Why We Must Reason Together Through This State of Emergency

Love Trumps Hate

In conversations this past week with long-time friends and comrades from near and far, three shared reactions to the news of election night always rise to the surface: grief, rage, and dislocation.

I want to suggest that we should value the sense of dislocation, as we are indeed in a new territory with new and unprecedented dangers in front of us. It’s not a bad thing to feel dislocated and to realize that the strategies and tactics, and even the renewing rituals, that we have always relied upon may not be sufficient in this hour.

It’s not a bad thing to feel dislocated and to realize that the strategies and tactics, and even the renewing rituals, that we have always relied upon may not be sufficient in this hour.

What I hear amid the practical proposals being floated here and there are two primary themes having to do with building resilient and revolutionary community and, in a related way, with building a practical strategic program of massive resistance to Trump’s New Order.

I am in complete sympathy with both of these themes. What I am missing is any emphasis on building ethical capital in engagement with Americans who are currently out of sympathy with us “elites” (and never were quote marks more needed).

By ethical engagement I certainly do not mean capitulating to the Trump agenda, as many Congressional Democrats seem only too eager to do. I mean something completely different. I mean bearing witness through sacrifice, which was the improbably effective approach of the 20th century Black Freedom Movement.

This bearing witness initiative would of course have a different shape today, but an underlying ethical statement would ring out and make a difference if enough locked-down “haters” were to feel that we truly wish to love them into a more generous and less defensive consciousness. The great achievement of the civil rights movement was to find a way to love its enemies. That sets a very high bar, but I don’t see any other way forward.

“Come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18) is a familiar Bible verse that has been badly used over the centuries by triangulators and apologists for unjust power. But I like it, because the gist here is that God is always inviting us to reach higher, do better, and abandon our unworthy and foolish ways of treating one another.

And I do believe God is now inviting us to reason together, very carefully and respectfully and thoughtfully, about how we best serve the common struggle for justice and peace at such a grim moment.

To be clear, I’m all for the reactive demonstrations, I’m all for statements of outrage, and I’m totally for hearing daring proposals for challenging an already-destroyed Federal system.

peter-laarman-15I don’t disparage any of it. I merely believe that in the face of a very grave threat, we owe it to ourselves and to those who come after us to do our work from within a better and deeper and more spiritually-informed place than we have ever before needed to create. It hardly needs to be said that white people like me should be paying special attention to the reflections and ideas of African Americans, for whom a sense of dislocation has always been a central feature of everyday life.

Peter Laarman

About Peter Laarman

Rev. Peter Laarman serves on the Justice Not Jails steering committee. He formerly directed Progressive Christians Uniting, the LA-based network of activist individuals and congregations that first launched Justice Not Jails in 2012 as a multifaith initiative. He served as the senior minister of New York’s Judson Memorial Church from 1994 to 2004. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, Peter spent 15 years as a labor movement strategist and communications specialist prior to training for ministry.