“I don’t care where your politics have been. I care where your humanity is now. If we have not spoken, we should. If we have exchanged challenging words, we need to renew each other.” - Rabbi Marc Kline (Monmouth Reform Temple)
January 6 was the culmination of four years of supporting a national divide. It came to a head as for the first time in 210 years our Capitol building was attacked. This time, however, the attack came from people wearing and brandishing our nation’s flag. There were other symbols there, as well. These people who claim to pledge allegiance to America brought the Confederate flag and nooses.
The Confederate flag is a symbol of treason to the United States of America. The Confederacy declared war on the United States of America and killed American soldiers and citizens. For those who “white-washed” the Civil War claiming that it was the deadliest war in our history, they forgot that the Confederate soldiers and population had pledged allegiance to a foreign nation. Confederate soldiers who died did not call themselves citizens of the United States. We have to debunk that myth. Bringing and brandishing that flag into our Capitol was, separate and apart from the rest of the mayhem, an act of treason.
The nooses are horrific reminders of the racism that still runs rampant in this country. America seems to have forgotten that lynchings were events during the Jim Crow days. People would end church services and bring their lunch to the village square to watch and photograph themselves at the “event.” As those who stormed the Capitol yesterday photographed themselves giving each other “high-fives” for their accomplishments, I found myself pulled back into some of our country’s ugliest moments.
Also present were the Proud Boys and QAnon – both certified in this presidency as domestic terror organizations. The Proud Boys wearing shirts reading “Welcome to Camp Auschwitz” and “6MWE (6 million wasn’t enough).”
These are all the people the President called “special” and for whom he expressed “love.”
Just before the attack on the Capitol, the President of the United States continued proffering the lies of fraud, and in the process, told a group of rabid supporters already brandishing guns that they should use force on the Federal State House. What ensued was horrific. He promised to walk with them but left. Afterward, he did not condemn the violence but praised the participants, telling them to go home, but remember that the country was stolen from them – only fanning the flames. He told them they were special and that he loved them. At no time did he express concern for the Capitol or the people inside. Later, he issued a statement justifying the violence. Even this morning, there are those who say that he had no complicity. Propaganda makes everyone a victim.
Where was the armed military who were well in force before the peaceful Black Lives Matter march? Had people of color stormed the Capitol, there is no question that the police/military response would have been swift and violent. The Trump followers announced this march weeks ago. No one can claim that they did not know.
Where were the police? I have to say that I am a Police Chaplain and love my police force. I woke up to find people from the left and the right reminding America that the National Fraternal Order of the Police had openly endorsed and supported President Trump in his elections and rhetoric. Rightly or wrongly, our police's integrity has been called into question by their failure to be present and failure to act. Where were the arrests? How do you attack the Capitol with guns, destroy property, invade legislator offices and chambers, and then simply walk away, post your pictures on Facebook and have a
beer – congratulating yourself on a job well-done?
Even as I stared at the computer and television screens in abject sorrow, I saw the blessings and challenges facing America play out. Full transparency: if you know me, you know I am no fan of our President, Vice-president, or Senate Majority Leader – and much of the national Republican party's agenda. You also know that while a Democrat, I am at odds with my own party’s failures. Both need severe overhauls to become relevant in governance. We became a country about iconic personalities and their pursuit of power, and less about the fair governance of the American people. Their respective posturing drove an unforgivable wedge between us, pitting neighbors against each other and splitting families. We became immersed in the “one issue live or die” culture and lost touch with everything sacred.
After the violence, the Congress returned to finish the business of dealing with the electoral votes. There remained voices of derision which, on the one hand, condemned the violence, but on the other hand, continued proffering the lies that brought it about. There was the call to have them removed from office for supporting the lies and tacitly (or not so tacitly) the violence.
Also, that fateful day, we witnessed what does make this country great. Rather than call it a day because of the trauma and hour, our elected officials returned to the chambers and worked until 3:44 in the morning to complete the task of resolving the election. That, in and of itself, is something for which we should be thankful. Despite early moments of tension between colleagues, most of the speeches that ensued called for unity and unification. Even those who had concerns announced that there were better ways with which to handle them.
As to the House and Senate leadership, I could not have been prouder to call them our country’s leaders. Nancy Pelosi maintained respectful order in the Congress. During what had to be the most challenging night of their careers, they stood up, even before the attack, affirmed that the votewas legitimate (even while they did not like the result) and admonished America to affirm the new President and work on rebuilding trust. Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell became American heroes for standing up. We will continue to disagree with them in the future. One can even argue that they helped foment the disaster by their previously unwavering support for this President. Judaism teaches that the gates of t’shuvah are always open. They walked through them last night, admitted their error, and did what was right. Even Senator Kelly Loeffler stood up. Having lost her hotly debated election in Georgia, and with nothing to lose, she condemned the violence and withdrew her objection to the electoral vote count. That, too, was heroic. Most Democrats and Republicans proclaimed a better unified America.
I stand concerned that some seemed to advocate a continued or return vigilante response for/to those who support the President. Is there a price to pay for complicity? Yes, there must be. Our judicial system stands charged to make this happen. Do we bring our nation back together with public “execution or flogging?” I am not so sure. Jesus taught that in the face of derision, sometimes we must turn the other cheek. Our Rabbinic tradition argues that in every case, we have a sacred obligation to turn our enemy into our friend – it is in our every morning liturgy. The Rabbis teach that hatred drives a person outside of world relevance and that one who hates is considered a murderer. (Pirke Avot) The Quran follows suit, “Good and evil are not alike. Repel evil with what is better. Then he, between whom and you there was hatred, will become as though he was a bosom friend.” (41:34)
As we prepare to honor the memory of the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we have to remember that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. … Truth may be crucified, and justice buried, but one day they will rise again.”
I don’t care where your politics have been. I care where your humanity is now. If we have not spoken, we should. If we have exchanged challenging words, we need to renew each other. We have been stuck in yesterday’s almanac; we have to yoke today’s opportunity to write new healing chapters in the books of our lives. The Prophet teaches, “Not by force, nor by power, but only by a shared spirit will we live in peace.” Or, as the Beatles put it, “Come together, right now!” This is the time to remember that we are human first. We are ahmechad eem lev echad – one people with one heart. I stand as a prisoner of hope.
With love and prayer,
Rabbi Marc Kline
Monmouth Reform Temple