Tongues of Fire

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By Beverly Spears

In Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is represented by names that denote breath and life, wisdom and understanding, empowerment and action in the world. Spirit comes as the sound of a mighty rushing wind– as Tongues of Fire descending. In this form it is radical, fierce and purifying.

In the wake of the presidential election, America is in crisis. It is a moral crisis stoked by hate and bigotry cloaked in political ideology. How do we respond?

The central tenants of Christianity are love, inclusiveness and reconciliation. Based on these principles, I categorically reject any interpretation of Christian scripture that sanctions racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. I categorically reject ANY justification for a follower of the Way of Jesus to overlook, or condone open, unabashed, unrepentant bigotry by any person or institution.

Jesus named and called out the religious hypocrites of his time. I will not stand silently by while the hypocrites and haters of our time despoil the Christian tradition. In the vernacular, if you come in the name of Jesus, you’d better come correct. Anything else is blasphemy.

I understand the anger and pain of those white Americans who feel oppressed, excluded, disaffected, and disrespected–those who think they are being robbed of their basic human dignity. I understand it, but I struggle to empathize with it because I am an African-American woman. For Native Americans, and African-Americans, denial of human dignity, social and economic oppression, exclusion and disrespect has been the status quo throughout the history of this nation. If you are one of those disaffected white Americans, you are walking in our shoes, and we know all too well that they are killing your feet. But immigrants and people of color did not fit you with these shoes. Your bitterness toward us is misdirected. Your hatred will not bring back jobs, but it will devour the soul of our country.

One problem with hatred is that it breeds hatred. Donald Trump‘s hate and fear mongering threaten to unleash the demons that lie dormant in all of us. Not one of us has a lock on righteousness. We are all complicit. One of the most racist incidents I’ve ever experienced came in a church community of largely so-called progressive white liberals. Some of the most xenophobic rhetoric I’ve ever heard came from the mouths of African-American pastors in a public meeting.

A friend shared this thought with me recently: “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” This resonated with me immediately, but then I reflected on what Jesus said about love: “…I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….” This is the fire walk of the Christian path, and all people of good will.

We are an ideologically, racially and economically divided nation. Economics and race are inextricably bound together in the United States. This is not news to people of color in America, and now white America no longer has a place to hide from this reality. As tempted as I am to indulge in righteous indignation, my better self–my spiritual self– knows it is absolutely the wrong thing to do. This division among us is not sustainable. There is work to be done.

In Christian scripture, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’ disciples as Tongues of Fire. The fire purified and forged them in preparation for their ministry. It burned away their personal agendas, and opened their hearts, enabling them to bring the Good News of love, inclusion and reconciliation to the people.

To begin our work, let Spirit purify our hearts. Let’s look within, name our own demons and call them out. It is then that Holy Wisdom can inform our actions. Only when we bring our hearts together with our heads can we effectively resist and oppose hatred and bigotry; only then can we do the vital work of repairing, reconciling and recreating this nation in the name of what is good, and true, honorable and right, excellent and praiseworthy.

To be continued…

Rev. Beverly Spears is an ordained American Baptist minister, teacher and preacher of Evolutionary Christianity.

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