The Kingdom Defense
The Church and the Resistance to Trump
Second Week in the time of Galilee
Throughout this country a resistance is forming from the popular majority that opposed the election of the next president of the United States. Congressional leaders like Congressman Luis Gutierrez and Congressman John Lewis have pledged not to attend the inauguration in protest. Alarm, anger and fear are growing over policies the new Republican government is already working to implement. Health care, oversight of police, aid to public education and civil rights are on the chopping block. While the opposition fights over these policies individuals and families brace for what these policies mean for them. Highest on this list is those millions who may now face deportation and exclusion from the right to work to support their families.
How will we organize this resistance? How will we motivate participation in that resistance with so many living in fear? What will be the role of the faith communities in this resistance? As always, we turn first to scripture for guidance and inspiration. In our annual scriptural journey we are beginning our walk with Jesus as he begins his ministry in Galilee.
It was a time of great discouragement among the people of God but it was not the first time. As they remembered the stories of their people they had been in slavery for four hundred years in Egypt when Moses came and led them out into the desert to a land where they could be safe and free – and could start over again. Now they found themselves powerless again, subjects of the Roman Empire. They looked for another Moses, a liberator, a messiah, to restore their liberty, their dignity and their prosperity.
First came John who baptized thousands in the river and stood strong against the governor the Romans had installed to reign over them. Then came Jesus with the miracle at the river. Perhaps he was the Messiah they waited for. In fact, Jesus was the seed that gave birth to a Messiah generation.
Today, as we walk in scripture through the beginnings of the ministry of Jesus, we also celebrate the birthday – and the legacy – of Dr. Martin Luther King. The movement of which he was the symbolic leader was a seed that grew among the people in this country who had been brought here as slaves. Over fifty years that seed grew among the faith of the people into a movement that elected the first African American President. There was hope and a small but gradual change.
Yet too many were left out. Two million people were deported. Even today, under this president, we are fighting the deportation of a green card soldier who did two terms in Afghanistan. Even today in our church we are fighting the deportation of a father who has lived and worked here for years. Even today we are struggling for health care for millions of undocumented and legal permanent residents left out of the affordable health care act. Even today, we struggle against the criminalization of an entire generation. In the last eight years too many let too many be left out of change and hope. That was not Obama’s weakness. It was the weakness of the movement that elected him.
Then came the election of 2016. Over the last sixty days as we have waited for the inauguration of the new power in the White House, the people became discouraged. They had deluded themselves that the progress of the last years was irreversible. They had conveniently forgotten that after the civil rights laws and the voting rights laws had been passed, Dr. King was shot down. The Republicans became the party of southern whites who felt the Democrats had betrayed them. From Nixon to Reagan and Bush the white reaction grew in power. The apartheid political structure of the nation, the states rights legacy of slavery and segregation, allowed this racial reaction to control state after state – as had happened during reconstruction after the civil war. Finally this movement of wickedness, hatred and fear took control of the White House, both houses of Congress and soon the Supreme Court.
Human beings are most often forgetful of the realities of struggle, most easily accustomed to grow comfortable in the illusions of partial and temporary victories. And so it was that most of those who had supported the election of President Obama believed that progress was irreversible, that the great democracy of North America would deliver on its promise to move towards a more perfect union. They failed to see – and confront – the relationships of the U.S. and Europe with the people of the developing nations.
New diasporas of immigrants from the countries of people of color, long exploited and held in economic slavery, their political aspirations manipulated and confounded, began to seep into the white controlled nations of Europe and North America. Their citizens were alarmed and fearful that these nations would no longer be part of the Caucasian dominion. A new white nationalism began to dominate the politics of the former colonial powers. What we see in the election of Donald Trump is simply one part of that new reaction.
A new diaspora from the south had grown dramatically in this nation. Millions came from Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean – and from the Muslim nations. While liberal North Americans fooled themselves that they came for “the American Dream”, the truth was that this new diaspora from the south came because of what the American nightmare had done to their countries. Trade agreements and imposed governments had left the economies of the south in devastation. The great market for illegal drugs in the U.S. provided the vehicle for a gangster element to grow to power – and guns exported from the U.S. turned this gangster element into a force for constant violence, kidnapping and murder.
The forced migration continued. Disenfranchised as undocumented or legal permanent residents with no voice or rights, nearly twenty million joined those who had come from the south before – or who had been there when the border crossed them – to become the largest diaspora group in the nation. Hated and feared after 9/11 in 2001, these disenfranchised formed families, were fruitful and multiplied, and found a unity as Latinos that had eluded them in the different countries of Latin America.
