Faith Column: It is time to stop
I do not understand what I am seeing in the news as either an American or as a Christian. As an American I was raised on a belief system that could be summarized in two words, “social contract.” The social contract actually grows out of the biblical idea of covenant, so let’s take a look at what the biblical writers meant by covenant.
A covenant was an ancient peace treaty. But it wasn’t just any kind of peace treaty. It was a peace treaty that a stronger king inflicted on a weaker king. We have an example of one from the book Genesis. When God decides to change Abraham’s name, he orders Abraham to take a whole bunch of animals slaughter them and then cut them in half and then lay half of each animal on either side of the animal on either side of a pathway. Well in the ordinary course of events, this would mean that the weaker party would be expected to walk between those animals kneeling and bowing until his head touched the ground and saying something like, “May the great and almighty king Tiglath Pileser IX do this to me, if I ever break my sworn word to him.” But that is not what God has Abraham do. Instead God passes between the torn apart animals. In effect, saying that if the covenant is ever broken may the punishment fall on God, whom, I assume, we will all agree is the stronger party in this covenant.
Very long, very boring history of Christian theology and political science later and we get to the Eighteenth Century. In New England, Pennsylvania, and Virginia our religious and political forebears are about to break with jolly old England, and are looking around for an example on which to found their new government, and they strike upon the constitutions of their churches: Congregational, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian, all of which were founded upon the idea of Covenant. One false start later, and they adopted the Constitution which is rather more Presbyterian than either Congregational or Episcopalian.
Social contract, like covenantal theology, has both a vertical and a horizontal dimension. But something seems to have gone seriously wrong in America right now. Some of that is stress and confusion, but that stress and confusion doesn’t seem to be affecting people in other countries very similar to us quite so badly.
It requires us to think about who is on the boat and who has not got even a life preserver. It asks us to think about who is in need, and who we are forgetting about. What I saw this last month was a horrible display of a whole lot of people who not only had gotten in the lifeboat but were actively shoving people into the water, and even knocking holes in the other lifeboats. I woke up with the sounds of Billie Halliday’s haunting voice in my head as yet another black man was gunned down for no more crime than enjoying a morning run. A black woman was killed in her own house when cops entered the wrong house on a no-knock warrant in Kentucky, and a black man, who was not resisting, was killed with a cop’s knee on his neck for eight minutes. We are hearing of Navajo, Pueblo, and Hopi dying at the third highest rate per capita in the nation. Strange fruit, indeed. “Blood on the leaves. Blood on the roots.”
So, I have had a rough month, and I am trying very hard to look for good news. To find the rainbow in the rain. To remember that the water does roll back, and the world does not end in flood. I am not sure how well I am doing. What I am missing right now is the belief that we have any responsibility at all to the least and the lost. I am asking myself if am I doing enough to communicate enough of that. Am I saying to you that we should be caring for the most vulnerable among us? Because if I have not said it recently, let me say it again now. Christ will say: “Whenever you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto me (Matthew 25:40, para.).”
Two thousand years ago, on a Judean hilltop the powerful, the prideful, and the frightened hung up a man on tree. “Strange fruit hanging there.” We have seen enough strange fruit on the trees. Enough “blood at the root. Blood on the leaves.” It is time to stop. For God’s sake, let us just stop.
Rev. Deana Armstrong is the pastor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, Craig, Colorado.
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