Another Solemn Assembly
On August 2, I enjoyed my granddaughter Gracie’s 7th birthday party and hosted her at a “sleepover” at the hotel where Jen and I were staying. The world seemed be right and joyous. Then came Saturday’s word about a racist hate-speech inspired mass shooting in El Paso. Sunday brought news of a mass shooting in Dayton, OH. And the world became darker.
I became scared for my granddaughter’s future. First, because studies have shown a correlation between the number of guns available and in private hands, and the number of mass shootings. Yet denial reigns and common-sense gun safety laws are shelved, or even overturned by the present administration.
I am scared because people reinforce denial with unfounded reasons for the mass shooting. Now it’s video games. While the violence in many ways bothers me, they seem to have no impact on mass shootings.
I am scared at efforts that have undermined the ability of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study shootings as a health crisis. Preference for opinion over knowledge is at best no help.
When Jesus told us to love God and neighbor with heart, mind, soul, and strength, he surely meant for us to allow thoughtfulness and information to add to our discernment of God’s will.
I am also scared for Gracie’s future because of who she is and the kind of hate-filled racist speech that has been encouraged in this country. Gracie is adopted. Simply having white parents will not keep others from judging her by her skin color. I am scared for her because white supremacist speech is becoming more public. It has been encouraged by similar speech by our President. Yes, he condemned it in a scripted speech after the shootings, but his unscripted speeches before crowds who cheer expressions of prejudice have already done damage which spreads like a wildfire. Study has shown that counties where he held rallies in 2016 experienced an increase in hate crimes of 226% following his presence. The El Paso shooter posted a manifest with statements that paralleled some made by the President. I have reason to believe that when he goes off-script in the future, he will sound more like prior rally speeches and less like his recent scripted statement.
“Banning God from public places,” is a misstatement.
I have seen people blame this on banning God from public places and on banning prayer. “Banning God from public places,” is a misstatement. The God I believe in is too big to be banned by human actions. What is missing is an awareness of God and what God expects on the part of people wherever they are. God can see through empty ritual and prayer that excuses or ignores injustice.
A colleague referenced Isaiah 1:13-17 in relation to these events. It reads:
“I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil,
learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
Words of the Biblical prophets in scripture aren’t just a record of what God said once. Through the Spirit they are also God’s word to us now. And I am afraid that we are in times when God sees through our “solemn assemblies with iniquity.” We may be in a time when God will not listen because we haven’t been listening before this. Many times, God answers prayers by saying “Okay, I’m with you. I’ll do my part and here’s your part.”
It is time to do our part. Don’t spread falsehoods or let them go unchallenged. Point out in private and public the presence of hate speech. Acknowledge that racism is still embedded in patterns of language and behavior. Support people and actions that seek to address these concerns. Let’s work towards diminishing our fears for our granddaughters and all others.
Peace, I pray,
Rev. Bill Schram began his ministry with Westminster in March 2018 and is the current Interim Minister. Bill attended McCormick seminary in Chicago and met his wife Jenny there. They have served as co-pastors and in separate positions. He has served churches in urban, near suburb, small town, county seat towns in various positions such as pastor, associate pastor, interim pastor, and hospital chaplain. He and Jenny have two natural and one foster daughter. Delightfully, they now have a granddaughter to enjoy.