At Mount Vernon Place, we have a regular practice of sharing our joys and concerns. It is a central part of who we are as a congregation. We seek to be real and authentic with one another, truly sharing the things that are giving us joy and the burdens we are carrying - the things that are causing us hurt and pain. Several people shared joys that are happening in their lives today. It then came time for concerns. After a few people shared, I got up, stood at the microphone, and asked for prayers.
I shared with the congregation how we need to pray for our country. I talked about how I was in downtown Washington yesterday and happened to get caught in the traffic as mobs - thousands upon thousands 0f people - were gathering in Freedom Plaza for an anti-tax, anti-Obama, anti-health care demonstration. I shared how as I sat in traffic, so many of the signs broke my heart because many people held a sign of hatred in one hand and a sign with scripture printed on it in the other hand. I then shared how my heart broke yesterday morning when I read an editorial in the Washington Post. The editorial is written by Colbert I. King and is titled, "A Dangerous Kind of Hate." In his editorial, King writes about pastor Steven Anderson's sermon of August 16 - a sermon preached in a Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona in which Anderson focused an entire message on "Why I Hate Barack Obama." In this sermon - a sermon preached in a Christian Church, Anderson preached, "'I'm not going to pray for his (Obama's) good, I'm going to pray he dies and goes to hell."
King goes on to write, "There's something loose in the land, an ugliness and hatred directed toward Barack Obama , the nation's first African American president, that takes the breath away" (Colbert I. King, "A Dangerous Kind of Hate," in the Washington Post, September 12, 2009, page A17).
My breath was taken away yesterday morning, and while I did not quote this specific line of King's, I did talk about Anderson - how I did not understand how anyone could be filled with so much hatred and still call himself a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I then invited the congregation to pray - specifically saying that whether we sit on the right or on the left, we are to pray. I said that no matter what our views are, we need to pray for the unrest that is so real, so apparent, so rampant in our nation. I asked that we pray for our leaders - all of our leaders.
During the closing of the final hymn, I noticed that two women who I had never seen before were no longer singing. In fact, they were standing with their arms folded in front of them.
When the benediction was over, I stepped out to the front portico as I always do to greet first time guests who come filing out first. One of the two women came marching up to me, looked me in the face, and shouted, "You are a God-damned liar." She then went on to shout something about tax dollars and abortion. Her friend soon walked up behind her with tears in her eyes and handed me a note written on the inside of an offering envelope. It read,
Pastor Donna -
As we sat through the first hour of the service today, I was touched by the kindness, love and compassion that was all around us - thus, the shock and dismay that I felt as you referred to me as divisive and full of hatred was akin to a kick in the gut. You see, my friend and I took part in Saturday's march. We did not have signs of hatred - we walked in prayer - praying for the future of our country - praying to be understood and not stereotyped. Thus - I leave the church this morning weak with anger and cannot understand why you hurt me so - Yet, I love you in Christ's name.
Lis from Naples Florida
I've never been called a God-damned liar in one breath and told that someone loves me in Christ's name in another breath. It just does not add up to me. I did not know what to do - I stood there in dismay as they walked away.
I did not stereo-type anyone. Rather, I invited people to pray for the hatred that was evident in the sermon quoted by King and in the signs I saw people carrying. I questioned how people who follow a peace-filled Jesus could be filled with such hatred - could wear the t-shirts that some were wearing, could carry the signs that some were carrying, could pray death upon anyone. This is not the Jesus I know and follow.
King's right, there's an ugliness loose in the land - an ugliness I have never seen before. I'm praying - for the safety of our leaders, especially our president who has people wishing his death. I'm praying - that one day people who follow Jesus will also fight for the things Jesus taught us to be concerned about. I'm praying - that this unrest ends soon.
God, help us.