Statement on Truth, Violence, and Healing

by Pastor Greg Mesimore

Note: This statement was originally read during the Sunday, January 17 worship service at Edgebrook Covenant Church.

Today, across our denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, it is Love Mercy, Do Justice Sunday. Tomorrow is the day our nation remembers and honors the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I have thought a lot about Love Mercy, Do Justice Sunday and Martin Luther King Jr. Day this past week, especially in light of the insurrection and riot that took place at our nation’s Capitol on Epiphany (January 6) and the impending inauguration of President-elect Biden and Vice President elect Harris this Wednesday.

And I was convicted that I needed to speak a word about these and related matters to you as the senior pastor of our church. So, let me be clear: these are my words, my convictions and mine alone.

I have intentionally come down from the pulpit and sat down here, not because I think that what I am about to share is less important than the sermon I just preached, but because I wish to communicate that, as your senior pastor, I stand (or sit) as one among you, a brother in Christ, who is still learning and doesn’t have all the answers.

I want to address three matters that I believe we must get right if we hope to heal and move forward, not just as a nation, but as the Church of Jesus Christ in the United States.

The first matter concerns truth. Too many Americans and too many evangelical Christians believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen. It was not. President Trump has lied to the American people about this, to the point that it has created the crisis in which we now find ourselves.

President Trump’s lies inspired and incited the mob that attacked our nation’s Capitol. Among the insurrectionists storming the Capitol were some who carried signs reading “Jesus Saves” and the Christian flag. This should be to our great shame as followers of Jesus Christ.

Believing and acting on these lies has caused great damage to the moral fabric of our nation, but also to the Church of Jesus Christ in the United States. But we need to be clear: a greater damage has been done to our Black and brown citizens, our Black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ.

Esau McCaulley, an assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, put this in words that helped me understand this reality. In an article that appeared last week in the Religion News Service, Dr. McCaulley wrote:

President Trump wasn’t making a legal or a factual argument (regarding the presidential election). He was using his power to put a thumb on the scales. Therefore, the ongoing support of these unproven theories of election fraud by some white conservative Christians does not simply weaken the church’s witness by making it partisan. It weakens our witness by aligning truth with power — a classic error that has always leads to ruin.

Whenever truth bends to power, the poor and the marginalized inevitably suffer.

Now that the mob has left the Capitol, who will bear the brunt of this rage? If the end of reconstruction or the backlash at the end of the civil rights movement are any indication, the brunt of the ire will be directed at Black and brown communities.

Let us speak plainly. Black and brown voters proved decisive in Wisconsin (Milwaukee), Michigan (Detroit), Georgia (Atlanta), and Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). The call to overturn this election can rightly be seen as an attack on Black enfranchisement. The Black vote is something that has been suppressed through threats and mayhem throughout the history of this country.

The rhetoric surrounding the election is not simply a matter of agreement or disagreement. It is about the creation of a national mood in which ethnic minorities and vulnerable people suffer the most. We cannot pretend bending truth to power has not led as a matter of course to racialized violence.

To be on the side of truth is to be on the side of peace and the flourishing of this country, because lies can only be maintained by violence. The desire for something to be true doesn’t make it so. This fact frees Christian leaders to tell the truth to their congregations, even if the pews empty. Trump lost the election. That isn’t a partisan statement. It is a true statement, that, if repeated loudly and consistently enough, might, even in the last days of his presidency, help portions of the church find itself.

The second matter is in regard to violence. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one who always preached and practiced non-violent civil disobedience as the way Jesus would have us work for justice in our world. I also believe that violence, as a response to injustice, no matter what the cause, is wrong. This is not the way of Jesus.

However, some have equated the violence directed against our nation’s Capitol with the violence that erupted in some of the Black Lives Matter protests earlier in 2020. This is a false equivalency.

I’m going to quote Dahleen Glanton, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, in support of what I just said, because she explains it much better than I can. In an editorial that appeared in this past Thursday’s Chicago Tribune, Ms. Glanton wrote:

It is a legitimate argument that violence of any kind must be condemned. No one of good conscience, Democrat or otherwise, should try to defend the summer of looting and violence that left at least 19 people dead and destroyed businesses.

Though some might find it despicable that Confederate monuments have stood on public land since the Civil War, no one should support the brutal, unlawful way in which young people climbed on top of the statues and tore them down.

But what we saw this past summer was an uprising primarily by minority groups that had long been repressed in America. It was a demand that the government treat everyone equal, and that police be held accountable for killing George Floyd, who was held facedown on the pavement with an officer’s knee pressed on his neck.

The Washington riot was something entirely different. It was born from a lie, perpetrated by a president who refused to acknowledge that he had lost a fair and democratic election. He set out to convince his loyal followers that the election was rigged against him. He promoted the voter fraud lie until it reached a pinnacle on January 6, before a crowd that descended on Washington to stop Congress from certifying the election.

The third matter is in regards to healing and moving forward. I have found a glimmer of hope in the many calls, across political and other spectrums, for healing and for unity. But let’s be clear: Without accountability, there will be no healing. And especially for the Church of Jesus Christ, there can be no healing without first telling the truth about any unholy alliance with power that has compromised our loyalty to Christ and the values and priorities of God’s kingdom. The Scriptures are clear: there can be no peace, no true peace, without justice. In order to move forward as the church of Jesus Christ, telling the truth-–confessing our sins–-and repenting–desiring and working for the human flourishing of all who experience injustice–the last, the lost, the least–-is the only faithful response.

Now, just a final word: These are my convictions as your senior pastor. I don’t expect agreement with everything I’ve said. However, I am committed to having us continue to live with, discuss, learn from one another and act on all these matters so that we might become more devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Aware of our differences, and also of our love for one another, and of the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit to guide us, I am trusting that we will follow Christ everywhere he leads us on this difficult, but necessary, journey.