Keep the Good Book Closed, Trump Says. We Say, Open It and Resist!
By Rev. John Dear
June 5, 2020, CommonDreams.org
Like everyone else, I’ve been in lockdown in my little California home for months keeping watch as the emperor fiddles and the empire collapses.
But that’s not it at all; it’s much, much worse. On top of the pandemic and this new global depression, we head deeper into catastrophic climate change and closer to full blown nuclear war.
So many people have needlessly died because of our refusal to respond quickly, professionally and efficiently to the COVID 19 pandemic. The Republicans refuse to move on universal healthcare; cut funding to the World Health Organization; let unemployment reach its highest level since the Great Depression; threaten war with China; and so on. Meanwhile, the systemic pandemic of violence, racism, corporate greed, war, nuclear weapons and environmental destruction rages out of control.
The killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, GA, made me sick with despair, as have all the many killings of African American sisters and brothers at the hands of racist police and other white men. The horrific public murder of George Floyd by four white men with guns in Minneapolis makes me nauseous. So, I am heartened by the millions of good people around Minnesota, the nation and the world who are taking to the streets and speaking out in peaceful protest against racial injustice.
In the throes of this zombie movie of white racism, systemic violence and Republican neofascism, I saw Trump’s shocking act on Monday evening. Police tear-gassed and arrested peaceful protesters near Lafayette Park, so he could walk to the church, pose in front of its welcome sign, and hold up a Bible.
I saw him saying, “Keep the Good Book closed and carry on the evil-doing.”
The only thing missing in Trump’s photo was his white hood.
I did not miss his other symbolic act on Tuesday, when he took the trouble to cross town to Catholic University and visit the Catholic shrine and statue of St. Pope John Paul II, a place created, maintained and revered by the U.S. Catholic bishops, the vast majority of them avid Republicans and Trump supporters.
I’m so grateful that both Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde and Catholic Archbishop Wilton Gregory each quickly denounced these sinister, hypocritical photo ops by the racist president. I know them. Bishop Budde cooked dinner for me in her home, and Archbishop Gregory wrote me repeatedly when he was head of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ conference. I spoke at length with both about Jesus’ way of nonviolence, so I’m grateful to these good Christians.
When I met with Pope John Paul II decades ago, I gave him a copy of my book, “The God of Peace: Toward a Theology of Nonviolence.” He was delighted, and said so.
But what grieves me, alas, is that none of Trump’s actions, including this outreach to the churches, are surprising. All of these symbolic acts by the racist, warmaking president are to be expected.
White church leaders have been supporting war, racism and empire for the last 1700 years, starting with Roman Emperor Constantine. Don’t be fooled: Trump knows what he is doing. He’s reaching out to the millions of Catholic and evangelical Republicans, who will secretly admire his symbolic stand. These images play well across the country.
Of course, there have been thousands of Christian nonviolent resisters down through the ages, but emperors, tyrants and empires have always tried to win over the churches to maintain their control of the masses and their systemic racism, warmaking and economic control. This is an old ploy, right out of the Roman empire and the Nazi rule book, something the Republican party knows well.
Somewhere I have a photo of all the Catholic bishops and Cardinals of Nazi Germany smiling and holding champagne glasses standing with Hitler in the center, making a toast to Hitler. Like Hitler, they are all wearing swastikas.
What’s truly surprising is when church people stand up to resist emperors, tyrants and presidents, in Jesus’ spirit of active nonviolence, as we see in the lineage of Christian activists in the Abolitionist, Suffragist, Labor, Civil Rights, and Environmental movements.
I lived in El Salvador in 1985 with six Jesuit priests who were later assassinated, saw how the Church publicly opposed the U.S.-backed junta and its war and oppression. Under the leadership of Archbishop Romero, the church had opened the Gospels and decided to adhere to Jesus’ teachings and resist the ruling class and their violence. So the junta stopped trying to win over the church leaders and assassinated Archbishop Romero, 18 priests, several nuns, and nearly five thousand catechists, including my priest friends. Their nonviolent resistance led to the end of the war. That kind of nonviolent resistance by church people should be the norm.
Therefore, I blame most Christian church leaders for our current troubles. I point to the many priests, ministers, bishops and Cardinals across the nation who actively support the Republican party and this racist president as largely responsible for this contagion of hatred, racism, warfare, and corporate greed that we all suffer under.
They should be leading the opposition, as Archbishop Romero did in El Salvador.
They should be the first ones arrested for their nonviolent resistance. Instead, they support the racist criminal president and systemic injustice.
Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City, for example, has been actively campaigning for Trump, urging Catholics to vote for him. My mother, under lockdown in her assisted living center, recently called me to complain about a long appeal letter and material she received from Dolan, urging her to vote for Trump. This is reprehensible, but not surprising.
