Yesterday, the United States Capitol building, a symbol of our nation’s covenant to live together as one people governed and protected by laws, was assaulted by a lawless mob, urged on by reckless and violent political rhetoric. While we are relieved that order was restored in the Capitol, we can’t ignore the fact that a national symbol was violated and desecrated. It’s going to take some time for the soul of America to recover.
This event ceased to be about politics when the boundaries that protect our common life were breached. The work of Congress was interrupted by violence and intimidation. It was an assault on democracy itself and calls for a united response in asserting the shared values that bind us together. We need to remember that our liberty is upheld by those shared values, those objective standards that bring order to the way we live together.
Many of those values are enshrined in the Constitution, which is itself an objective basis for law and order in our land. I want to emphasize three that are essential for the restoration of our national life.
Truth – One value that is necessary for our life together is a commitment to truth. Lies and conspiracy theories have become so common that in recent days I’ve found myself wondering if, in addition to an epidemic of COVID-19, we might also be experiencing an epidemic of psychosis, with millions of people believing hallucinations are true. When a lie brings harm to the life or reputation of another, it is bearing false witness. That’s an objective standard that we believe to be given to us by God.
Justice – Then there’s justice. The classic symbol of justice is a blindfolded figure holding a balanced scale in one hand and sword in the other. The scale is for weighing the evidence with the truth. The sword represents the concept that justice can be swift and final. The blindfold symbolizes the philosophy that justice should be rendered “without passion or prejudice.” Considering only the facts on scale, justice does not let emotional impressions of the accused enter into the implicit equation. When our legal system is misused, when the evidence is lacking or false, when justice is delayed, our life together is deprived of confidence of fairness before the facts of the case and the judgment of Justice.
Trust – We also have to be able to trust our leaders and one another. Betrayal of trust wounds the ones betrayed and erodes something essential in our ability to work together and promote the common good. Trust begins with each one of us being trustworthy. If I want to be trusted, I must be trustworthy. Maybe that’s why in the Scout Law the first law is “A Scout is trustworthy.”
None of these objective standards requires a belief in God. However, those of us who do profess that belief bear the responsibility of the conviction that such standards are in harmony with God’s will. Living faithfully in accordance with the will of God is a way we honor God because in so doing we honor our neighbor. If you turn to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21) you will notice that the first four pertain to how we are to honor God and the next six are about how we honor people. Jesus summed up the entire Law of God when he said, “The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord your God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31). St. John took explained it this way, “Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (I John 4:20).
For Christians, love is not essentially a feeling. Love is how we act regardless of how we feel. Love is how we behave toward God and our neighbor because it is the right thing to do even if we don't feel like it. There is an objectivity about such love. Love is real not because of how I feel but because love is of God. Love transcends my subjective experience and will continue with or without me. For my part, I'll hang on to that love. And, when I fail in love and let go, I'll grab hold again.
We can’t change the unloving behavior that occurred at our nation’s Capitol yesterday. But we can have an influence on the response. We can love God and our fellow citizens by seeking truth, pursuing justice, and fostering trust. And we can expect the same from those we elect to public office.
Let us pray.
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(The Book of Common Prayer, page 824)
The Very Rev'd Ron Pogue
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church