Jesus came into his own troubled time proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is present―and identifying its appearance in our behavior towards both the powerful and the powerless. If living out a 'Kingdom' in a purported democracy troubles us today, consider the better translation of what he said as, “The realm of Abba dwells among us now.” When asked where exactly the realm of God was, he did not spin metaphors about streets of gold but simply replied, “The Kingdom of God is within you.”
I believe it still is. He hints here that it is in all of us together as well as in any one of us. The irony that the Pharisees did not have the spiritual discernment to recognize that the message of the Kingdom of God was at hand or being offered to them is our agonizing irony today too.
The contentious fracturing of a country after a Trump election has resulted in incidents, events, activities, and rallies where some humiliate, demean, embarrass, harass and dominate others. That this has happened on either of the differing sides of a widening fracture line requires Christian pacifists and the non-Christian nonviolent and those wishing to be more peaceful and less violent to speak both with urgency and vigor to the powerful, the as-yet-unaffected, and the clearly threatened. Shaming, blaming, name calling and more subtle forms of violence are as wrong as overt acts of violence. Violence is immoral no matter which “side” one purports to be on. While it is naive to suggest that we blandly and blithely strive for unity over division it is also equally naïve to meet violence with violence.Speech does not have to be hate speech to be violent speech. Mild violence is still violence.
The committed and aspiring nonviolent must gather, be sturdy, be prominent, be vigorous, and be vocal to be sure. But we do so knowing the truth about us and them. We are not better than those with who we have ideological, tactical, social media meme, physical and vocal conflict with: we are different from them. Committed Christian pacifists and the unswervingly nonviolent are perpetually in a labor union with the violent where the mildly and uber-violent alike will likely never ever pay the dues we pay ― often with dangerously absurd difficulty and price―but they or their children will surely benefit from the lifeblood of our work.
If only contrasting Obama and Trump, one might not ever hold Obama accountable for his immoral actions in economic and military policy. Economic policy can't simply be about maximizing growth and improving well-being for as many people as possible. Obama did pull off a dramatic catch back from the fall off an economic precipice triggered by the unfettered, reckless greed of powerful, self-serving entities. Yet while doing so the former president also fed a large fundraising funnel for a future candidate by failing to hold accountable those who pushed us to the very brink of moral and economic precariousness to begin with. The very poor in America are still very poor for all the same reasons. Moral notions of accountability, fairness, consequences and responsibility needed to be at the forefront of the former president’s practice in formulating and implementing policy especially for those least likely to claw themselves up from a hole made even deeper than even imagined before the economic collapse and the rise of ISIS. Military policy can't simply be reduced to targets and improving the number of euphemistically named military markers through the death of innocent civilians. Drones and torture and collateral civilian casualties are all ordinates on the same moral line. President Obama directed a drone strike for the first time shortly after taking office, on January 22, 2009. That strike missed its target, and Obama was made aware almost immediately of the innocents who died in the attack. By the end of 2009 the CIA had already conducted its 100th drone strike in Pakistan. The Obama Justice Department did appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the abuse of prisoners from the prior administration, but the inquiry wrapped up in 2012 without ever bringing charges against anyone involved.
Speaking kingdom truth to the current executive orders from the president that are mean spirited, wrongly targeted, poorly implemented and in the context of dangerously brusque relationship abroad and at home require a strong word against orders that are clearly against both American and Christian values. First, because this order dishonestly targets the wrong groups of people. Have refugees carried out fatal terror attacks here in the United State? No. Second, the order does not target Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, the countries of origin of those who carried out terrorist attacks in the U.S. starting with the 9-11 attacks in 2001. Do these countries also happen to be places where President Trump and his family have business interests? Yes. So this is unlikely to be coincidence. Third, this order has complicated implications for thousands of people who are in the United States legally, including families, businesses, and corporations who have already paid for and subjected themselves to a stringent vetting system. Those who followed the rules, broke no law and are vetted members of our internationally entwined society deserve better. But so do those who did not follow some laws, could not be vetted and brought to America their utter humanity if nothing else. The orders that blocked 500,000 or more legal U.S. residents from returning to America from trips abroad jeopardize more than American values and reputation.These orders also jeopardizes our sense of Kingdom hospitality and welcome that is deeply rooted in what makes for the common good here in America and around the world.
Those who see this issue differently on either side will loudly debate the facts and question the legitimacy of the reasons so many are angry, activated, and afraid. These executive orders aren’t the only anti-kingdom acts. The rise of one who considers torture as viable tool, the one who fires those who suggest he is wrong, the one who seeks to strengthen a nation through strong-arm tactics and compliments land grabbing tyrants, the one who silences the press or any speech questioning the government, and the one who through persecution and shaming of minority groups in the name of safety and security and other strategies must be called out for what he and his cronies actually are.
Today, more than 65 million people around the world are forcibly displaced from their homes while millions more leave for a chance for freedom, opportunity, and dignity. Given this extraordinary level of suffering, Christians cannot be complacent or naive about either the reasons for or the solutions to such displacements. Americans can dispute how, when, and where to vet those humbled masses yearning to be free, but Christians cannot avoid the story of Jesus and the good Samaritan when true neighbors are needed on every continent. But nor can Christians pacifists and the adamantly nonviolent condone or ignore the violence done in opposition to the mouth pieces of Fascism. That the ethnic cleansing advocate Richard Spencer actually got punched twice in one day says more about the “other side” ―who should be our kin but show by these actions they are not―than it does about Spencer and his dangerous allies.
Where indeed is the Kingdom to be found in such times? The Kingdom, as Jesus hints, like nonviolence, is unmappable, but is rather always made among us along liminal lay lines of latitude as we face the volatile intersection that emerges when the powerful overrun the powerless. If lack of 'Kingdom' latitude in a purported democracy troubles us today, let us determine to draw wide, long, world-wrapping lines for such a kingdom now.