The world remains in collective astonishment and horror following Wednesday’s violent seize of the U.S. Capitol. It was an unbelievable moment, one forcefully condemned by Democrats and Republicans alike.
In the days that followed, the divisive powder keg that the nation has become continued to flare and fester in online forums and throughout social media. The quagmire seems unending — anger, racism and finger-pointing. There seems to be no clear path forward.
For clergy members, who face the colossal task of leading their parishioners of differing backgrounds and political affiliations, to the other side, the burden can appear overwhelming. But even amidst all of the fury, leaders of different denominations and of different faiths, find themselves called to strip down their scriptural teachings, returning again and again to a single word — love.
For the Rev. Elijah Henderson, it’s the one thing that can pull the nation back from the abyss. The leader of 2-1 Urban Discipleship Gathering, who is also active in local racial equity work through A Better Glynn, says that despite all of this devastation — there is still hope.
“The ministry of reconciliation never ends. That’s the charge we’re all given,” he said. “To be the prophetic witnesses of Christ, we must all be about the business of reconciliation.”
While Henderson notes that there is still so much brokeness, God’s love remains full and intact.
“That’s the mission ... the world will know that we’re His because of how we love one another,” he said. “Through the mosaic of faith traditions — Christianity, Judaism, Islam — there is unity in this ... that we should be about becoming beacons of love, that others will see us and know to whom we belong. That work never ends and even though very little seems to change, the mission remains the same.”
It’s a charge that the Rev. Wright Culpepper takes on whole-heartedly. The pastor of First United Methodist Church in Brunswick and executive director of FaithWorks has tried to find ways of promoting unity as the situation deteriorated over the past year.
“We have got to try to move back from the edges toward the center, where we can have a civil discourse and conversation,” he said.
Culpepper points to the Book of Judges, a violent Biblical story with a powerful lesson.
“There’s a line that runs through the book, ‘and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.’ When we begin to call ourselves right and everyone else wrong, it leads to violence. Clearly, that was evident (Wednesday),” he said.
The result was chaos and destruction. Culpepper notes that these events are unprecedented in modern times but found frequently in the pages of history.
“You know, I think about a drum that has been around as long as any musical instrument. It’s the rhythm of the drum that keeps the song going. There will always be harmony and discord in the music people play. But we have to get away from doing what is right in our own eyes and answer to the call, the beat, of God,” he said. “We’re all little notes in a big song. I’m a note and you’re a note. But God is the one who first pulled order out of chaos. And He’s the one who can make us play together again.”
The Rev. Todd Rhodes agrees. For the pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Brunswick — who is also a veteran law enforcement officer — the attack on the Capitol was heartbreaking on a multiple levels.
“When you look at what unfolded, at the U.S. Capital no less ... it was most unfortunate and most disturbing, as well because in our nation, we’re supposed to be the United States. You’d like to think that is what we’re about ... being united. That hasn’t been the case of late,” he said.
Like Culpepper, Rhodes always looks to scripture to guide his steps. In this instance, he was called to the book of Galatians — chapter 5 verse 15.
“But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.’ It’s a warning that we will be destroyed by one another. We are so at odds with each other that no one is willing to sit down and sincerely talk and see what the issues are and how we can approach it at the ground level,” he said.
“We’re not going to agree on everything and that’s OK, as long as it’s a healthy form of disagreeing and we’re not belittling each other or being mean-spirited, hateful or plotting someone else’s demise.”
Instead of continuing to drift further apart, Rhodes prays that the nation will cling to any piece of common ground. That may be difficult in a climate of fiercely held and vehemently shared beliefs — but he is faithful that it can be done.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ That’s the Word of God. My prayer is that we can at least be willing to listen and learn. It’s going to take some work ... maybe some sweat equity and maybe some tear equity. It may take some heavy lifting but if enough of us get together, we can lift it together.”
For this effort, Rhodes finds inspiration in a surprising place — the ant. The tiny creatures are able to band together to lift loads weighing much more than its individual weight.
“The ministry of the ant preaches a good sermon, and they live out what they preach. They are extremely small, and they attempt to lift this heavy thing ... but the other ants come and they help with the heavy lifting. They can do it if they all get together, lift together and travel in the same direction — together.”
Like the ant, Rhodes feels Americans came be made mighty through unity. For the spiritually faithful, that’s a call that demands an answer.
“Everyone is preaching whether you know it or not. How you’re living and what you’re saying is preaching just as loud or louder than any sermon I’ve ever preached. We have to look at how that aligns with God’s Word,” he said. “And that Word is: Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. And in this tone, you don’t get to chose your neighbor — it’s everyone.”