My, but Dick and I had a wonderful vacation in Wales! It was so incredibly restful; I took 5 mile walks on a coastal trail that started right at our bed & breakfast: pastures filled with grazing sheep on one side, and on the other the Irish Sea. Oh, and the food! Dick was boring, going for stuffed chicken breasts and sea trout; but I was adventurous! I was wild! I had wild boar! And in case you’re wondering, wild boar makes the best savory stew in the universe! And then of course for dessert, hot sticky toffee. Oh, my. And I was given the assurance by Jesus that it is not what goes into my mouths which defiles me, but what comes out. By wild boar and hot sticky toffee, I am undefiled!
But then I came home. And two days later, white nationalists started carrying torches and chanting the Nazi phrase “Blood and soil” on the University of Virginia’s campus in Charlottesville. And the next day Heather Heyer was murdered when 20-yr old James Alex Fields intentionally drove his car into the crowd of peaceful protestors. Heather was a passionate advocate for the disenfranchised who was often moved to tears by the world’s injustices, and she died standing up for what she believed in. She used to say, “You gotta get out in your community and do things.” That sense of justice led her to join the other demonstrators protesting the white nationalists spewing their hate and fear and terror. What did Jesus say about this kind of spewing forth?
Would you say it with me? Matthew 15:10: It’s not what goes into our mouth that defiles us, but what comes out of our mouth.
This domestic terrorism has been going on for far longer than a week. Or a month. Or a year. Hate groups have always had a comfortable place in American society, whether it is the Ku Klux Klan, started in 1866 right after the Civil War, or the Neo-Confederate hate groups started around 1914, when 80% of the Confederate War Memorials were put up and black lynchings were at an all-time high, or the Neo-Nazi hate groups started in the 1950s.
Our UCC Conference Minister, Franz Rigert wrote these words this past week: “When I was a teenager I remember learning about skinheads, holocaust deniers like David Duke, and bizarre night gatherings of the Ku Klux Klan. I assumed these were isolated demonstrations of a warped White Anglo Saxon Protestant nationalism that would logically give way to a more pluralistic, mature and inclusive national pride. I was wrong. Over the past few years, the racial tensions in Ferguson and Baltimore, in Madison and Sherman Park, tell me otherwise. Even the horrific mass shooting during a Charleston AME Church Bible Study hasn’t stemmed the hateful rhetoric or ceased the insane violence.
Rev. Rigert goes on to say, “What I find most frightening about the counter chant to Black Lives Matter (“white lives matter” or the more innocuous “all lives matter”) is it acts as a subtle invitation to normalize an ideology of white supremacy. The events of Charlottesville this past weekend represent a growing intolerance. We have seen this zeal before, and it has not served our world well.” Preach the word, Rev. Rigert.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups across the US, reports that 917 hate groups are currently active and operating in the US. We have the Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology headquartered in Shawano who call themselves Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, who according the the FBI have a 60-person hit list, including the female mayor of Shawano.
Here in SE Wisconsin, we have the White Devil Social Club, an active group of white nationalists. Just across the border into Illinois, right next to Gurnee Mills, there’s the “Ku Klos Knights of the KKK.” And then in Naperville, there’s the anti-gay hate group, “Americans for Truth about Homosexuality.” In Oconomowoc, there’s a pick-up truck that parades around with two Confederate flags streaming from its bed. The kid who drives it went to Oconomowoc High School with my daughter. We’ve got to understand this: white nationalist hate groups are a deeply rooted part of our Wisconsin community.
And one thing all these groups have in common: they all call themselves Christian. And they’ll know we are Christians by our… hate. Hatred of blacks. Hatred of immigrants. Hatred of gays. Hatred of Muslims, of Sikhs, of Jews. They are, and have always been, domestic terrorists, seeking to drive out any who are not like them by violence, intimidation, and terror. And they call themselves Christian.
My blood runs cold when I hear my Jesus- our Jesus- taken over by a group that stands in defiance of everything Jesus ever taught.
…Jesus- the non-violent prophet.
…Jesus- who only got mad when the poor, the marginalized, the stranger were being trampled.
…Jesus, who said that the only thing that defiles us is the hate that comes out of our mouths.
…Jesus, who was willing to put His life on the line to stand up against the powers of violence, and oppression.
Not take other peoples’ lives mind you; early Christians were pacifists, and they learned that by following in the footsteps of Jesus. Jesus never killed anyone, but He was willing to put His own life on the line to bring about justice. What came out of Jesus’ mouth? Not fear. Not hate. Not “Blood and Soil.” Not “My people belong and yours don’t.” What came out of Jesus’ mouth? Justice. Compassion. Integrity.
You and I- we’re the good Christians, right? We’re the real Christians. We are appalled by such overt racism, by such violent terrorism. The United Church of Christ- we’re the Good Church, the first church to ordain blacks, women, gays and lesbians. We’re the church where everyone is included, and nobody is left behind.
But are we the church that takes racism seriously? Are we a congregation who questions our own hearts asking, “Is it I, Lord?” Am I part of the problem? Am I safe here in my white Dousman from the terror inflicted on my black and Hispanic and Jewish and Muslim neighbors, and so I can say How Horrible! and turn the channel to something more comfortable?
After Charlottesville, will we white progressive churches take racism seriously? America isn’t the same as it was a year ago. Ideas that a year ago were seen as crazy and off the map are now in the mainstream. The Alt-Right exists openly in the halls of power, and the violent rhetoric that brought the events of the past week to life are spoken by those who turn the wheels of our society. We’re a nation turned upside-down.
