As the Philadelphia-area church congregation sang the hymn “Near the Cross” this past Sunday, I’m sure that most in attendance, as I was, were praying for the souls of 30 killed in mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton at the hands of two white males over the weekend.
And in that moment, I glanced up and over at the armed security guard, dutifully watching the entrances. I found comfort in his proximity, his nearness, and I also felt relief in the knowledge that the weapon he stood ready to use in the event of the worst-case scenario was most likely not the only one in the sanctuary.
Who would have ever thought that it would come to this — that we would use the words “weapon” and “sanctuary” in the same sentence? But that is where things stand in our country today.
And if you attend a church that is mostly African American in this age of emboldened bigotry then you can’t rule out the possibility that your church might be targeted by one of these madmen. That being the case, I’d suggest you cast aside the Kumbaya gibberish that you don’t need protection in God’s house from the scourge of white supremacy and welcome the presence of armed security in church.
But don’t take my word for it. Rather, heed the warning of FBI Director Christopher Wray. He testified earlier this year in front the Senate Judiciary Committee that “the majority of domestic terrorism cases that we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence.”
The FBI found that hate crimes rose more than 17% in Trump’s first year as president. The ADL found that white supremacist murders more than doubled in 2017, and The Washington Post reported that counties that hosted Trump rallies in 2016 saw a stunning 226% rise in hate crimes.
When Vanilla Isis is shooting up synagogues in Pittsburgh and slithering into churches in Charleston, South Carolina and mosques in New Zealand with the sole purpose of assassinating innocent people because they find their race and sometimes their religion detestable, what other option do you have? Turn the other cheek and you are likely to catch a bullet in it. Churches, mosques and other houses of worship are high-priority targets.
These Deplorables are encouraged by a president who “otherizes” Black and Brown people by suggesting they are invaders who have ruined the image of painter Norman Rockwell’s version of a lily white America, which leaves them feeling marginalized. Once a given, these disaffected white males no longer see themselves reflected dominantly in the culture anymore and are now lashing out in need of a scapegoat.
This sort of violence, of course, is nothing we have not seen before in America’s history.
While much of the talk this month will be of the 400 years that have passed since slaves first arrived in what would become the United States, far less attention has been paid to what transpired in the Red Summer of 1919. That’s when thousands of African-American veterans returned home from World War I hoping that having put their lives on the line for their country would end the third-class treatment they experienced before they left and result in a better life for them and their families.
It did not.
Rather than seeing them and their families as fellow Americans, whites saw them as competition for jobs, housing and political clout. This resulted in a 10-month stretch that touched off what is politely described as rioting in at least 25 cities. The reality is that hundreds of Black men, women and children were burned alive, shot, hanged and beaten to death by white mobs.
This was 300 years after enslaved people arrived in America and 100 years ago from today, and every current metric used to keep track of white supremacy indicates that it is still flourishing.
These hate crimes that are being committed in the era of Trump would be celebrated for their brutality by Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klansmen. Today’s white supremacist has no problem walking into churches, schools and anywhere else they believe non-whites and others are hatching a plot to replace them, and kill as many innocent people as possible.
With no surcease in sight, there is only one option in the presence of a threat: beat them to the punch — or the shot — even if that shot has to be taken in a place of worship.