This is a letter that is intended to be given to my chaplain at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, IL. I graduated from the College in 2003...a few years after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. I know first hand the power of community when the world seems to be a frightening place. I know the capacity of love that those leading that institution have for their students. In recent days vandalism and threats of violence have plagued the campus causing it to close and cancel classes for a few days. When asking how I could help, my friend and the chaplain Reverend H. Scott Matheney said please write and please pray. I want to share what I wrote - and ask you to pray. Pray for those that are afraid. Pray for those that are victims of violence. Pray for those who perpetrate hatred and abuse that they might see the light of Christ and change their path. Pray. Please.
It is not OK. It is not OK.
Unfortunately we are not hearing these words when this nation and world most desperately need to hear that it is not OK. It is not OK for the racial and ethnic slurs and degradation happening within our borders. It is not OK for the homophobic and transphobic comments and teachings coming from so called “well-meaning Christians.” It is not OK that there is silence from the highest offices in this nation from the executive branch to the legislative branch...to the state houses and governors’ mansions. It is not OK that pulpits in churches, synagogues and mosques are being silent and failing the people they are responsible for...failing by not telling their congregants that hatred, racism, xenophobia, trans and homophobia, and sexism is not OK.
Some may say that being political is not part of the church’s responsibility. Polis, the Greek word for city and citizenship is part of the construct of the word politics. To be a responsible citizen is to be political. Jesus was political. He cared for the polis and took on the empire that was committing atrocities beyond imagination. When the church or a clergy person speaks out against the vile words and actions of racists and anti-Semites and those that wish to rob the humanity of others they are doing what Jesus would command. To call out evil. To name it. To say that it is not OK.
This has been on my heart for the past few weeks. It is no wonder why. One year ago the Tree of Life Synagogue was a victim of anti-Semitism. One of the many sins of the church, antisemitism, has claimed the lives of far too many people. It has stained the church and caused our world to go to war with itself. It is not OK.
Just yesterday I received this message from the president of my beloved alma mater; Elmhurst College:
“As you may have heard, the campus recently has experienced some troubling vandalism incidents involving graffiti messages that appear hateful or threatening. After the initial vandalism was found last week in a residence hall, additional threatening graffiti was discovered Sunday night in a restroom in the A.C. Buehler Library. We decided to close campus today, out of an abundance of caution.
While closed today amid an active investigation, we found another threatening graffiti message on campus this afternoon. It remains unclear whether this message was new or was part of the same vandalism that was discovered Sunday night. We immediately notified law enforcement upon this discovery and are closely cooperating with the ongoing investigation.”
It is not OK.
These messages and threats are part of the systemic rise and normalization of hatred - it is unchristian and stands in stark opposition to what the spirit of our nation promises us. Jesus did not die on the cross for hatred to have the final say - and I want my friends and the people of Elmhurst College to know that these messages are not OK.
Perseverance and the power of love and compassion will always trump cowards that write message and make veiled threats. The message that I proclaim as an openly gay and married Lutheran pastor is that the power of love and acceptance can make a difference. The power to make that difference lies in the hands of this rising generation to make the decision to proceed with a life dedicated to making the world better and safer. I believe in the administration and faculty of Elmhurst College - I believe in the work and education they deliver. I believe that tomorrow will be a brighter day and that the students will grow in strength and purpose. I was in my second year as a student at EC on September 11, 2001. It is remarkable how the campus can come together in the midst of tragedy. I found my calling to the ministry to become so much more clear during these times of national crisis...I found my campus community capable of rallying together and embracing one another. I am confident that that is currently happening now. May God bless you. May God protect you. May God walk with you.
Hatred is not OK. But my prayer is that you all are OK.
May the grace and peace of Christ be with you,
Rev. Jason R. Churchill ‘03