A ritual occurs in the United States whenever tragic events of national impact happen. As news of the tragedy is broadcast and published, politicians appear before news cameras and reporters. They express alarm, dismay and consternation about the tragedy. They say they are grieved for the loss of life and the suffering of surviving family members and communities. They claim they are praying for the victims, survivors and nation. Finally, they say, “God bless the United States” or “God bless America.”
President Donald Trump – who is as notoriously incompetent when it comes to empathy as he is about honesty, honor, fairness and truthfulness – does not perform that ritual well. Trump’s first on-camera response to last weekend’s massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, was to commend law enforcement. His statement on an airport tarmac expressed no compassion for the families whose loved ones were murdered or concern for the wounded survivors. He did not ask the nation and world to pray for the grieving and worried families. He blamed the massacres on mental illness on the part of the killers, not moral viciousness.
We should pray for victims of these and other massacres. We should pray for their families. We should pray for the people who are caring for the victims, those who are helping families make arrangements for funeral services and those doing the difficult work required to investigate these crimes against humanity and prosecute the people who committed them.
Meanwhile, we should remember that God is not an idiot.
God knows that the massacres in El Paso, Dayton and other places across the country are occurring while “evangelical Christian” pastors and congregations are idolizing gun ownership. Some churches even invite gun owners to bring their weapons into church sanctuaries to be “blessed.”
God knows that self-proclaimed “evangelical Christians” have for years included opposition to gun control measures on “voter guides” for congregations. They supported politicians who ended a national ban on sales of the type of assault weapons commonly used in mass murder incidents – the same politicians who openly courted favor from gun manufacturers and cowered before the National Rifle Association.
God knows that white “Christians” in America have long tolerated and coddled white supremacy and nationalism.
God knows that “evangelical Christian” leaders helped elect Trump in 2016 knowing that he courted support from and was supported by known advocates of white nationalism and white supremacy. These same pastors and religious leaders continue to refuse to denounce white supremacy, white nationalist anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric, and white nationalist militarism as sins against divine love and justice.
God knows the politicians counting on support from white “evangelical Christians” are following the path traveled by Richard Nixon and George Wallace in 1968 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. They are following the program Lee Atwater laid out for George H. Bush in 1988 and that Karl Rove used for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.
God knows that with the 2020 political season approaching, politicians are courting support from “evangelical Christians” – meaning people like those Billy Graham preached to and who “came down the aisle” during revival services around the country.
God knows that white “evangelical Christian” voters rejected appeals from Martin Luther King Jr., Clarence Jordan and Abraham Joshua Heschel. God knows that white “evangelical Christian” voters denounced Jeremiah Wright Jr., while praising T.D. Jakes and Tony Evans.
God knows that white “evangelical Christian” pastors and faith leaders have now enlisted certain black and brown “evangelical Christian” pastors and faith leaders in the effort to continue along the unjust path this nation has traveled throughout its existence.
God knows that white “evangelical Christians” are using “religious liberty” as a cover for bigotry and discrimination against immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ persons, people of color, workers and people who are not wealthy.
God knows that white “evangelical Christians” supported Trump’s travel ban on people from six majority Muslim countries.
God knows that white “evangelical Christians” supported the Trump administration’s policy of separating asylum-seeking children from their parents and placing the children in holding pens.
“God is not fooled by the lies and hypocrisies of our time.”
God knows that white “evangelical Christians” are familiar with Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 that how we treat immigrants and other persons who are hungry, thirsty, homeless, sick and incarcerated proves whether we love God.
God knows these things and more about the moral character of U.S. policies toward immigrants, people of color, women and girls, Muslims and persons of other non-Christian sects, workers and persons who are vulnerable to abuse and oppression for other reasons.
God has a good memory about hatefulness and hypocrisy. God is not fooled by the lies and hypocrisies of our time. God is not fooled by Trump and the religious cheerleaders and counselors who back his hateful and wicked policies.
God not only has a good memory; God has a strong message of judgment about the hateful wickedness that oppresses so many people. That message is summed up in five words: The time is surely coming (Amos 8:12), when lies and other wickedness of tyrants will be exposed and damned by the unwavering truth and judgment of God.
There is a time for confession, forgiveness and repentance. There is a time when God withholds judgment to allow people the chance to see the error of their ways. There is a time for people to make amends for past mistakes, to make reparations for past injustices and to right past wrongs.
But when that doesn’t happen there comes another time. When people refuse to repent despite many opportunities, there comes another time. When people choose to praise wickedness and support oppression rather than reject and condemn it, despite strong and long pleas for repentance, there comes another time. That is not a time to pray for blessings. That is the time to pray and wait for condemnation.
The time is coming when people who associate the name, power and love of God with white supremacy; nationalism; bigotry toward immigrants, women, people of color and people without wealth; and hatred of persons of other religions will be judged and damned by God as false prophets.
