“Disappointment” doesn’t even begin to cover how I feel about the news lately. A man dies at the hands of police, and what could and should have been a righteous quest for justice broke out into destruction. What could have been a presidential prayer for wisdom, strength and protection became a profane misuse of a sacred text. What could have been a joyful moment in support of religious freedom devolved to a botched P.R. attempt.
This, needless to say, is a time of unrest. And one of the things that would seem to be bringing people together is the fact that black lives matter. May it be a steppingstone to a new appreciation that all lives matter, and that life is a precious gift. But when you take a look at the Black Lives Matter website, you read an agenda that isn’t quite as unifying. There’s a hostility to the nuclear family — exactly the fundamental unit that I’ve been praying has been undergoing some healing during these pandemic times. The “about” page on the website uncovers a subversive agenda hiding behind euphemisms that somewhat brilliantly — albeit dishonestly — speak to our best intentions.
And about the president’s Bible photo-op: I can only hope they didn’t think this one through in the White House. Scatter a peaceful crowd so the president could hold “a Bible” (not his, Donald Trump seemed to make clear) in front of historic St. John’s Church, which was set fire to the night before. So many things could have been done to help make a step toward peace, but, no. It was clear from social media that some did see it as a statement about religious freedom, but the communication wasn’t universally clear, to say the least.
The president went the next morning to one of my favorite spots in the nation’s capital. Back when things were open to the public, I would often make a visit to the John Paul II Shrine to be reminded of the potential of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God. The exhibits there, thanks to the Knights of Columbus who run the shrine, speak to the fact that all lives matter. John Paul II fought for us to see this, traveled the world so people could hear this.
But when the president went there, originally to sign an executive order in support of religious freedom as international policy, the White House canceled the remarks that would have put it all in context. If you were watching live on C-SPAN, all you saw were the president and the first lady posing for pictures and looking at a statue outside the shrine. Only later did we see photos of them in prayer inside, and speaking to a nun.
The Catholic archbishop of Washington said it was “baffling” and “reprehensible” for a Catholic institution to host the president that day. The event had been planned in advance, and after a few days of setting up the place, it would have been a breach of protocol, to say the least, to somehow insist that morning that the president not come.
The White House should have canceled the visit for many reasons, including respect for the Knights of Columbus, whose commitment to the persecuted and the vulnerable of all colors and in all stages of life is a model for all of us.
If we truly believe that black lives matter and that all lives matter, we are going to have to consider what can unite us and quit being dishonest and bungling opportunities for healing. A deep breath. Actually opening a Bible to pray. These are called for. These would help.