And Jesus said… what was it Jesus said? “It’s not what goes into our mouth that defiles us; it’s what comes out of our mouth.”
So what would Jesus do, if He were living in our times. Would He change channels? Well no; for one thing He would be one of the people on the hit list. He was an inclusive Jew! He’s the one who would be in danger- Him and all His women followers, and Jewish followers, and Samaritan followers, and followers like the black eunuch from Ethiopia.
So what would Jesus have us do- we who are not directly affected by the riots in the streets, by the prejudice, by the vitriol, by the hatred? The Southern Poverty Law Center has written a booklet called “Ten Ways To Fight Hate.” I love the cover of the booklet- that little toddler Ku Klux Klan toddler, with the black state trooper looking down with such… what? Tenderness? The opening sentence in that booklet says, “Do something.”
Do it with compassion, with honesty, with integrity. But do something.
“Hate is an open attack on tolerance and acceptance. And so it must be countered with acts of goodness. Sitting home with our virtue does no good. In the face of hate, silence is deadly. Apathy will be interpreted as acceptance- by the perpetrators, the public, and worse-by the victims. If left unchallenged, hate persists and grows, and it tears our communities apart. The U.S. Department of Justice warns that hate crimes, more than any other crime, can trigger community conflict, civil disturbances, and riots.” –SPLC, “Ten Ways To Fight Hate.”
“Extremist right-wing groups are not counting on majority support, but on majority silence. They don’t expect media adoration, but are eager for media attention. So it is crucial for Americans- especially white Americans- to find every way we can to loudly and clearly condemn white supremacy for what it is: an evil lie and a dangerous cancer… The hard work for us is that renouncing white supremacy involves the difficult work of acknowledging all the ways it continues to shape American life, whether in policing, education and economic opportunity, immigration, or foreign policy. White supremacy is at work whenever there’s an assumption that white people’s peace, security and thriving are somehow more important that other people’s.” Christian Century, Aug. 16, 2017
And if I am honest, the assumption of white supremacy acts in my favor. I’m the one not pulled over on the freeway. I’m the one given the benefit of the doubt if I’ve done something wrong. I’m the one who gets the good schools, and the nice neighborhoods, and the opportunities that come with those.
The extremists don’t want our support; they want us to stay silent and cocooned in our own comfort. But hate escalates. And so as citizens and as Christians, we need to put our bodies and voices where our beliefs are. We have to take seriously the smallest hint of hate- even what appears to be simple name-calling. The Department of Justice warns that slurs often escalate to harassment, harassment to threats, and threats to physical violence. Don’t wait to fight hate.
And so we’re at a ballgame, and the guy next to us starts cracking racist jokes. What do we do? Be silent and let him assume, by our silence, that we agree with him? Let him assume that he can ramp it up, because no one will say anything? If there’s one thing I have learned from anti-bullying curriculum, it’s that bullies usually back down when someone stands up to them. Not asking for a fight, not participating in the intimidation or trading insult for insult; but standing up to be seen and heard, like Jesus did.
Can we write letters to our editors, to our representatives, to our mayor and police chief when we see something? When we hear something? Rather than just being silent and letting it slide by? Can we speak openly to our neighbors and colleagues about how we value our friends and neighbors of color, and how the words and actions of the white nationalists appall us? Can we stand up to words and actions which strip others of their dignity?
St. Paul says in Romans 12:21, St. Paul admonishes us: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Can you say that with me? Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Romans 12 speaks to an important truth: We cannot drive out darkness with darkness; only light can dispel darkness. We can never overcome hate with hate. Only love can heal hate. If we try to fight darkness and hate with more darkness and hate, we become that very thing which dishonors God and rips our community. We become just another person spewing hate. Because it’s not what goes into our mouths that defiles us; it’s what comes out.
And so, when with courage and integrity, we stand up for the Latino woman who is being harassed, we need to be aware of what is coming out of our mouths. Does it diffuse the situation? Does it make the harassers think about what they’re doing in a different way? Or does it just add fuel to the flames of hatred and indignation?
What did Jesus say? It’s not what goes into our mouth that defiles us, but what comes out of it.
Who we are matters. What we do matters. And if we’re Christian, we are held to a high standard of being and doing, for we are imitators of Jesus:
…Jesus, who never let the angry crowd stone the adulterous woman.
…Jesus, who called the hated tax collector out of his tree and came to his house for dinner.
…Jesus, who with courage and integrity, stood up for those that others would abandon.
…Jesus, who never backed down, but never struck back.
…Jesus: Our model. Our savior. Our Lord.
In the name of the One who will never let us go; even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Resources: SPLC booklet, “10 Ways To Fight Hate”; Pastoral Letter from Conference Minister Franz Rigert, Aug. 14, 2017; Christian Century, Aug. 16, 2017, “Denouncing the evil lie of white supremacy
Scripture for Aug. 20, 2017
Jesus called the crowd to Him and said,
“Listen up: It’s not what goes into our mouth that defiles us;
it’s what comes out of our mouth.”
The disciples scurried up to Him and said,
“The Pharisees really didn’t like what you just said.”
“If My heavenly Father didn’t plant what is growing,
it will be ripped up by its roots.
Let the Pharisees alone; they are the blind leading the blind.
And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into the pit.”
But Peter said, “Explain this parable to us.”
“You don’t get it?
Don’t you see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach and goes on to the sewer. But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart.
It is what comes out of our mouths that defile us.
For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person;
eating with unwashed hands will never make us evil.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.