PITTSFIELD >> In the Christian tradition, we are encouraged to "Rejoice in the Lord always." This has too often become disembodied sentiment without regard for the pain of real life. In a recent editorial, The Eagle concluded that citizens must stand up to the demagoguery of Donald Trump. I would argue that this is a moral imperative for Christians who have often been used to fuel religious fear and violence rather than solidarity and justice.
Untold millions of our people are afraid of domestic and international acts of terror. But rather than nourishing peace and compassion, some spiritual leaders are supporting xenophobia and bigotry.
Take Franklin Graham — Billy Graham's son — who last week tweeted that American Muslims represent a frightening evil that is tearing apart the security our nation. Consider Jerry Falwell, Jr. — current president of the largest Southern Baptist University in the US — who not only encouraged students at Liberty University to carry concealed weapons to class and dorms, but is on record as saying: "I've always thought, if more good people had concealed-carry permits then we could end those Muslims before they walked in killing ... Let's teach them a lesson if they ever show up here!"
And then there is Trump: current front-runner for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, a multi-millionaire, self-acknowledged Evangelical Presbyterian and master manipulator of the media who continues to insist that Muslims be banned from entering our nation.
Trump has called for surveillance of US mosques, a prohibition of Syrian refugees and the registration into a national database of all who practice Islam as a religion. And now he is advocating banning immigration because of one's religion.
Small wonder that bastion of progressive journalism, the NY Daily News, ran a front page attack editorial stating: "When Trump came for the Mexicans I did not speak out because I was not Mexican — and when he came for the Muslims, I did not speak out because I was not a Muslim "
Those words are, of course, a satirical restatement of Martin Niemoller's poem written after his incarceration by the Nazis. Pastor Niemoller began his ministry in support of Adolf Hitler. But as the Fuehrer became more aggressive — and broke his promises to the German Church — Niemoller abandoned ship and was arrested in 1937.
Upon his release, he was imprisoned again by Himmler's Gestapo and held in Sachsenhausen and Dachau until 1945. During this time he came to see how his fears and the anxiety of his nation impelled him to compromise his faith and strengthen a hate-filled regime of death. By the early 1950s, Niemoller summarized his history like this:
"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me."
The Nazis also came for homosexuals and gypsies, the intellectually and physically challenged, too — and no one spoke out until 11 million people had been murdered.
Sadly, Christians of all traditions not only remained silent during this sacrilege, but believed it was of the Lord to incinerate Jews and all who were vulnerable. This is all the more reason that we speak out today so that our Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh and atheist neighbors know that American Christians have their backs.
Remember: this isn't the first time people of faith have been manipulated by fear. The fears of our founding fathers and mothers led us to commit genocide upon First Nations people. A comparable dread led us to discriminate against the Irish in the 1850s, practice intolerance toward European Roman Catholics, and exploit Chinese immigrants in California.
Fifty years later this same evil was used to renew the Ku Klux Klan in the name of Jesus. Regularly, our Christian faith has been used by mean-spirited men and women who masterfully manipulate the suspicions of ordinary working people into acts of religious bigotry and violence.
So let us confess that the way of Trump is not the way of Christ: it is the way of Hitler. The way of fear-mongers is not the way to Christmas, but to the concentration camps. Dr. King was right: When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love. Where evil men would seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo, good men must seek to bring into being a real order of justice.
Christmas Eve prayers
On Christmas Eve at 7 p.m., my congregation will be praying for peace and common ground for all people of good will: Jews and Muslims, believers and atheists, Buddhists and Sikhs, Protestants and Catholics, gays, straight and transgendered. We will light candles against this present darkness and renew our vow of radical hospitality. Jesus did not come into the world to convert Jews — or anyone else — he came to make the way of compassion and justice flesh. And so must we.
As another Berkshire pastor, Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote in the darkness of 1941: "O God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other." We can change the hatred that must be changed by cherishing the integrity of every faith tradition this Christmas, standing up against the hate-mongers and strengthening the Spirit of one love that unites us all. Then we can rejoice in the Lord always and in all ways!