Editor’s note: Today’s UM Voices contributor is the Rev. Andrew C. Thompson, an ordained elder in the Arkansas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church serving as senior pastor of First Church Springdale. UM Voices is a forum for different voices within the United Methodist Church (UMC) on pressing issues of denominational concern. UM Voices contributors represent only themselves and not IRD/UMAction.
Dear Church family,
“…with liberty and justice for all.”
That is the way our Pledge of Allegiance to the flag ends: “with liberty and justice for all.” They are important words. In order for us to live in a nation where liberty and justice exist for all people, we must be a nation that abides by the rule of law and respects our democratic process of government. Prior to moving to Springdale in 2015, my family and I lived in the city of Marion—the county seat of Crittenden County. On the façade of the courthouse in Marion reads the statement, “Obedience to the Law is Liberty.” I always loved to read that sentence when I would drive by the courthouse, and I think it speaks to a deep truth. Without the rule of law, we will end up with the rule of tyranny. And the way that we would get there is through chaos, disorder, and violence.
What we witnessed in our nation’s capital yesterday almost defies belief. As I watched and prayed for our country throughout the afternoon, I found myself gripped by a strange mixture of emotions: anger, fear, and sadness. At one point, I saw an image of a rioter who had broken into the chamber of the U.S. Senate and was lounging in the vice president’s chair taking pictures with his phone. I have been in that chamber myself, and it is hallowed ground for our Republic. The disrespect that was shown in that moment, and the desecration shown to the Capitol building throughout the afternoon, are outrageous.
Following the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a woman supposedly asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well doctor, what have we got—a republic, or a monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
I believe the events of the past seven months or so have shown us how fragile our Republic can be given where we are in our history and culture right now. Last July, left-wing agitators repeatedly attacked and tried to burn the federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon. Yesterday, right-wing rioters broke into and vandalized the U.S. Capitol. In the latter instance, the rioters were disrupting the electoral process by which we choose our government and effect a peaceful transfer of power. These are assaults on the very form of government that we hold dear; in the case of what happened yesterday, it was a threat to our democracy in the building that, more than any other, represents our government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
As a pastor, I try to exercise real discipline when it comes to making statements that could be construed as political. Given that we have a politically diverse congregation, I see that as my responsibility in order to respect the various views and convictions of our members. Yet it is possible to make a political statement that is not a partisan statement—that is, a political statement about what it means to be an American who believes in our form of government and believes that it is worth struggling to preserve. So with that in mind, let me offer this: I have, in my life, had the opportunity to travel to countries on four different continents. Some of those countries have governmental systems and political histories that we would never wish on ourselves. What I have learned from visiting those nations, learning their histories, and speaking with their people is that no country on earth is immune from the dangers of political violence and tyranny. Indeed, the only thing that holds a nation together is the collective determination of men and women of good will to preserve the society they have been given and hopefully improve upon it for their children. In the United States of America, we have all been given a great gift; but in order for it to be preserved and passed on to the generation that will follow us, we have to come together in respect, love, and mutual good will. What we have seen over the past year—and what we saw yesterday in particular—will only get worse if we do not make a concerted effort to restore decency, respect, and a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood among the citizens of our nation.
As Christian people, we should be at the forefront of healing and repairing the social fabric of America. What can you do to contribute to that? Ask yourself that question. How can we all be advocates for compassion, care, and beauty in our world? Colossians 3:14-15 says, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.” An attitude of love, peace, and thanksgiving seems to me to be a good place to start. These need to be commitments that we not only feel but also act upon.
Our land is hurting, and we all need to join together to work toward its healing. I pray that God grant us the grace to do so today, and every day from now on.
May God bless you during this challenging time ~
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Andrew C. Thompson