The time is coming when God will judge this society for refusing to listen to prophets like Clarence Jordan, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Marcus Garvey, Fannie Lou Hamer, Barbara Jordan, Jimmy Carter, Jeremiah Wright Jr., James Cone, Katie Cannon, Samuel DeWitt Proctor, Gardner Taylor, Vincent Harding, Cornel West, James Baldwin, Michael Eric Dyson and Michelle Alexander.
The time is coming when God will bring judgment on religionists who glorified Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and other “fundamentalists” for avoiding prophetic criticism about greedy capitalism and the relationship between national greed and military adventurism and for being silent in the face of discrimination and bigotry, while they criticized King, Walter Rauschenbusch, Walter Brueggemann, William Sloane Coffin and other prophets who opposed unjust wars, racism and capitalist greed for being “liberals.”
The time is coming for divine judgment on Chamber of Commerce lies that everyone will prosper if wages for workers are held down while profits for wealthy people go through the roof.
The time is coming for divine judgment for lies that lead to wars and the deaths of brave and beautiful young men and women around the world and that leave countless others permanently scarred physically and mentally because of a fabricated global “war against terrorism” while policymakers have disregarded the threat of domestic terrorism by white nationalists and even courted their support.
The time is coming for divine judgment on the “war on drugs” that has always been a lie manufactured and repeated to keep black, brown and poor people unable to vote, unable to complain and unable to protect and provide for themselves and their families and communities.
The time is coming when God will bring judgment against the racist, sexist, imperialistic, warmongering and white supremacist religion of white nationalism that has been voiced and voted by white “evangelical Christians.”
The time is coming when people who have long believed lies and walked in the darkness of greed, bigotry and oppression will not be able to find truth.
The time is coming when people who listened to and believed Fox News lies and liars in their homes and workplaces will, to borrow from the words of Isaiah, “wait for light, and lo! There is darkness; and for brightness, but … walk in gloom.” The time is surely coming when they will “grope like those who have no eyes… [and] stumble at noon as in the twilight.” The time is coming when they will “wait for justice, but [find] there is none” (Isaiah 59:9-11).
And the time is coming when the perfect memory of God concerning the long and wicked history of this society will turn from indictment to judgment.
I’m praying that God will no longer be patient with this society because I know that when that time comes, God will not flinch. God cannot be bribed. God will not be fooled by false claims of revival and last minute promises of repentance uttered by self-serving hypocrites and commercial frauds after centuries of shameless violations of the divine command that we live in love, humility and justice with others and show kindness, hospitality and generosity toward people who are powerless, unprotected and vulnerable.
“The time is coming when people who have long believed lies and walked in the darkness of greed, bigotry and oppression will not be able to find truth.”
I’m not praying for God to bless the USA because I believe the time has come when what was said of another society will be said concerning this society: “‘[D]o not pray for this people, do not raise a cry or prayer on their behalf, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you’” (Jeremiah 7:16).
“‘Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Although they fast, I do not hear their cry’” (Jeremiah 14:11-12).
“The time is surely coming” when people who flocked to Trump and his false prophets “shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it” (Amos 8:12).
I’m praying for the victims and wounded survivors of the El Paso, Dayton and other mass murder events. I’m praying for their families and all the kind people who are working to comfort and care for their unimaginable pain that is physical, emotional and spiritual. I’m praying for the people who are doing the painful and painstaking work to investigate and prosecute the vicious perpetrators of these wicked events.
But I am not praying for the United States. I refuse to pray for Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell and other national and local politicians who have built their careers on stoking and promoting white supremacy, white nationalism, capitalism and militarism in the name of U.S. Empire.
I will not pray for white “evangelical Christians” television, radio and Internet commentators and broadcasters who cheered and counseled white religious nationalism or for their listeners who consumed it like swine at a feeding trough.
I will not be fooled, bossed, bullied, cajoled or otherwise persuaded to pray “God bless the USA.” This society rejected appeals to repent. It murdered prophetic people and dismissed prophetic politicians. The sorrow, pain and other suffering of people in El Paso, Dayton and elsewhere are results of policies deliberately chosen and paths intentionally taken by this society, with active participation and leadership from “evangelical Christians.”
I’m praying that God will deliver righteous judgment against this nation and the political and religious actors responsible for the longstanding and deliberately cultivated wickedness which has been sacralized by so-called “evangelical Christians” and normalized by Donald Trump.
I’m praying that God will “let justice roll down like waters,” not as gentle rains but like a thunderous flash flood because the time for tender talk, endless pleading and pietistic pronouncements is over.
I’m praying that God will comfort suffering victims and afflict their political and religious victimizers.
That’s not a “God bless the USA” prayer. It’s a “Thy will be done” prayer. Amen.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of several opinion articles by our columnists and regular opinion contributors, along with several unsolicited submissions, written in the aftermath of mass shootings on Aug. 3 in El Paso, Texas, and Aug. 4 in Dayton, Ohio.
Also on this topic:
Daniel Bagby | Letter to the editor