They struggled and demanded justice, the right to keep their families together, the right of their youth to get an education and employment. At the same time they sent back millions to their towns and villages, much greater than any foreign aid package. Gradually, during the eight years of the Obama administration, through their struggle, their appeal to conscience and the growing numbers of the Latino vote, they won over, at least partially, the leadership of the Democratic Party.
Then came Donald Trump and the rise of white nationalism out of racism, fear and hatred. The popular majority in the last election has made many think that Trump is a fluke, a terrible nightmare that will pass. I think that is mistaken thinking. The basic contradictions that led to Trump’s victory and to the rise of Caucasian nationalism throughout Europe are only intensifying. That movement is ascending.
In the last days of King’s life he helped to organize the poor people’s campaign in Washington DC. He was murdered during his participation of the sanitation worker’s strike in Memphis. King had added his voice against the war in Vietnam but, unlike Malcolm, he had done little to educate North Americans to the realities of Africa, Latin America and the Muslim countries. Captured in the liberal democratic coalition whose support he sought for civil rights he had failed to take the side of the Palestinians against the Israeli occupation.
During the Obama administration, while workers and their unions began a just fight for a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage few turned their attention to the 40 million in Latin America who live on 4 dollars or less a day. Unionized workers were mobilized by Sanders and Trump against NAFTA but few mentioned that NAFTA had allowed big agribusiness to dump cheap corn and rice into Mexico, displacing six million agricultural workers. While the third world fought the domination of Europe and the U.S. – through efforts at self-determination and through migration – the new white nationalists sought to withdraw from these conflicts and build a wall to exclude people of color from their boundaries.
A sinking feeling is settling in among North Americans. As some seek to reform and strengthen the coalition that elected Obama and continue the expanding democracy against apartheid, others began to lose their way and their confidence. The energy has gone from the electoral movement and the threat of divisions is rising. We have forgotten the source from which our movement came. Too many have taken their eye off the prize.
There is a confusion between the Kingdom of the United States and the Kingdom of God.Some have forgotten what Dr. King taught: that it is a commitment to the Kingdom of God that moves the United States to become a more perfect union with liberty and justice for all. Too many have forgotten Ghandi’s uncompromising commitment to truth.
When Jesus began his ministry, after the baptism by John and his 40 days of spiritual struggle, he announced that the Kingdom of God was near. This was not to be the Kingdom of Israel. In fact, Jesus prophesied that the temple society would be destroyed and the people dispersed throughout the empire. His ministry was to prepare them to organize communities of faith and resistance throughout that empire. He envisioned a movement that would outlast the empire and begin the transformation of all the nations.
Where was this Kingdom of God he spoke of? What did it look like? Could it stand the tests of empires, of powerful armies and economic forces? Strangely, Jesus sought to organize this new Kingdom among the poorest and least powerful of the people. “The meek shall inherit the earth,” he said. Perhaps that is the first lesson we must learn in our effort now to build a resistance.
The Kingdom movement which has persisted these two thousand years has its own rhythm. It must be renewed every year. At the core of this faith is a commitment every year to celebrate the seasons of the year as seasons in a process of renewal. That is why we celebrate the birth of Christ, then his ministry, then his confrontation, then his crucifixion and resurrection, then the rise of the Holy Spirit among a remnant of his movement that grows like a crop of corn, born of Him who was the seed, until the harvest of a renewed people of God. Yet from this year’s Harvest, new seeds must be assembled to be planted in the soil of faith for next year’s journey.
For those who willingly walk now in the footsteps of Jesus, the seeds of truth are being planted in their soil of faith. They will seek something different than a political resistance to restore the old coalition to power. They will not abandon the struggle but they will seek to renew it. They will seek the Kingdom in the midst of their struggle.
They will seek the truth in the teachings and learn from those who are marginalized – from the undocumented and the criminalized youth of our communities. In the midst of the chaos and survival struggles of these lies the truth of the Kingdom that Jesus taught was near – if we would but repent and knock on the door.
Is it not true that the movement to keep families together among the undocumented came at a time when the families of U.S. citizens were falling apart – when marriages lasted on average less than two years and where fewer and fewer of those who had children made life commitments to raise them together? I am telling you they brought a message from God!
Is it not true that the largest marches in recent history, those in 2006, were moved by solidarity, by Latinos with and without papers marching together to stop the deportations? Where was that solidarity in the Democratic campaign for President? While Trump was turning out thousands of white nationalists, the Democratic candidate was hard pressed to draw crowds of hundreds.
