I am writing on my own behalf, and the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy or the Navy Chaplain Corps.
I’m angry. I’m frustrated.
Last month, I was proud of those I call brothers and sisters in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. When the news of the Emmanuel AME church shootings in Charleston broke the morning after they happened, within the day there were many speaking out against violence and hatred caused by racism on social media as the facts of the victims, shooter, and events became known. Many individuals spoke out; we were shocked that this happened in the church, that among the victims were those who had relationships with the ELCA, and that the shooter himself was a member of an ELCA congregation. Even our own presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, released a letter speaking out about how racism is a problem in our nation, and that we need to start having conversations about racism – to be honest and speak out. “This happened to our own” we cried. I was proud to call myself an ELCA Lutheran.
But today I’m not so sure.
Yesterday, yet another shooting occurred in our nation, this time in Chattanooga, TN. The shooting was directed at a Navy Operational Support Center where Reservists like myself perform their training and service to the nation. As the facts of the victims, shooter, and events were released, I was shocked. Four Marines were killed….those I call brothers and sisters in our Navy and Marine Corps. The shooter, who held a twisted, radical view of Islam that in his mind justified his hate as jihad – Holy War. More violence happening as a product of extreme hate and fear. Since I’m in training right now and my time to see what others are saying is limited, it wasn’t until last evening I finally got around to see what others were saying.
Virtual radio silence. I scrolled pretty far down, and rapidly on Twitter and Facebook. Nothing.
I was angry. I was frustrated. And so I lashed out on social media myself.
Of course, my anger solicited responses from those in my denomination. I will admit, people correctly questioned and called out I unfairly unleashed a harsh critique against my church, the National Youth Gathering it is holding currently, and its official words on social media. I own that. However, it was many of those individuals I call brothers and sisters that disappointed me. And it was this sentiment that got me:
“It was mentioned. It was prayed about a number of times. What else do you want us to do?”
I am no longer angry. I am no longer frustrated. I am disappointed.
Just a month ago, my church spoke out against violence and hate. Yesterday and today, my church continues to fail to do that same thing in the wake of Chattanooga. But hey, they prayed about it. They’ve done their part. What else do you want us to do?
Now that I’m a bit removed from my emotions, I think I can answer that question. What I hope for is that we recognize violence and hatred in this case and have the courage to speak out against it. Radical religious belief is just as dangerous as racism in this country. In fact, it might be more so because it has global ramifications. ISIS, al Qaida….formally recognized terrorism that gains momentum from such attacks as the one yesterday, whether it originated from these groups or not. I want us to talk, have conversations about religious fanaticism being just as dangerous as extreme racism. I am disappointed that we as a church are unable to say anything to our nation about our Muslim brothers and sisters who are peaceful, and to call others not to perpetuate a new form of racism that could result in retaliatory attacks on Muslims and mosques. I am disappointed because the death of military service members who volunteer to give their lives is a subtitle in our nation’s consciousness. We do it because frankly, we’re too scared to call the shooter what he really is because he is muslim – and not white. We feel sorry for the Marines and their families but we don’t want to feel too much, because that might mean we support what they do. Our progressive values are in conflict with the reality of violence and hatred. I am disappointed because their death seems to be only worthy of a 2-3 minute moment of silence. We use prayer as a way of passing the buck on our responsibility as people of God to speak prophetically into what happened in Chattanooga even though we know exactly what happened there.
What I am not saying is that prayer isn’t appropriate. We should and need to pray to God in times like these…just as we did with Charleston. But we have work to do. Religious extremism and intolerance is a new “ism” that poses a threat to a just and peaceful world that God desires for us all. It may not be as old as the ties of racism, but it nonetheless should demand our attention.
That is what I want from you, oh individuals in my church.
I realize the deaths of 4 Marines may not be as personal to you as the deaths of 9 African-Americans in a church. Yet, we can no longer pick and choose when we decide to speak out when violence and hatred drop on our doorstep. I don’t think Christ gives us that luxury. We have to acknowledge it, speak prophetically against it, engage in conversation to learn and listen as we proclaim Christ’s resurrection and grace as a way forward – and that God calls us to work alongside God in that coming reality. Prayer isn’t enough anymore – I believe Christ demands more from us as disciples of the cross. We have to do that….or risk becoming a church that’s more inclined to be guided by the self-preservation of our progressive piety rather than by Christ crucified and raised.