It is hard to ignore what is currently unfolding in the United States and even harder not to weep. The death of George Floyd – a black American man who died following a police officer kneeling on the back of his neck – has been highly publicised. The death has been recorded as homicide in an official post-mortem. Witnesses claim the use of force was unprovoked and disproportionate to any threat Mr Floyd presented. The police officer who knelt on his neck – Derek Chauvin – has been charged with third degree murder and manslaughter whilst the three others who stood by without intervention have all been fired from the police force but face no criminal charges. Protests followed by riots have broken out all across America.
The protests have reignited the Black Lives Matter movement. However, waters have been muddied as Antifa – the anti-fascist organisation – have linked themselves to the protests and encouraged violence and vandalism. The President has since designated them as a terrorist organisation.
The reaction the the violence from many black protestors has been thus:
George Floyd’s own family have also been clear, publicly, on the need for peaceful protest. They have insisted violence is not the way:
The Floyd family – George Floyd particularly – have suffered a gross injustice. Yet as a God-fearing, Bible-believing family, they insist on the need for ‘peace on the left, justice on the right.’ That would seem to be inline with the scriptures. The Bible is not silent in the face of injustice, but nor would it encourage us into violent retribution.
Compare this to President Donald Trump’s response to these things. In the first instance, he has been clear on the need for the police to ‘dominate’ protestors.
Now, on one level, I suppose that is not unreasonable. If people are committing acts of violence, looting, destroying things and harming others, it is hardly unreasonable to suggest that they should be arrested and punished for that behaviour. Some suspect ‘dominate’ did not only refer to the violent protestors, but to any who might be protesting in any given way. But charity would push us to give the benefit of the doubt and assume the best.
Except that the President’s view of ‘dominating’ and ‘not looking like a bunch of jerks’ appears to extend to this sort of thing too:
There didn’t seem to be any violence amongst these protestors yet it was deemed legitimate to use that level of force simply to clear the path for the President to cross the street and pose for a photo opportunity with the same Bible that calls us to seek peace and denounces injustice.
The bishop responsible for the church outside which Mr Trump posed had this view on it:
I am the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and was not given even a courtesy call, that they would be clearing [the area] with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop.Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington as quoted in The Guardian
She also said:
Let me be clear: The President just used a Bible, the most sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and one of the churches of my diocese, without permission, as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of JesusBishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington speaking on CNN
You can listen to further comments here.
As a Christian, it is hard not to be angry that the President would ignore what the Bible in his hand says so that he might be able to use it as a political tool. He would use heavy-handed tactics on those protesting grave injustice so that he can pose with a Bible for his own ends. It is hard not to remember that there is a long and ignominious history of the Bible being used to suppress minority groups and, minimally, this looks very close to the same.
The Bible does not insist upon a divine right of kings. Interestingly, America was founded upon a principle of Lex Rex; the product of those fleeing what they perceived as the tyranny of kingly rule. The Second Amendment – the right to bear arms – was written against a backdrop of fearing such tyranny and an inability to defend oneself, people or country. As such, it is shocking that a President of the United States can act like this today, brandishing a Bible as though his right to rule is divinely derived and places him above the law. It is equally difficult to see how behaviour such as this is not also a breach of the first amendment:
Not only are attacks taking place on the press, and on those who are evidently not engaged in violence, as the reporter states in the above video, ‘they don’t care. They are being indiscriminate.’ And these things were happening so that the President could pose with a Bible for a photo opportunity.
It reminds me of another leader in the Bible. The Lord had been clear in his commands but religious justification was made for doing whatever he happened to want to do. Despite what God had said plainly, he found pious sounding reasons for not doing what the Lord said. When Saul was rejected as king of Israel because of these things, and he offered his pious-sounding defence, the prophet Samuel simply replied:
Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has also rejected you from being king.1 Samuel 15:22-23
Now, of course, Donald Trump is not akin to a king of Israel for lots of reasons. But the Bible is quite clear on certain matters of truth and justice along with, as with Saul, not using religion and co-opting the Lord so as you can do whatever you please. In posing with a Bible the way he has done, Mr Trump is using it for his own political ends. He is attempting to co-opt religion, with an appearance of piety, whilst doing whatever he pleases.
The sad irony is, the Bible he holds in his hand acts as its own witness against him. By claiming to be subservient to the scriptures, one only needs to open its pages and read it to see whether he is, indeed, both a hearer and doer of the word. If the Bible is the measure by which Mr Trump wishes to be measured, one can’t help but feel that very case is undermined by standing with it as a political tool. And as its pages are opened up, clearing peaceful protestors from your path so that you might pose with it and indiscriminately setting riot police on all who stand in your way not only appears to contravene the American constitution, but rather undermines the claim to be subservient to the Word of God that he holds in his hand.
Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.Proverbs 31:8-9
Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.Isaiah 1:17