring the event crashed, killing two state troopers. The groups have promised to hold similar events in other cities.
As Christians, first and foremost, we need to remember who we are and whose we are, and who we serve. We serve Jesus who taught his disciples that love of God was inseparable from love of neighbor, and that the word “neighbor” included everybody, even those we might think of as enemies. Simply put, we cannot hate others and still claim to love Jesus. I John 4:20: “Those who say ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” Simply put, the ideas of the Klan, neo-Nazis, and other white supremacist groups are incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Period, end of discussion, no exceptions. We may disagree on politics and policies, but when we deny the basic humanity of others, we deny the image of God in that person – and we deface and deny the image of God in ourselves. When we deny the humanity of others, ultimately we deny our own humanity.
It’s important to recognize that the hatred that broke out in Charlottesville is nothing new – though we have not seen it expressed with such violence in decades. Like a latent virus that is dormant much of the time but breaks out when our immune system is stressed, racism in America’s national life sometimes lies seemingly dormant – though visible to those on the margins - periodically breaks out in ways that hurt and kill, but is always there. It’s also important to remember that racism comes in many forms, both individual and systemic. It’s easy to point at a man in a hood carrying a torch or a man wearing an armband with a swastika and say, “That’s a racist!” But racism is enacted by people who wear hoods and carry torches, and also by people who wear suits and work on spreadsheets. On a conference call this past Sunday night with Jewish and Christian clergy around the city, I was reminded that the same racism that drove the events in Charlottesville also influences systemic decisions around how schools are funded, around access to healthcare, around rates of incarceration, around where polluting industries operate and toxic waste is stored. Combatting such systemic racism requires efforts at a systemic level.
I’ll say it again: in these days, as Christians, we need to remember who we are, whose we are, and who we serve. In the 1930’s and 1940’s, during the Nazi era, most churches in Germany either openly cooperated with Hitler’s Third Reich or remained silent, quietly going about their normal activities of baptizing and confirming and marrying and burying – "church business" - while millions were murdered. In other words, they caved. These churches had compromised or entirely abandoned their God-given identity and mission. A small minority of German Protestant churches, who took the name of the “Confessing Church”, stood against Hitler. They issued a statement called the Barmen Declaration which demonstrated that their rejection of Hitler was inseparably tied to their confession of faith. (Your homework assignment: read the Barmen Declaration: http://www.ucc.org/beliefs_barmen-declaration) The Barmen Declaration had faults – it was a product of its time, was mostly addressed to the affairs of the church, not to the wider society, and had little to say to the Jews who were being rounded up and murdered – but it was a brave stand against Hitler, nonetheless. Signers were persecuted, and some such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer were executed – but their example inspires to this day.
Remember who you are, and whose you are. We are followers of Jesus Christ, who ministered to Jew and Gentile alike. Where others built walls, Jesus built bridges. If you have children, lead them in the way of love. Speak out against efforts to marginalize and “other-ize” people based on race, ethnicity, nationality, socio-economic status, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical or mental disability, or other personal characteristics. Show the love of Christ in word and deed, in season and out of season. Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes. Remember who you are. And pray for the day when, like Joseph with his brothers, our country can experience reconciliation.
See you in church –