Last week in America, our worst demons emerged from the shadows.
On three occasions, America’s worst tendencies were on full display, demonstrating a country suffering from the ongoing consequences of racial bigotry, the widening divide of political polarization and the hatred of people based upon religious conviction.
After unsuccessfully attempting to enter a predominantly black Baptist church in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, Gregory Bush, 51, walked into a local grocery store and allegedly killed two elderly African-Americans – Maurice Stallard, 69, and Vickie Lee Jones, 67.
Stallard’s 12-year-old grandson watched in horror as his grandfather was gunned down by a middle-aged white man. Bush has a history of racially bigoted sentiments.
As Jeffersontown was trying to come to grips with these violent acts, other Americans were receiving pipe bombs through the mail.
Allegedly, Cesar Sayoc, 56, sent 14 packages with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to people he considered political rivals and enemies of President Donald Trump.
Former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were among those whose lives were threatened.
Sayoc has a history of radical political beliefs and perpetuates unconfirmed conspiracy theories on social media.
Then, as the country was riveted by the bombing attempts and the arrest of Sayoc, the unthinkable occurred on Saturday morning. Robert Bowers, 46, walked into the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh and opened fire using an AR-15.
Twenty minutes later, 11 worshippers, ranging in age from 54 to 97, had been killed, two injured and four officers wounded.
Bowers had a history of posting anti-Semitic rants on social media and visiting white nationalist websites.
These three incidents, all occurring within one week, reveal the terrible state of our country.
America’s inability to genuinely address our bigoted attitudes and policies fuels the flames of those seeking a scapegoat for their problems.
This failure provides unhinged individuals with a false ideological justification to walk into grocery stores, mail IEDs and enter synagogues seeking to kill innocent people they define as their enemies.
In addition to our racially charged culture, political discourse in this country has descended into the depths of hell.
America has always been a place where honest disagreements have been met with vigorous rancor and heated debate.
However, our differences have so polarized us as a people that we no longer see political opponents as fellow citizens but rather as enemies that must be destroyed.
Cooperation and compromise are now considered bad political and governing strategies.
They have been replaced by dominionism in which a particular group of people sees only one way forward: the total dominance of civic, religious and cultural systems ruled by their narrow convictions.
America needs to reject the politics of dominionism and replace it with a genuinely democratic way forward.
We must learn to respectfully disagree and engage in honest debate without turning each other into enemies.
Finally, Americans must recognize that we are all capable of falling for conspiracy theories built upon half-truths and bigoted convictions.
We would be remiss to conclude individuals walking into synagogues killing worshippers are simply deranged or insane.
These suggestions attempt to provide cover for those who privately believe those same theories.
Individuals cannot perpetuate unsubstantiated conspiracy theories based on bigoted rhetoric without shouldering some of the blame for contributing to a toxic atmosphere on the verge of combusting.
Preceding the bombing attempts and the Pittsburg synagogue murders, unsubstantiated theories were circulated on social media and nationalist media outlets that George Soros, a wealthy Jewish philanthropist and bomb threat target, was financing a caravan of Honduran asylum-seekers making their way to the U.S. and that criminals and terrorists are part of the caravan.
Even though no evidence has been offered to verify these allegations, supporters often believe these false narratives blindly.
Once these stories begin circulating, it’s no longer unfathomable that some will act upon these false claims to the point of killing other human beings.
In addition, even if these claims had validity (and they do not), it still does not give people the right to kill.
If there is one truth that has been revealed in America last week, it is the notion that we need to start appealing to our better angels.
In his first inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln addressed a country bitterly divided and on the verge of civil war, appealing to the “better angels of our nature” to conclude “we are not enemies but friends.”
Unfortunately, Americans in the 19th century did not appeal to their better angels, which led to the Civil War.
If we continue to let the “lesser demons of our nature” rule our minds and capture our hearts, then we too may fall to the same plight of our forebears.
As we mourn and reflect on the events of last week in America, may people of faith recall the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:3-12 when he began his sermon on the mount:
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 the meek, 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 receive 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 for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
These are words to cling to after experiencing a week like we did in this country. These are words that should challenge us and give us hope.
These are words that offer us another path – one leading away from hate and violence and moving us toward a way of love and peace.
These are words that are difficult to embrace and more challenging to practice.
However, these are the words we must let fill our hearts and minds so that last week might turn into the last week when America was so shamefully divided.
I know, it’s a naïve hope, but it’s a hope to which I must cling.