Unity: Weapon, or Word of Love?   Leave a comment

My Gregorian mentor, Brother Karekin Madteos Yarian, BSG, posted a short piece on Facebook on Monday calling for Christian love in the face of a world gone mad. And I agreed with almost all of it, but had a knee-jerk reaction of disagreement with the following couplet:

When anyone creates division…
You must speak a word of unity.

I got stuck there because I’ve heard the words “division” and “unity” used as weapons of privilege against people crying out for justice. “The Black Lives Matter movement is creating division in our society.” “Talking about the equality of [LGBTQ+] people within the Church threatens the unity of the Church.” “Feminists need to stop being so divisive.”

Divisive is the condemning label put on those who simply point out existing divisions. Unity is the word white men in power use to maintain the status quo that oppresses and marginalizes women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people.

When I hear people criticizing division in the above contexts I think of Jesus’ words in the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Luke: “51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three…” Following Jesus means speaking for justice even when one’s family and friends disagree.

When I hear people speak of unity or peace in the above contexts, I think of Jeremiah’s repeated cry (in chapters 6 and 8), “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter From A Birmingham Jail, wrote of “the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

Now of course I knew that wasn’t how Br. Karekin Madteos was using those words. And since he framed that couplet between “When anyone preaches hate…/You must speak a word of love,” and “When anyone dehumanizes another…/You must proclaim the dignity of every person,” it was reasonable to assume no one else reading carefully would be thinking of oppression—quite the opposite.

I spoke with my Brother about my struggle with those words, and he encouraged me not to abandon words that Jesus makes holy through his use, but to reclaim them from having been  “co-opted by the powerful to keep us divided.”

That’s a tough thing to do in a nation where so many words have been corrupted to Orwellian levels. Politicians have tried to convince us that “torture” doesn’t mean what the dictionary says it means. Bills in Congress are regularly given titles that mean the exact opposite of what the bills do. “Law and Order” has for over half a century been a code for “keeping black and brown people in their place.” And a politician caught bragging about sexual assault defends himself by saying, “They’re just words.”

“Everybody’s crying ‘Mercy,’” lamented Blues singer Mose Allison, “when they don’t know the meaning of the word.”

So what might reclaiming unity and peace look like? Br. Karekin Madteos reminded me of St. Paul’s admonition in Galatians 3:28 “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” A call to see the value in unity, to be sure.

And what came to my mind after a few minutes of meditating on the question was something Dr. King spoke on several occasions: “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. And what affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”

Unity means working together to eliminate the divisions we have let fester in society and in the Church, the offenses heaped upon marginalized people. It means listening to those cries for justice, for dignity. Peace is not a platitude, but lifting the common good and harmony of all people above those divisions.

Br. Karekin Madteos’s piece ends with the words, “You were not meant to be Caesar’s sword. You were called to be God’s shield./Remember your calling./Peace!” We so often follow the call of empire, or nation, rather than the call of divine justice and mercy. We so often accept the definitions of words given by the powerful, rather than insisting on their holy meaning. May we do better.

Posted 12 October 2016 by Br. Scott Michael Pomerenk, BSG in Uncategorized

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