…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks… (Is. 2:4)
Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears…. (Joel 3:10)
Yesterday I wrote that one of the most helpful and holy pictures I had seen in a long time was of the police officers who were kneeling before the protesters. Today, sadly, I am going to write of a picture that I find dismaying and disheartening. The picture I am referring to is of the elected leader of our nation standing in front of a church while lifting up a bible. Not only does this picture itself trouble me, but so does the fact that the police teargassed the clergy of that church, along with some seminarians, who were peacefully protesting, in order to take the picture.
I have listed two scriptures today that clearly contradict each other. Just as well-intentioned people can disagree, so can the writers of scripture.
So, who is right? I would say that they both are. I believe there is a time to “beat [our] swords into plowshares,” and a time to “beat [our] plowshares into swords.” There is a time to reconcile and a time to do battle; a time to be conciliatory and a time to defend. Careful discernment on how to respond to particular situations is what is called for.
For me—and I want to be very personal here, and I am not telling anyone how you need to react—Isaiah’s words apply more persuasively and predominately than Joel’s. I am afraid that only using Joel’s militant approach will inflame more anger, incite more violence, perpetuate more misunderstanding, cause more pain, and produce more resentments.
Why do I think that Isaiah has more to say to us right now? Because racism is real in our country; because black people have a right to be angry; because there have been too many cruel and senseless killings by those who are called to protect and preserve life, not attack and take it; because conditions and opportunities are not the same for all races; because black people have been enslaved, abused, lynched, raped, and murdered for 400 years. Even if we personally have never participated in any racist behavior, there can be no denying that our country, our communities, and our culture has too often allowed it, if not sanctioned and even defended it.
As much as I believe that Isaiah’s approach is the path that has the most to say to us right now, I am not giving any tacit permission to the violence, burnings, and looting that is taking place. Although I believe that most of the protesters have been doing so peacefully and respectfully—which is their right, there are some who have been bent on destruction and mayhem. Should we give free rein to this group? Absolutely not. I believe it is imperative to find the right way to protect property from being destroyed; and I also believe it is imperative to find the right way to protect those who are protesting peacefully. The choice is not to protect all the people and let the property be destroyed; or to protect all the property and hurt the people. This time calls for a nuanced, balanced, discerning, and complex view—a view which weaves together the peaceful voice of Isaiah, and the protective voice of Joel.
One of the most disturbing things about the photo of the elected leader of our nation standing in front of the church with the bible in his hand is that he was using a church that does not belong to him. The church belongs to Jesus, and I am hard pressed to think that the One who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” could ever bless teargassing people before a sanctuary dedicated to worshipping Almighty God in order to have a photo-op.
I think our only hope is to dial down the rhetoric, refrain from threats, listen more and defend less, admit our mistakes, confess the sin of racism, dedicate ourselves to working for justice for all, and to humbly read our bibles and not brandish them like a weapon.
As terrible, trying, dismaying, confusing, discouraging, and disheartening as this time is right now, we, as people of faith, must not lose hope. We believe in a great God who can do great things, and if ever there was a time when we needed the grace, guidance, truth, and righteousness of God to come, it is now. If this be our prayer together—“Come Lord, and heal this land; come Lord, and give us your wisdom and courage; come Lord, and help us to truly make this country a home where all of God’s children can live, flourish, and be protected, safe, and free”—then we can have hope that God will provide what is needed and called for, so that the “better angels” of our common life might prevail.
- When do you think we need to “beat our swords into plowshares?”
- When do you think we need to “beat our plowshares into swords?”
- Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” What are those words saying to you right now?