The Fellowship of Reconciliation honors the righteous rage, agony, and despair that has fueled a renewed global uprising against the powers and principalities of racist policing and punishment in recent days. This rebellion, rooted in a deep desire for justice and respect for the inherent human dignity of all persons, has been treated with contempt and fury by the White House. Indeed, rather than seeking to repair and unite, the office of the president has emboldened and escalated repressive policing and poured salt on the festering wound of systemic, institutional violence and racism.
On June 1, 2020 — in the midst of a pandemic that has left over 100,000 people dead in the United States, and while protests gripped much of the country over the unjust killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Desmond Franklin, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black civilians throughout the nation in recent weeks — the president of the United States effectively forewarned martial law by threatening from the Rose Garden to deploy U.S. military forces in local communities nationwide.
He then walked across Lafayette Square, opposite the White House, which had been viciously cleared of peaceful protestors by the use of rubber bullets, flash bang grenades, and tear gas, to the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo op in which he held up a Bible, like a prop in an absurdist drama of his own making. For an administration well-practiced in the arts of disinformation and dog-whistles intended to inflame its political base, President Trump’s photo op was a sickening new low that further demeaned the office he has spent nearly four years degrading and debasing.
The fact that as tens of thousands of Americans were dying from COVID-19 Mr. Trump resisted invoking special powers to save lives, but was swift in committing federal troops to the militaristic occupation and policing of cities to protect property, isn’t ironic, it is soul-crushing and tragically true to form. This is an administration that has shown no interest in healing wounds and fostering unity among people; it is abundantly clear that its default posture is instead to fan the flames of hate and division for political gain.
As an international, interfaith organization, the Fellowship of Reconciliation has worked for over a century to promote peace and justice among people. Our membership includes Baha’is, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and other faith practitioners, as well as those without institutional or religious affiliation. For the president to hold up a sacred text in front of a house of worship while ordering a brutal crackdown on democratic, peaceful protestors is an affront to every religious, moral, and human value we hold. Who is this God he wishes to invoke? It clearly is not the God of justice, peace, and love revealed to humans over millennia.
In the words of the Right Rev. Mariann E. Budde, Episcopal bishop of Washington, whose diocese includes St. John’s parish: “He did not pray. He did not mention George Floyd, he did not mention the agony of people who have been subjected to this kind of horrific expression of racism and white supremacy for hundreds of years.”
The systemic inequities baked into America’s social and economic life will continue to lead to violence and death if unabated. We call for fundamental policy changes focused on reparative justice and healing, such as defunding policing, deconstructing our carceral state, and demilitarizing our federal budget. This fed-uprising must be a wake up call to Americans. There will be no peace without justice. There will be no reconciliation without truth and repentance.
List of Bail Funds for Protesters Across the Country (compiled by the National Bail Fund Network)
Black Visions Collective (Black-led movement in Minnesota working for community-led safety and transformative justice)
Movement for Black Lives Week of Action (June 1-7, 2020)
Militarized Response Tracker: #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd (prepared by the War Resisters League)
“Why So Many Police Are Handling the Protests Wrong” (June 1, The Marshall Project)
The Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson is the Executive Director of FOR USA, President of the Board of American Baptist Churches-Metro NY, and a member of the pastoral staff at The Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, NY.