By appearing in front of St. John’s Church and the statue of St. John Paul II, Trump sent a strong message to the Catholic hierarchy and Evangelical leadership among his base that he’s with them. Many will appreciate his gesture. That’s because so few understand the Gospel’s call to active nonviolence.
On Good Friday, April 10th, Trump sent out a tweet with the message: “Happy Good Friday!” Any first grade Sunday school kid would know something’s wrong with this message. Good Friday commemorates the execution of the nonviolent Jesus. He led a nonviolent march to Jerusalem, and was arrested, tortured and executed by the Roman empire, with the full support of the religious authorities. He execution was meticulously legal. It was as if Trump was saying, “Wasn’t that great? We killed him them, and we’ll go on arresting and killing his like today.” Trump and tyrants like him are the heirs of those who killed the prophets, as Jesus would say.
If Trump—and most church leaders—studied the four Gospels in light of Jesus’ steadfast nonviolence, they’d discover a clear repudiation of greed, violence, racism, sexism, war and environmental destruction, with many dire warnings about the loss of one’s soul. More, they’d find, as Gandhi did, the clearest call in history to proactive, engaged, creative nonviolence and nonviolent resistance to evil.
Gandhi considered the Sermon on the Mount, (Matthew 5-7), the greatest text on nonviolence in history, as I explained in my recent podcast about Gandhi (see www.paceebene.org). There alone we hear the nonviolent Jesus command us to: hunger and thirst for justice; become peacemakers; offer no violent resistance to one who does evil; love our enemies; be as compassionate as God; seek first God’s reign and God’s justice, and do unto others as we’d have them do unto us. President Trump, his Republican establishment and his supporters mock Jesus and the Gospels by spreading hatred, racism, greed, war and environmental destruction. They oppose every word the nonviolent Jesus ever said. That book has to be kept closed, if you understand.
I’ve spoken in rallies at Lafayette Park repeatedly over the last four decades, and often quoted those exact words from the Sermon on the Mount. I’ve even been arrested in front of the White House, at least twenty times, as is normal for a Christian. A year and a half ago, Campaign Nonviolence, [www.campaignnonviolence.org] the group I work with, organized a nonviolent march and rally in front of the White House, where we held signs with these biblical texts and other calls for biblical justice and nonviolence. A dozen of us engaged in civil disobedience by sitting in for hours, but the police eventually told us they weren’t going to arrest us. The woman police officer in charge told me flat out she agreed with us.
Last September, Campaign Nonviolence helped organize over 100 events in St. Paul/Minneapolis, during our national week of action in late September. In fact, we organized over 3300 actions, marches and events against racism, war, poverty and environmental destruction across the U.S., involving over a hundred thousand people. (To join the upcoming September national week of action, or our August 6th national webinar on the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima, and our August 8th national conference on nonviolence see: www.paceebene.org)
Thousands of people took part in the events in St. Paul/Minneapolis, calling for a new nonviolent Twin Cities, as part of our Nonviolent Cities Campaign (see: www.twincitiesnonviolent.org). I know because I was there and took part in several events. I marched with a thousand people of all races and ages from the Cathedral to the State Capital where I gave a keynote talk calling for an end to racism, police brutality and violence in the city, and for the pursuit of a new nonviolent St. Paul/Minneapolis. Our event was the lead story that night on the evening news.
For me, and for anyone who dares open the Good Book and study the Sermon on the Mount, this call to justice, nonviolence and peace is the basis of our religion, our discipleship to the nonviolent Jesus. The Gospels require steadfast nonviolence, radical pursuit of social, economic and racial justice, and organizing campaigns of nonviolence in the footsteps of the nonviolent Jesus to our local and national capitals, as he did, where we speak out boldly for the coming of a new culture of justice, nonviolence and peace.
So it’s to be expected that this racist, warmaking president would want us to keep the book closed and keep on doing evil deeds.
I urge Christians everywhere to study the nonviolence of Jesus, to grapple with the four Gospels, especially his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, and then to redouble our efforts to resist Trump and the neofascism of the Republican Party. We need to teach and practice the nonviolence of Jesus, march and organize for a new culture of justice, nonviolence and peace, and send a clear message about what it means to be a follower of the nonviolent revolutionary Jesus.
I know there’s much work to do on all fronts, but I urge Christians everywhere to speak lovingly to your priest, minister, bishop or Cardinal, and call them to conversion, ask them to renounce racism, war, poverty, nuclear weapons and environmental destruction, study the Sermon on the Mount, and join the grassroots movement of nonviolence for justice and disarmament.
The churches needs to send the racist president, the Republican party, the One Percent, the warmakers and all racist supporters of the unjust status quo the holy message that Christians across the board reject their violence, that we follow the nonviolent Jesus, and that together, we are on a new journey toward a new world where all sisters and brothers everywhere live at peace with equal justice and dignity in the promised land of nonviolence.
The nonviolent Jesus put it this way, “The Reign of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” That means you, Mr. President, and all of us. Amen.