A cold and broken hallelujah

Nov 16, 2016 by

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If the church can’t unite against hatred and bullying, the church isn’t worth its salt.

The U.S. nation is divided. The church is divided. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not divided. The gospel says without equivocation: What you did to the least of these, you did to me.

Two days after last week’s election, a friend from California who works at the non-profit organization Because Justice Matters wrote on Facebook: “I am surrounded by people reacting to this election with fear and re-traumatization. Some groups are obvious — Muslims, Hispanic immigrants, anybody poor, anybody living with mental illness, people who face being uninsured again. Women. Parents. Anybody LGBT or who loves LGBT friends and family. But, a group that exploded in my ‘in box’ was women survivors of trauma. Women who have experienced sexual assault.”

My daughter, a middle-school teacher in Virginia, called to say how she and her fellow teachers are struggling to respond to the increased cruelty by some children toward children of color in their classrooms. “It’s been a really rough week,” she said.

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama reported over the weekend, “Since the election, we’ve seen a big uptick in incidents of vandalism, threats, intimidation spurred by the rhetoric surrounding Mr. Trump’s election. The white supremacists out there are celebrating his victory and many are feeling their oats.”

In the large scheme of things, it frankly doesn’t matter one iota whether you’re Republican or Democrat. And all the angst and hand wringing about denominational politics and whether to stay or withdraw or form a splinter group is “like chaff that the wind drives away.”

If we (or congregations we belong to) ignored or underestimated the power of white supremacy and hatred, we need to acknowledge this and repent of it. Our choice is clear: Either we as Mennonite congregations will stand with those who are persecuted, bullied, threatened or violated, or we are no longer good for anything (to quote Jesus) but to be “thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matthew 5:13).

Last week after the election, when I felt mute with despair, Janna Hunter-Bowman, AMBS assistant professor of peace studies and Christian social ethics and a frontline peacemaker in the midst of Colombia’s interminable violent struggle, wrote these encouraging words: “We are still here, living and cultivating the community that loves amidst fear, stands with the marginalized amidst hate, and does not rely on the government to be the new world on its way. In the past, Anabaptists have been willing to sacrifice and suffer in Jesus’ name when their own freedoms (of religion) were violated. May our current generations be prepared to extend ourselves for the many who wake up today alarmed and scared by looming threats. We are not reliant on the winds of electoral politics to be a counter-cultural community of love and resistance.”

This election cycle has been a bracing wake-up call. Either we will strengthen our witness as counter-cultural communities of love and resistance to hatred and bullying in any form, or we are good for nothing, and in danger of receiving the full force of Jesus’ ire: “Depart from me!”

Leonard Cohen died last week. The New York Times describes him as “a Canadian poet and novelist who abandoned a promising literary career to become one of the foremost songwriters of the contemporary era.” His most famous song, “Hallelujah,” burned itself into my mind when I was in despair about a dear family member whose life was on the brink because of severe depression. Cohen’s aching “cold and broken hallelujah” threw me a lifeline.

Perhaps all we can manage today is a cold and broken hallelujah. But tomorrow we must unite as a church worth its salt to sing: “Alleluia! Gracious Jesus! Yours the scepter, yours the throne! Alleluia! Yours the triumph, yours the victory alone! Hark! The songs of peaceful Zion thunder like a mighty flood; Jesus, out of every nation has redeemed us as his own.”

Sara Wenger Shenk is president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. This post first appeared on her blog, Practicing Reconciliation.


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