By Rev. Ken Humbert
Sunday, August 12, on the National Mall in front of the Native American Museum
11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Church-on-the-Mall, Gathering to make a difference,
to answer hate with love, because silence is no answer at all.
COME. With your whole heart. And your whole church. PLEASE.
WHY… UNITED TO LOVE? Because Jesus says so, every which way. Take just these. “Love one another as I love you.” “Love God with your all (after all, God IS love), and your neighbor as yourself.” Utterly basic! Also, love has consequences. “For God so loved the world….” You know the rest by heart. And this, “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Among us Methodists, it shouldn’t take much argument to say 1) love is godly, 2) love unites, not divides, 3) what is unloving is ungodly and divisive. Nothing more compelling can or need be said.
Why are we gathering on the National Mall, Aug. 12, a Sunday, from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. under the banner “United to Love”? Because it is godly. It is of Christ and at Christ’s command. Because at that hour, at Lafayette Park, with 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as its backdrop, thousands will gather to “Unite the Right.” Their message: “Only white is right, white is superior, hate has a place when the issue is race.”
Someone needs to answer, “This is ungodly, divisive, not God’s best dream for God’s children, all of whom God fashioned in God’s own image and into whom God breathed God’s very own breath. To deny that is, quite literally, to try to take God’s breath away.”
United Methodists are prepared to answer hate with love: publicly, audibly, visibly, powerfully. And as important: invitationally. United Methodists are a friendly people: friends with God, with one another, with many, many others. Now is the time to invite them all, unite them all.
But there’s a catch. Nobody invites friends to the house or picnic in the park, then fails to be there to open the door or hand out the hotdogs! Radical hospitality requires radical presence. And ever since God chose coming-in-Christ over sending-a-surrogate, Heaven has signaled, “You gotta be there to make a difference.” This is why we need you, your church, your friends to be present at United to Love: to make a difference.
It will take some doing. You might do Church on the bus that day. Or let this event be your worship. Imagine: church at home is earlier, or briefer, then we head for the rally. Imagine: everyone can’t or won’t go, but those who will…attend your local church, are consecrated there as ambassadors for Christ and “sent forth on a mission” to speak love-to-hate on behalf of your congregation so the region, the nation and the world can see.
Pastors and congregations will need to be creative as well as committed. But we can do this. Imagine: our 626 BWC churches send a mere tithe of our average 56,505 weekly worshippers and over 5,600 Methodists literally face the nation’s Capitol with a message of love and racial inclusion. If we all bring a friend, Methodist or otherwise, we can make a mighty witness.
What a counterpoint to the message in that other park, facing that other national landmark. And what a travesty it would be for hate to poll 10,000 that day and love some lesser number.
Why? Why will I be there? Because Jesus says…. Because there’s a difference to be made. Because there’s a church to be gathered for justice, for mercy and for Jesus’ sake.
And because it’s personal, too. Fifty three years worth. Because at 17… I was called, then nearly pushed aside for asking how our pale church could partner with neighbors of another hue. ‘Because by 20… I could see racial victims and victimizers. I looked more like the latter class, but marching (just a little). Because by 33 a threatened cross-burning greeted our efforts to stand by newly arrived neighbors the KKK said didn’t “look right”. Because our 11-year-old said on our Main Street parsonage front porch, “Dad, there’s guys in the street at the corner with white robes. Kinda like yours. Are they like us? They got mask-hats, Dad. They look a little scary.”
Why will I be there Aug. 12? Because there are still folks on the corner and people watching who need to be moved, even in their hearts. Because I don’t want the city homicide detectives investigating any other pastors’ anonymous mail or under-the-office-door threats when they marry cross-racial couples or others “unapproved” by somebody.
Because there’s more, but this is enough. And because I came into a Baltimore-Washington Conference of 792 churches, with a weekly attendance 33,460 greater than now, with a cadre of clergy and lay saints who taught me more than I was willing to learn, and urged me to do more for Christ than I was ever bold enough to achieve. And because a Church that shows its face in the face of evil, clears its throat and speaks love to hate, rises to lift a people or a nation, and stands in the way of those who would lower both. This is a church I’m willing to commit to and God in Christ is prepared to bathe with grace and multiply in witness. And this is why I pray to see you too, Aug.12 on the National Mall.