Saturday, August 19, 2017

Year A, Proper 15, Isaiah 56.1,6-8, “For all peoples”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
When I began my ministry in Thompson Falls back in 1988 Northern Idaho and Western Montana had become a haven for white supremacists, centered around Richard Butler’s compound in Hayden, ID.
 They were and are neo-Nazis, a paramilitary organization that loves to dress in Nazi uniforms and arm themselves for what they see as a looming battle for control of this nation and to preserve and advance the New Israel which they believe that God intended our nation to be. 
The formal name of Richard Butler’s group was the Church of Jesus Christ Christian.  It was originally  founded in 1946 by Ku Klux Klan organizer Wesley A. Swift.
This religious organization underlying the neo-Nazis was part of the “Christian Identity Movement” that holds as a central tenant of their faith that the true descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not the modern day Jews, but rather the Aryan race.
This belief asserts that following the Assyrian conquest of the northern ten tribes of Israel in 722 BCE, the people of Israel migrated north and settled eventually in Germany and the surrounding regions and are the Aryan race.
Contemporary Jews are believed to be the offspring of Satan, and hence ought not only be oppressed, but exterminated.
Related to this is the belief that all other races than Aryans, are pre-Adamic.
What do they mean by pre-Adamic?
They mean that blacks and other non-Aryan peoples were created prior to Adam and Eve.  That only the Aryan race is descended from Adam and Eve.  That the other races are “beasts of the field”, that is animals, the highest form of apes, if you will.  As such, maintaining ‘dominion’ over them, subjecting them to slavery and other such fates, is seen as perfectly OK.  This is the height of racism, for it believes that blacks are not only inferior, they are not even human.
This does not mean that all white supremacists are in favor of genocide. 
My neighbors in Thompson Falls who were part of Richard Butler’s Church of Jesus Christ, Christian, asserted that “we love all people, we just believe that God never intended different races to live together.”
They believe in White Separatism.  This is segregation on steroids.  They believe that all non-Aryans should be resettled, repatriated, sent back to their country of origin.  The blacks to Africa, Oriental people (including Native Americans) to Asia, etc.
Their hope is that by so doing, they might recreate the nation of Israel as it was meant to be, as a great white nation, America.
One of the trends of this group in the mean time is to locate in areas of the country that are predominantly white, where they perceive that can pursue their agenda with as little opposition as possible.  The path of least resistance.  It is for this reason that they have tried to establish themselves in places like Montana and Northern Idaho, two of the ‘whitest’ areas of our country.
Terrorism and intimidation are tools that they use to advance their cause.  Rather than simply keeping to themselves in their small enclaves, they choose to parade in public, for example, in 4th of July parades around the country, and hold public rallies such as happened last week in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Make no mistake about it, this activity of theirs goes beyond freedom of speech and assembly.  It is intended to strike fear and terror in the hearts of non-Aryans.
It works.
I had a colleague in ministry that was looking for a new call.  I suggested to her that there were openings in Northern Idaho she should check out.  Carolyn had a Chinese daughter whom she had adopted, and her immediate response was that she would never move to an area where White Supremacists were active and subject her daughter to that risk.
That’s exactly the response the Aryan Nations folks want.
Another tendency of these groups is to adopt a view of American politics and the constitution that will help to advance their cause.  “Constitutionalists” is the term, and in general what it means is a return to an understanding of our Constitution that is pre-Civil War, and certainly, pre-Civil Rights.
They believe that states should be able to secede from the Union, a necessary first step on the way to creating this great white nation they envision.
One of the things about these groups, is that there is not one unified organization, but rather many movements and cell groups that share some, if not all of the sentiments.  And so you have the KKK, the Aryan Nations, militia groups, constitutionalists like the Freemen, to name a few.
Another aspect of these organizations is that they appeal to the prejudices that are part of the general population and feed off of them.
So for example, when we as a nation talk about cracking down on illegal immigration and deporting minorities that have come here illegally, they are thrilled and highly supportive.  Likewise, they favor immigration of white, English speaking people, but not of others.
They also feed off of those who believe that the Federal Government’s power needs to be severely limited.
They also will be  quick to point out that the racial tensions that we are experiencing are clear evidence that we were not meant to live together, and they believe that their agenda is not only the only solution that will work, but it is God’s answer to the problem.
One of the most difficult things is that there are passages in the scripture that fuel the religious sentiments behind the movement.
Today’s Gospel is one of them.
 “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
I wish Jesus hadn’t said that.
I really wish he hadn’t said that.
And it’s not enough that he eventually grants the Canaanite woman’s request.
But it is not just these words.  There are many others.
Especially in the Old Testament there are many passages and an overall tendency to lift up the people of Israel as the Chosen People of God, and when that is coupled with the racist ideology of the Christian Identity movement it lays the foundation for a belief in White Supremacy as God’s will for humanity. 
And then there are the other passages.
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  (Galations 3:28)
And our lesson from Isaiah today, a lesson Jesus quotes as he drives the money changers out of the temple:
“for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
Why am I talking about this today?
For some people considering such things is to venture into the realm of politics, and certainly there are political ramifications of these matters.
But more importantly, it goes to the very heart of the Gospel itself.
God’s love is not the sole possession of one Race, one People, but is freely bestowed on all peoples.
Each and every person is created in God’s image.  And God loves us all.
Again I’ll lift up before you our purpose statement for our congregation:
“God’s purpose for Peace is to welcome, love, and serve all in our local and global community.”
Historically, there have been times when we’ve failed to love all people.
Last week in Bible Study I shared with the class that Martin Luther, late in his life, had written some horrible things about the Jews, things that were quoted extensively by the Nazis.
In addition, during the Nazi era in Germany the Lutheran Church, with the notable exception of the Confessing Church, largely went along with the Nazi agenda.  And make no mistake about it, the concentrations camps like Buchenwald and Auschwitz were staffed by many Lutherans.
Also, in spite of setting goals to become an inclusive Church, we remain one of the whitest churches in the nation.
Yes, we have had our failings.
But our calling is to bear witness to the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus, a love that extends to all people, of every race and tongue.
And it’s more than that.
As God’s people we are called to stand up to the evil that is in our midst.  Especially that is important because in this case that evil is being advanced in the name of Christ.
But there is another reason, as well.
It is precisely humanities diversity that makes the human experience such a rich and delightful one.
Think of the creation as a whole, of all the different forms of life God created.  God loves this diversity.  There are majestic animals such as the lion or tiger, and humorous one’s such as the platypus, but each one is special and delightful in God’s eyes.
“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”  (Genesis 1:31)
Not just good.  Very good.  Tov Meod is the Hebrew phrase. 
Ours is an interesting task, to stand firm in the face of the evil that lurks within our land and bear witness to the good that is in all people without getting caught up in the very evil we oppose.
Ours calling is to stand firm against evils such as racism and oppression, without letting our hearts become hateful or our actions, oppressive.
The hope that is at the heart of the Gospel is that love can transform the world-- that just as light drives out the darkness, love can drive out hate.
This is our holy calling.  And my prayer is that when everything is said and done, we will have been found to be faithful to this holy task. 

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