Proud Boys hooligans vandalized and destroyed Black Lives Matters yard signs at several downtown DC churches Saturday eve. Two were historically black churches (United Methodist and African Methodist Episcopal). One was a traditionally white Mainline church (Evangelical Lutheran).
These churches are within a few blocks of our IRD office, so I easily recognized the videos of several dozen Proud Boys rampaging in the streets. Apparently they burned the purloined United Methodist BLM sign in the middle of 11th Street.
On Sunday night, May 31, there was rioting in our IRD neighborhood when rioters ostensibly tied to BLM protests smashed shop windows, including a hair salon and sandwich shop below our second floor office. More distressingly these rioters set a fire inside nearby historic St. John’s Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square. Fortunately the fire was extinguished without extensive damage.
St. John’s official pronouncements minimized the attack on their church, which was widely described in the passive voice, as though the church set itself aflame. There were calls for “healing.” The local Episcopal bishop has rightly denounced the Proud Boys destruction of yard signs but was curiously reticent about the arson attack on one of her churches.
Of course some right wing people on social media proclaimed the attack on St. John’s Episcopal Church was part of a wider leftist violent anti-Christian revolution. Actually, the leftist hooligans who rioted on May 31, like the Proud Boys on Saturday, were likely few in number. But both sides of the ideological spectrum often like to highlight extreme acts by the radical few as supposedly widely representative of their adversaries.
Sadly the AME pastor whose church yard sign was trashed editorialized in the Washington Post that the Proud Boys represented an intrinsic reality about America:
The myth of the American imperium is deeply rooted in falsehoods and forgetfulness, in intentional historical amnesia and obfuscation. Liberty was not the founding American impulse; genocide was. The blessing of God did not secure this nation’s prosperity. The forced labor of my ancestors did. The founders were not committed to a republic or a democracy. They were committed to a racialized plutocracy led by propertied White males.
A sign came down on Saturday. The Black Lives Matter banner in front of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, where I am privileged to serve as pastor, was removed and destroyed on Saturday evening. I am deeply disturbed by this incident (one of several incidents targeting houses of worship), but I am more disturbed by the continued mythology of imperial America. This mythology supports those who commit violence against human beings for political ends, deny citizens their right to vote, denigrate sacred spaces and claim as their own whatever they survey.
Really? American core principles support Proud Boys and their vandalism? So are the Proud Boys then right that they really DO represent the TRUE America?
The mythology that motivated the perpetrators on Saturday night was the underbelly of the American narrative — that White men can employ violence to take what they want and do what they want and call that criminality justice, freedom and liberty.
The world’s empires have all fallen upon the ash heap of history. Only ideologues believe that the American empire will last forever. The death rattle gets louder with every frivolous lawsuit that seeks to overturn the election, with every conspiracy theory that gains purchase, with every refusal to protect the vulnerable from the coronavirus unless corporations are protected first. The political imagination of this entire nation is captive to a white-supremacist myth. Only a new narrative can change the way we order this society.
The “entire” nation is captive?
This cleric also ties the Proud Boys and racism to capitalism:
The media, academia and religious institutions alike often behave as if American capitalism was decreed by the divine. The economic infrastructure of this nation generates inhumane inequality. Religious fundamentalists believe in individual sin while turning a blind eye to the sinfulness of an economic system that forces working people to pay more of their income in taxes while refusing to pay them living wages, that deprives them of health care and humane retirements. And all this happens while the rich grow richer.
Those who ripped down our sign — whether they are aware of it or not — suffer from kleptocratic, crony capitalism in the United States.
I’m skeptical the Proud Boys are committed to capitalism or free market economics. They may indeed, as the cleric’s column perhaps suggests, see themselves as victims of corporate capitalism. Like most extremists, they are likely drawn to their cause because they’re disconnected from family, community, religion and meaningful vocations. Like radicals on the left, they find fraternity together in their grievance and in hatred for their enemies.
The Proud Boys don’t represent America or any significant segment of it. Like their rioting counterparts on the far left, they are morally and spiritually adrift, replacing religion with their political anger. Amplifying their importance only feeds their delusions. We should instead pray for their lost souls and evangelize them.
Far leftists hate America, which they equate with the Third Reich. Proud Boys claim to be super patriots but they are profoundly unAmerican, as they proved Saturday night. America does not align with the twisted imaginary narratives of these extremes.
Nor does America align with the pastor’s narrative as an intrinsically wicked and genocidal, racist empire perhaps beyond redemption whose “death rattles” he seems to celebrate.
Like all societies, America is a community of sinners that God has undeservedly blessed. Christians are called as in all nations to love, serve and pray for America. Its collective sins should be repented. Its blessings merit thanks to God.
You can’t reform what you hate. You can only repair what you love. Abraham pleaded for Sodom. Jonah saved Nineveh. Jesus wept for Jerusalem. The church’s permanent goal is repentance and redemption for all persons and societies, even America.
Some are damning America. Some fatuously claim to love America even as they betray and distort its highest principles. Who will love and pray for America and all its people?