The Kingdom communities that Jesus prepared the diaspora to organize are in fact growing among the undocumented, among the dispossessed youth in the African American community. There is the solidarity we should seek. There is the internal battle with violence and greed and individualism. There is the movement of repentance and redemption. There is a movement to build on.
Jesus taught us to live in communities of faith and resistance – and to evangelize constantly, to make disciples of all peoples. He taught us to build relationships of respect and love – for from him we know that I cannot be what He wants me to be if you have not become what He wants you to be.
The Kingdom He taught us was like the seeds that fell on the ground, some on rocky ground with no roots, some eaten quickly by wind and animals, but some that found root in the soil of faith. Yet the Kingdom is also like the fish in the ocean, gathered together in schools, able to survive even in the belly of Whales, because they feed together and care for their young.
Some Christians have said that North Americans should welcome the immigrants - like strangers – yet they are not strangers to God. Those who come from the south and from the east in forced diaspora are the people of God, planted here to be like Oaks of righteousness to transform this nation. In their growing numbers they are moving this country towards a majority of people of color. As with the ocean, tides will come in and go out but God’s plan for transformation and justice will survive and grow.
We have learned how to organize sanctuary. Today we face a government as set against us as was the government in 2002 after 9/11. The difference is that in that time the undocumented and the recent immigrant were alone. Fear and hate had gripped the entire nation. That is when we began the sanctuary movement. Through the witness of the undocumented families and young people support was developed among a majority of the nation.
Sanctuary is not a building to hide in. Sanctuary is organized among people of faith, joined together in relationships, joined on a continual journey of transformation and renewal, bearing witness and evangelizing, joined together to protect our people. Sanctuary began with the protection of individuals and spread to a movement to protect millions. Today, the sanctuary communities have grown large and influential enough to declare whole cities to be sanctuaries. Yet we should not confuse governments or any collection of institutions with sanctuary communities. We should not confuse nations with the Kingdom of God. We should never concede to those who believe that the democracy of the United States, based on a massive economic and military empire and the subjugation of hundreds of millions to its will and to its false claim of perfection, is somehow an expression of the Kingdom of God.
The ministry of Jesus has taught us that our communities of faith are in the world but not of the world. We will build and renew our movement to stop the deportations, to confront the criminalization and mass incarceration of whole generations, to defend those targeted because of their faith or because of who they love, to preserve life through changed lifestyle and the sharing of the science of health care and to preserve the earth from the reckless greed of man. We will seek a living wage and full employment but we will oppose the policies that leave millions in poverty and violence in the south. We will use our numbers wisely to target the political structures of injustice. On the surface, we are building a movement of solidarity between those touched and engaged by particular issues of justice. Yet the source of our defense is an uncompromising commitment to justice and a solidarity much deeper than any political coalition.
Before King was murdered he told us he had been to the mountaintop, that he had seen the promised land, that he might not get there with us - but that he was sure that as a people we would reach the promised land. In the ambiguities of the mixture of faith and politics, some thought King had seen a perfected democracy within the borders of this nation. They came to see the election of people of color as a realization of the land that was promised.
I don’t know what Dr. King saw from the mountaintop. His was a great, inspiring and committed ministry to which he courageously gave his life. He lifted us all. Yet a promised land of democracy will not defend us against the armies of hate and racism and greed deployed against us. The vision of a promised land will not heal the violence that is among us. It will not inspire the unity we need to defend our people.
For these things we need to see what Jesus saw when he was transfigured on the mountain. We need to see and experience the Kingdom of God among us. We need a Kingdom defense, a defense built on communities of faith, relationships of love and mutual sacrifice and an uncompromising commitment to truth and confession before God.
With those who seek the Kingdom of God in their relationships and communities, in their commitment to stand naked and honest before the Lord, we can march without fear, with a pillar of fire by night and a cloud of angels by day. We do not fear the crucifixion because we have seen the resurrection.
So organize your communities of faith and resistance. Say with the prophet: “Therefore I have set my face like flint. And I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who then is my accuser? Let him confront me! It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me. Who will condemn me? They will wear out like a garment. The moths will eat them up.”
The Lord is my light and my salvation. Of whom shall I be afraid? Organize, organize organize – but organize in the Spirit of the Lord. Amen? Amen? Amen!
THE HOLY SCRIPTURES FOR THE SECOND WEEK IN THE TIME OF GALILEE
Isaiah 50:7-11 He who vindicates me is near
I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. 8 He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me. Who will condemn me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up. Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God. But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.
Matthew 5:3-10 The Beatitudes
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are those of low status, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mark 4:1- 9 The Parable of the Sower
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge.2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”