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Jon Meacham, Bishop Michael Curry focus on faith, politics and rebellion

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Within the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol assaults — the place Christian symbols and prayers have been on full show — can faith nonetheless be a power of unity and goodness in America?

That’s certainly one of a number of questions undergirding a virtual event on Thursday (Jan. 13) hosted by Vanderbilt Divinity Faculty and that includes two outstanding Episcopalians: the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, and Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who assists President Joe Biden with speechwriting and serves as canon historian at the Washington National Cathedral.

The pair sat down just about with Faith Information Service earlier this week to debate the occasion, the Jan. 6 rebellion and their ideas on the position of faith and politics.

This interview has been edited for readability and size.

Jon, each you and Bishop Curry participated in events on Capitol Hill final week to mark the one-year anniversary of the rebellion that occurred there on Jan 6, 2021. Religion was a constant throughout that assault, with many members seen lifting spiritual and sometimes Christian symbols, singing Christian hymns and praying Christian prayers as they assaulted the seat of American democracy. As a historian, how did you contextualize that second in American historical past?

Meacham: Non secular religion within the American expertise has given us a few of our most interesting hours and a few of our worst. I imagine that’s completely unsurprising.

The decision of the gospel, the decision of the Hebrew Bible, is to like God, to like your neighbor as your self. That’s the threshold of each our spiritual expertise and our democratic one — lowercase d. If we don’t see one another as neighbors — versus adversaries — then democracy doesn’t work. And I’d argue — and that is most likely farther than Bishop Curry would need to go on this — I’d argue subsequently, additionally, religion doesn’t work.

I’m certain there’s some theological problems there. However faith has justified enslavement. It has justified subjugation. It has justified imperialism. It has additionally impressed liberation, reform, creativity and justice. So I believe that is basically — that means democracy and my view of my very own religion — a human enterprise that must be undertaken after which finally judged by the diploma to which we transfer into nearer concord with the beliefs that come all the way down to us within the spiritual custom.

On this Jan. 6, 2021, file photograph, a person holds a Bible as Trump supporters collect outdoors the Capitol in Washington. The Christian imagery and rhetoric on view throughout the Capitol rebellion are sparking renewed debate in regards to the societal results of melding Christian religion with an exclusionary breed of nationalism. (AP Photograph/John Minchillo)

Bishop Curry, you gave a sermon on Jan. 6 final week the place you talked about not solely the presence of Christian symbols on the rebellion, but in addition your need to reclaim Christianity. What are you hoping to reclaim it from, and what do assume the work of reclaiming seems like transferring ahead?

Curry: The canon and I are on similar web page. The fact is we’re reclaiming what I might counsel is genuine religion relationship with God.

The Bible — the New Testomony particularly — is so clear. In John 1, it says, “You can’t love the God who you can not see if you don’t love your brother or sister who you’ll be able to see.” In Matthew 25: “For those who did it to the least of those, who’re members of my household, you may have accomplished unto me.” There’s a readability, that love of neighbor — not participating with the opposite as the opposite however as my brother, if you’ll — that’s on the coronary heart and soul of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. And when you peel again to what Moses was getting at within the Torah, in each Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and what the Hebrew prophets constructed on — that love of God, love of neighbor — is seen because the core and the essence of what the spiritual enterprise is about when God is on the heart and when we aren’t.

That’s the most succinct and delightful definition of God — I need you to notice that is an Episcopalian quoting the Bible — John Chapter 4, verse 7: “God is love,” interval, exclamation level, no extra debate, no extra dialogue about that time. Now let’s go and apply it. I occur to assume that’s what should be reclaimed, which is the genuine teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. What should be reclaimed is the genuine witness of the Hebrew prophets, the genuine witness that was pointing past self to the God, as I stated, who’s love. After we reclaim that, then we should not have Christian symbols used for hate, bigotry, placing anyone or any human youngster of God down, as a result of they’re a toddler of God.

The premise of your upcoming discuss collectively is that faith generally is a supply of unity and good for society. The place are you seeing these sources of unity, the circumventing of division and rancor which have been so clearly on show over the previous couple of years in spiritual contexts?

Curry: They’re in each neighborhood.

There are meals banks and meals packages and starvation advocacy packages. … There are native city ministries, rural ministries, that try and each serve those that are in want, but in addition try and advocate for the abolition of the necessity for that want. 

I’ve been a part of coalitions which have introduced collectively Christians of various persuasions — evangelicals, megachurch pastors, mainstream Christians akin to Episcopalian, the Presbyterians — round problems with frequent concern, not for self-interest, (like) a child tax credit so we are able to make poverty historical past for any youngster on this nation.

