Today is Memorial Day here in the United States. I come from an extended family on my mom’s side that take seriously their commitment to decorate graves each year on this weekend. My grandpa served in World War II, my uncle during Vietnam. And while I don’t know all the stories, I’m pretty sure a great uncle and a great grandfather also served in the military. We’re fortunate as a family that everyone returned home physically intact, even if there were some dark places in their minds and hearts from the experience. While I am not gung ho in my support of countries and wars any more, I certainly respect those who served to protect the lives and rights of people whom they would never meet, people who would treat them disgracefully at times and seemingly waste the sacrifice these men and women made.
I wanted to include that prelude as I move toward the issue that is most on my mind today. As we continue in the season of COVID-19, the topic of “reopening” headlines the news and dominates conversations. Among those making the most noise are those demanding the “government reopen their churches.” I can almost hear one of my heroes, Inigo Montoya, saying “You keep saying those words. I do not think they mean what you think they mean.” Let’s be clear, my friends: No government has the power to close any church, nor did any government in this country attempt to close churches. So, protesters, you’re protesting the closing of buildings. With that in mind, let’s ask some questions.
- Did you stream any entertainment during the pandemic? If so, were you in the streets demanding the government reopen movie theaters?
- Did you have any virtual medical appointments during the pandemic? If so, were you in the streets angrily screaming at the government to reopen doctors’ offices?
- Were your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews educated online during the pandemic? If so, did you insist the government reopen schools?
- Have you made online purchases during the pandemic? If so, are you carrying placards protesting the closure of shopping malls?
Going back to my family and decorating graves. Those graves do not contain the lives of our loved ones; they’re simply places we visit to be reminded of those lives. When I visit my hometown, I drive to the familiar places of my childhood to revisit the memories I have from being in those places with people who are important to me. The fact that I no longer have access to those places – someone else owns the farm, the house my other grandparents lived in when I was a kid no longer exists – in no way diminishes my relationship with those loved ones. My love for them goes far beyond any physical structure.
Our state leaders rightfully closed buildings where large groups gather to protect those most at risk. The least of these. You know, the ones Jesus was so committed to. They have no authority nor any means to close the church because the church is far more and far better than any building. But it seems American “Christians,” and especially Evangelicals (capital e), have some sort of persecution complex and actively seek ways to be offended. And when a wannabe Caesar transparently exploits this trait by playing to our worst instincts, the church shamefully misrepresents Christ and the unity he prayed for us, by shouting all the louder and actively flouting their disobedience the restrictions put into place to, again, protect the least of these. This is not a First Amendment issue; it is a Great Commandment issue.
I’ve intentionally mentioned the least of these. Jesus said, “Whatever you do for the least of these, my family, you do to me.” So when the current occupant of the White House mocks the poor, the disabled, racial minorities, women, he mocks Jesus. My friends, he does not have a pro-Christian agenda. He lives out the spirit of anti-Christ daily. He speaks to all of our worst instincts. The lifestyle he espouses doesn’t even qualify for being a decent human being outside of Jesus and his teachings. Yet many, far too many, who attempt to call themselves by the name of Jesus are out front leading the parade for the man who would be king. So, no, he’s not supporting your religious freedoms, he seeking to use you to exacerbate the divisions that exist in our country in an attempt to rile his base and attempt to maintain his power and somehow achieve reelection. Is this really what you want?
No government can ever close the church. Jesus promised that the gates of hell, of Sheol, could never stand against his church. No external force has that type of power. You know who can close the church? The church. When we choose to embrace the wicked power of empire and seek to label it, “Christian”, we close the church. And every minute spent in angry protest and every sign demanding our rights (you know, the rights Jesus never once mentions) brings us one step closer to being the ones who actually close the church.