BY ERIC CLAYTON | June 4, 2020

In a series of days full of disturbing, painful images, we now have a new one to add to the collection: that of the President holding up a bible and posing for a photo in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.

As I saw that image appear again and again on my Twitter feed, I felt disgust turn to insult: A church is not a background for a photo-op. The Bible is not a prop. My faith is not a political tool. 

I felt mocked. Jesus’ words, uttered after cleansing the temple, came to mind: “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves.”

My thumbs hovered over my phone, witty tweets taking shape. This is the kind of thing that makes Jesus flip tables, I typed. 

I never hit send. All of that privilege hit me first. 

white privilege, privileges

Because I realized that Jesus has been flipping tables for days now. If the murder of multiple black men and women, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee, didn’t rouse in him anger—and I’m quite sure it did—then the persecution of peaceful protesters certainly did. The threat of violence and fear certainly did. The legacy of systemic racism, injustice, and oppression that we allow to fester in our lives and society certainly does.

Jesus was already flipping tables. My tweet would do nothing about that. It was merely a reflection of my own powerlessness, my own privilege, and my inability to grapple with either.

I returned to the image of the President waving a bible in front of a house of prayer and found myself forced to realize that I stand in a long line of white men waving bibles in front of oppressed peoples. The President’s actions unsettle me because they are a reflection of the privilege I enjoy, that a comfortable faith permits. 

Faith cannot be comfortable. Yet my white privilege allows it to be. 

Fr. Bryan Massingale encourages us to “sit in the discomfort this hard truth brings.” And to bring these hard truths to prayer.

St. Ignatius advises us to put ourselves in the stories of scripture, to use the raw material of our own lives as the fertile soil through which scripture speaks anew. In it all, we encounter Jesus.

I invite you to engage in such an encounter with Jesus now. Bring your frustration, your anger, your confusion, your sorrow. Let us see how Jesus responds.

I stand in a barren place. Nothing grows here. It’s quiet. The wind is still. An uneasy peace without and within. A false peace. My heart is troubled.

Jesus comes to me. I sense his presence before I see his face. He, too, is unsettled. I see pain in his eyes. Tears.

Jesus speaks: “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” (Jn 12:27-28)

I respond to Jesus. I share what troubles my heart now, in this moment. And I wonder, how can God’s name be glorified in this moment, so rife with division and violence, particularly violence against people of color?

Jesus replies: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. …Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10:34, 39)

Jesus’ words confuse me. These do not seem to be the words of a peaceful faith. Is this what discipleship means? Am I called to violence? I share my concerns with Jesus. 

Jesus reminds me of the creative tension of my faith. That he is both God and human. That he both died and rose from the dead. That the way of the world is not the way of God. That God’s peace is not the world’s peace.

Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (Jn 14:27)

Jesus continues: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” … “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Mt 10:16; Mt 5:8)

I point, then, to the violence that I believe others have committed. I try to wash my hands clean of what I see, claiming that I have been peaceful; I am like a dove. I have no blood on my hands. I didn’t squeeze the air from anyone’s lungs.

But Jesus cautions: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them.” (Mt 7:15-16)

I grow frustrated with Jesus. His demands are too great. I grow frustrated with myself. My privilege is too hard to root out. I grow frustrated with the world. This is just the way it is, the way it will always be.

But Jesus reveals to me God’s dream. God sees the systems that hold up the status quo. God desires that they be broken. God desires that all people live in justice, freedom, right relationship. 

Jesus quotes the Prophet Isaiah: “Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke? Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…” (Is 58:6-8)

Jesus asks me to consider this: What light might I shine in this moment? What will I commit to doing that advances racial justice? What might I need to sacrifice—to fast from—to build up the world God imagines?

3 replies
  1. Avatar
    Dean Gray says:

    Are you assuming that Jesus and God would care more for those that are non white ? Last time I checked we are all gods children and would be treated equally and has for Jesus flipping tables he would be doing that towards blogs like this plus pastors/ministers that preach gods name whilst begging for money and filling there own pockets, spending it on jets/mansions and unwanted illicit items. You also mention white privilege which is a myth because there is apparently black privilege where they believe they should be treated has gods ( do your research stop been biased ). Did you also know that the country of Poland have been oppressed for 77 percent of there existence which totals 175 years I guess that’s white privilege, or the white irish slaves hey white privilege, white farmers in Africa that got murdered and land taken white privilege. Take off the blindfold and see the truth it’s an individual that could be privileged not an entire race your an embarrassment and are suffering with white guilt which means you are the true racist for seeing people differently and not equally. Prove me wrong cause I can easily show accounts of racism/brutality towards every single race on earth why don’t you write about West Papua oppression caused by the Indonesian government, or migrants attacking women and inflicting violence, protests that are violent or the numerous church attacks in Africa, exactly you won’t cause it doesn’t fit your agenda.

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  2. Avatar
    Becki says:

    You cannot see the forest for the trees oh liberal one. Trump can hold up a Bible in front of a garbage dump if that’s where he is, as I can. It’s what’s in our heart and what we are trying to show God is the way, truth and life! What can one who is not of God hold up, Biden? Maybe the body of an unborn baby remains where non Christians have gone inside the mother and as it fights away the surgical instrument they dissect the child tearing limbs off and pulling its lungs and heart out only to be sold to the highest bidder. I pray God can forgive his misguided children and pray you heathens turn to Him for Salvation if He has not given you over to a debased mind!

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