That’s happening on a regular basis, generally in quiet ways in which don’t make media tales, essentially, however they’re happening on a regular basis. They might name it mission work. They might name it outreach. Some could name it justice. But it surely’s happening on a regular basis. It’s true in church buildings, it’s true in synagogues, it’s true in mosques.

Non secular individuals truly are making a distinction within the panorama of our actuality. It goes unnoticed more often than not, as a result of it’s regular. It’s what they do.

Meacham: I take hope from every little thing the bishop stated, from what Edmund Burke referred to as “the little platoons of individuals.”

My mannequin for Christian witness, biblical witness within the public enviornment, is John Robert Lewis. He instructed me for years that he was on that bridge in Selma due to the Bible. That’s not as a result of he was a Democratic congressman — the partisan label doesn’t apply right here. It was about utilizing spiritual witness, religiously impressed witness, to comprehend the guarantees of a doc — the Declaration of Independence — which is without delay secular and theocentric.

We’ve lived in rigidity with spiritual imagery, spiritual religion, for the reason that starting, and I actually imagine that as a result of it’s an ambient power within the lifetime of the nation, as a result of it’s an ambient power within the lives of so lots of its residents, that we don’t have any selection however to attempt to handle and marshal that feeling. To extra absolutely understand the promise of that declaration. You can’t legislate faith out of the general public sq.; neither ought to it’s exalted.

Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump put up a Cross outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Supporters of President Donald Trump put up a cross outdoors the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Photograph by Win McNamee/Getty Pictures)

There are individuals who advocate for a good brighter line between faith and politics — one thing nearer to the system utilized in France — as a result of faith is just too harmful of a power. However you’re arguing that not solely ought to one not try and create that brighter line, one arguably couldn’t, sure?

Meacham: Completely. My maybe overly facile manner of placing it — however I imagine it — is we should separate church and state, however we can not and arguably shouldn’t separate religiously impressed rules from our political life. I believe church and state and faith and politics are 4 various things.

Curry: Yeah.

Meacham: It goes to what motivates a citizen. It’s a lot simpler to take heed to a sermon from a sinner than a saint, which is an efficient factor given the relative proportion of the 2 within the inhabitants. What’s the particular person’s incentive? To only merely say “do the appropriate factor as a result of it’s the appropriate factor” is … I don’t see that as notably efficient. So that you attempt to incentivize it. And faith, I imagine, creates an incentive that if you’re doing the appropriate factor, you might be in accord with a convention that, at its greatest, is in regards to the different and never your self.

Bishop Curry, RNS has covered your participation in protests, and it will appear you maintain an identical place. However how do you envision navigating that intersection of religion and politics or the separation of church and state?

Curry: The professor is correct. I ultimately turned ordained as a result of … On the time I didn’t use the language of a way of name, however that was what was happening. But, I used to be additionally headed towards a trajectory of the opportunity of legislation college and going into authorities service. Now, I can inform you an identical Michael Curry was going to go both manner. A part of that motive for going into public service is I used to be raised by folks who mainly stated that a part of your job as a Christian, as an individual of religion, as our youngster — if you wish to strip all that away. As like my daddy used to say, “The Lord didn’t put you right here simply to devour oxygen. You might be truly right here to contribute, to make a distinction. Now you determine the way you’re going to do this.” And daddy used to say, “I don’t care what world of endeavor you enter into, however the way you do it.”

So if Michael Curry had change into a politician, the motivation for doing it was going to be this religion that was in me, that was given to me. I occurred to change into a preacher, a clergyperson. (However) it’s the identical motivation, the drive. It’s the explanation I stand up within the morning. 

However when faith seeks to dictate itself as the best way in society, that wall of separation should exist — so all of us can have freedom of spiritual expression, so none dominates the opposite. What did (Meacham) say? There are 4 of them, and people 4 are very totally different. All of them have their place. Church and state should be separated. However religion, within the particular person, can’t be. It’s unattainable.

Meacham: It’s like making an attempt to separate financial pursuits — you simply can’t. So as a substitute of pretending one way or the other that we are able to, and thereby creating frustration, I say simply stroll by the entrance door and simply say, “Look, we’re all difficult creatures. We come to the general public enviornment, we step out of our homes, we deliver, because the bishop was saying, our household background, we deliver our partisan inclinations, we deliver our geographic inclinations and a variety of us deliver a sure spiritual inclination.”

The duty of citizenship is discovering the correct stability, however discovering the correct proportion for every of these components in how we specific ourselves publicly.

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