Clean Up the Temple of Our Democracy and Our Hearts

Clean Up the Temple of Our Democracy and Our Hearts January 11, 2021

US Capitol, West Side, Martin Falbisoner (1978–), September 5, 2013; Creative Commons

Rioters desecrated the temple of American Democracy on January 6. That is exactly what Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called the heinous act when she stated: “To those who engaged in the gleeful desecration of this, our temple of Democracy, American Democracy, justice will be done.” Long after the clean-up and restoration of the brick, mortar, wood and glass of our democracy’s temple, the nation’s Capitol, is finished, we will be cleaning up the damage done to our democracy. The aftershock and tremors continue. Such trembling may even foreshadow future hostilities.

The desecration of the nation’s temple did not begin on January 6. The desecration of the ideals that the Capitol symbolizes as the people’s temple of governance has been going on since the founding of the nation, when our founding fathers did not extend the meaning of the following words of the Declaration of Independence to include all people and free the slaves: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Later, the Thirteenth Amendment brought an end to slavery and Reconstruction, which aimed to extend citizenship and equal rights to former slaves. However, Jim Crow laws enforced segregation and inequities on the African American population. While headway was made during the Civil Rights era, there were setbacks that manifested themselves (and still do) in a variety of domains, including the prison system, education, and healthcare. It often feels as if when our country takes two steps forward, we take one step back. President Lincoln’s assassination and later Dr. King’s assassination reveal how much resistance to equality and equity there has been in this nation where racism is our original sin. And yet, as Bob Dylan wrote and sang following the slaying of Medgar Ever, the person who pulled the trigger isn’t the one ultimately to blame. Assassins are often only pawns in the game. All too often, those who are most responsible for bloodshed are far removed from the actions in seats of power. Such was the case January 6.

The racial inequities were on display when one compares the desecration of the nation’s temple and the police and military response to the Black Lives Matter protestors last year in Lafayette Square in D.C., as Van Jones noted. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those officers who died seeking to bring order during the riot last week, as well as to those of others who died. My thoughts and prayers also go out to all those who have suffered as a result of racial discrimination in our country. We need to clean house, namely the temple of our democracy, so that we move forward toward the realization of life, liberty, and happiness for all our citizens.

In addition to the needed house cleaning that is in order for the racist carnage over the centuries in the US, we must set about cleaning the house or temple of our racialized and nationalized souls and church. The Lord Jesus does not tolerate nationalized religion and hearts among his followers. As I indicated in a prior post, Jesus sought to bring an end to the nationalistic agenda of the Jewish people centered around Second Temple Judaism. He replaced the temple with his body and offered himself up as the ultimate temple where God and people meet (See Matthew 21:12-17; John 2:13-16). And yet, all too often we find in the church attempts on the part of the Right and Left to make the nation’s temple the temple of God. Jesus alone is that divine-human temple. The church is also called to be God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17), and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). When anyone displaces him in our hearts as Christians, we open the door to nationalistic and racist agendas overtaking us.

The church is to be a people involving the removal of the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles (See Ephesians 2:11-22). All too often, we re-erect that wall because of our own homogeneous and racialized groupings. All too often when others cry out over what they perceive as racial injustice, we drown out their cries with distorted shouts for unity, which intentionally or unintentionally benefit dominant culture ingroups. The only kind of unity worthy of the New Testament vision is diverse unity involving agape love, equity, and justice.

The distrust of various groups across the racialized, ideological spectrum and partisanship in our nation’s capitol’s halls suggest that we are the Divided States of America. Such distrust and accompanying hostility pollute our nation’s soul and could lead to our ruin. The same goes for the church.

We must clean house after the desecration of the US temple by pursuing equity and a just peace. We must do the same in the church when all too often our political ideologies of a secular bent dictate to us our ultimate divine allegiance, thereby making a mockery of God.

Biblical judgment and house cleanings always start with the household of God, and with people who claim to know better and serve in official capacities as religious leaders. So may God do a house cleaning in my heart. May God forgive me for my spiritual blindness and for desecrating the temple with hostile thoughts toward others, for operating all too often according to racial privilege, and for pledging my ultimate allegiance to anyone other than Jesus. Lord, have mercy on me. May I take action to make right and do right and pursue a just and merciful peace. Have mercy on the church and on this country. May the words of President Lincoln at his second inaugural speak for all of us:

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology & Culture, Multnomah University & Seminary; Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins; and author of numerous works, including Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church. You can read more about the author here.

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