In some ways, it could be viewed as inappropriate to focus on one symbolic act when our nation is in such great pain. We should be concentrating on addressing the issue of inequality and racism in law enforcement and the court system. We should be focusing on the dangers that people of color face in this nation every day. We should be trying to better understand why acts of peaceful protest turn into violent rage.
Still, when we experience trauma, as individuals or as a nation, we are often drawn to one symbolic act which could be seen as either promising hope for a better future or evidence that the trauma will continue.
In that spirit, I want to address one symbolic act that we saw yesterday.
As so many of you did, I watched with horror last evening as what was a peaceful protest in front of the White House was broken up by soldiers on horseback firing tear gas and rubber bullets. As President Trump spoke a very short distance away, those who had gathered peacefully to demand change in this nation, a change so desperately needed, were cleared from the streets.
It was unclear why the street was being cleared in this way.
Then, a few minutes later we understood.
President Trump wanted to make a visit to a church which had been burned the night before to make a statement, to have a photo-op.
And so he stood in front of the church holding up a Bible so that all could see.
That one symbolic moment summarized for me why I find so much of his behavior as president and as a human being so appalling.
Anyone can hold a Bible. Anyone can claim to love the Holy Book.
But, to hold a Bible as a symbol is one thing. To live by its guidance is another.
“There should be one law for all” says the Bible.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” says the Bible.
“Blessed are the peacemakers” says the edition of the Bible that he was holding.
For a man to talk and act as he has done over the past three years, including last evening’s call for the military to shut down protests while giving lip service to the concerns of the millions of people who have been protesting or raising deep concern about the state of our nation is horrendous in and of itself.
But, to break up a protest so that he could stand wrapping himself in the Bible was obscene.
We could use the inspiration of all the great religious traditions to change this nation for the better. We could use the values expressed in holy books to inspire us to lead our nation to a better place.
But, to use the Bible as a symbol in this way was an affront to every American and to the Bible itself.
We must address the issue of racism in this nation. We must listen to the voices of those who are calling out. We must learn to speak to each other and listen to each other. We must work for true equality and justice.
Our spiritual traditions could be great support for us to face this challenge. But only if we open the books and read them, not stand in front of a camera using them as props.