I recently wrote about why I can no longer believe in the Christian God. Yesterday, I was presented with the symbol. This is a symbol that nobody asked for, but I think quite apropos to the state of Christianity in the western world. I refer to the image of the man who would be king in front of historic St. John Episcopal Church in Washington DC taken by Brendan Smialowski. This became a symbol for the context that it finds itself in. If, for some reason, you are unaware of the context allow me to sum up.
In the midst of a global pandemic, George Floyd was publicly murdered by police on May 25, 2020. Protests erupted across the country decrying police brutality, and the unproportionate violence toward minorities. These protests were quickly infiltrated and misinformation about them spread by white supremacist groups such as the KKK and so called “alt-right”. This misinformation was then spread and inflamed by that person that occupies the white house. This misinformation recalled similar circumstances from the civil rights era, almost quoting word for word a person justifying undue violence. As of the writing of this post, the protests and civil unrest is still ongoing.
On June 1st, 2020 after a speech ordering more violence against protesters, the white house ordered protesters tear gassed and cleared from the park for a photo op in front of St. John Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. This, rightly so, sparked outrage from both the Bishop of Washington, Mariann Edgar Budde, and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry. Bishop Curry went on to release a statement regarding this photo op:
This evening, the President of the United States stood in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, lifted up a bible, and had pictures of himself taken. In so doing, he used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes. This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us.
The bible teaches us that “God is love.” Jesus of Nazareth taught, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The prophet Micah taught that the Lord requires us to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.”
The bible the President held up and the church that he stood in front of represent the values of love, of justice, of compassion, and of a way to heal our hurts.
We need our President, and all who hold office, to be moral leaders who help us to be a people and nation living these values. For the sake of George Floyd, for all who have wrongly suffered, and for the sake of us all, we need leaders to help us to be “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
Within this context alone, this is just another day, another story of inappropriate behavior from the president. It does not become a symbol until the further context of the response to Bishop Curry’s statement. On social media this statement was met with comments like:
“I respectfully disagree. I think he did a good thing. Our government was based on Christian ideals. Peace and love to all.”
“As an Episcopalian, I strongly disagree with Bishop Curry’s comments. I feel that President Trump embodies what the prophet Micah has taught. God bless our president!”
“What a hypocritical and judgmental statement. As an Episcopalian I am ashamed of these remarks. We expect the leader of our church to support all congregants not just those who subscribe to your obvious leftist ideals. The President, our President, was proclaiming the good news of hope, faith and courage. I am embarrassed and dismayed at your obvious support for those who desire death to our democracy.”
“I am shocked to read your comments regarding the President’s appearance in front of his church in DC. With the current attitude in our country the President needs our support showing solidarity in trying to protect citizens while they protest. Criticizing his actions only adds fuel to the fires.
He wanted to show people that he supported their rights and used the church and a holy bible as reminders of our faith.”
This right here is what makes this photo and the photo opportunity a symbol. If you look at the photo, the windows of the church are boarded up. The sign says that services are virtual so as to give the appropriate social distancing required by ongoing pandemic responses. As I looked at it I couldn’t help but hear the words attributed to Julius Ceasar, “Veni Vidi Vici”. The man that stands in front of that church holding a Christian Bible has stood for nothing but violence, racism, corruption, and bullying. I can cite source after source to back that up, but if you disagree with me on that point the citations would fall on deaf ears, metaphorically speaking. He cheated to win, he co-opted the evangelical church while hiding his own white supremacist leanings. The more he conquered, the more the inherent biases of the western church were revealed. He came to white house. He saw the trouble and turmoil the country was in. Instead of healing, he conquered.
I didn’t want to write on religion anymore. I wanted to toss the whole thing out. I’m tired. I’ve been mistreated, abused, and unceremoniously abandoned by the religion I once devoted my life to. This only went to confirm my hypothesis of the god they now worship. It is not the God spoken of by the Bible. It’s not even the God they claim to serve. That god is one I can no longer worship. But I already talked about that. I write now because this symbol deeply disturbed me. It was one that I believe sums up exactly what is wrong with the western church.
The comments alone show how blind there church has become to its own corruption. They took a Hebrew story out of context and used it to elect their own king. It’s the story of the western church, corrupting once meaningful and beautiful stories to mean exactly what they want. By so doing they changed the story entirely and made it dirty. The stories of the Judges, Kings, and rulers taken out of context become stories of megalomania, genocide, and zealots bent on dominance. Hence why the symbol is meaningful. A megalomaniacal zealot, or at least who wants to be viewed as such, bent on the dominance of his own kind taking a picture in front a place meant to symbolize justice, love, and spiritual life. That place being boarded up, and seemingly empty symbolizing, whether intentional or not, the dominance of the evangelical church over those who historically have been more progressive. Veni, Vidi, Vici.
I may be reading too much into this, as is my modus operandi. I don’t think that I am, though. The violent removal of protesters crying out to not have to fear for their lives from those meant to “protect and serve", to serve one man’s ego and political aspiration very much tells a story. It tells a story of a man who cares not for justice, and racial healing. It tells a story that those who support this move care only for their own interests and not for justice or healing. Christians, it’s enough to stay silent while these things happen. It’s not enough to just say you want these things. It’s not enough to decry the wrongness. It’s time for you to stand. It’s time for you to root out there corruption in these systems. It’s time to put your work to where your mouth is. Call your leaders, vote, call your police departments, stand with protesters, demand justice! Do, or if not, the death of the western church is on your hands too. But what do I know…