On Saturday, January 21, I turned on the news and saw hundreds of thousands of people marching in Washington, D.C., to protest the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States. I called Mom immediately.
“Hey, girly,” she said. “I’m watching the people march. Except there’s so many people that they can’t march.”
“Is this normal?” I asked. I was pretty sure it was not normal for millions of people in major cities across the United States and the world to protest after an inauguration, but I needed confirmation.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire life.”
This was not the first time someone called an event unprecedented. In America alone, there have been many unique events in the past two decades: September 11; the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina; the Orlando nightclub massacre; the Boston Marathon bombing; the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting; the mass shooting in San Bernardino; the peculiar and violent altercations between police and civilians; the craziness of the 2016 Presidential Election; and now, the diverse reactions to the inauguration.
As time passes, these events become consumed in a haze of chaos that becomes thicker and spreads further. They are linked with topics that we have very strong opinions about: religion, racism, gun control, sexuality, classism, abortion, immigration, and terrorism. People become angrier, more verbally aggressive, and more violent as they act out their beliefs. Strangely, we can’t remember how we got here. We ask, “What is happening to us? Why are people posting such insane opinions on the Internet?”
But, if we sit for a moment in the best form of silence we can muster in these noisy times, we will see that the past lingers, and all along our nation was quietly dividing itself for years because we never resolved our issues over gun control or racism or abortion or sexuality or terrorism when a national tragedy struck. As a result, the haze thickens, and we are stuck in a violent storm spewing violence at our neighbor about our beliefs and rights without any knowledge of how to end the storm. We only make it worse.
Some of the worst storms are on Facebook, where I spent far too much time reading reactions to the inauguration. I could hardly believe the awful things people I know wrote about black people, white people, people who support abortion, people who don’t support abortion, people who supported Hillary Clinton, people who support Donald Trump, people who marginalize women, and all the other issues that are far too numerous to mention here. The most tragic news is that many Christians sounded just like everyone else, and their voices were lost in the storm.
I remember James 3:5-12, which clearly tells us to watch our mouths, to be quiet, and to speak in a manner that brings peace and wisdom rather than contribute to chaos:
Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
It is natural to have opinions about what’s happening in America, but rashly broadcasting those opinions is not the first thing we should do. Rather, we should stop and pray, asking the Lord, “How do you want me to respond? I know there is a specific role for me in these times. What do I do?”
When the Lord answers, we are free to speak or act, confident that our response aligns with the Lord’s mission for these chaotic and unpredictable times. Until then, we need to be quiet because we’re only contributing to the evil that’s brewing and are quickly losing our ability to speak into the haze and help unite our country.