Director, Kaufman Interfaith Institute, GVSU
Living in a world of lies, violence, war, and evil
“What begins in lies tends to end in carnage.”
This is the way columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. concluded his column that appeared in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press. Titled, How America’s disdain for truth emboldened Putin, he compared the lies of the Russian dictator to those of Adolf Hitler, who when preparing to cross the border into Poland began with a big lie. Hitler justified his actions, Pitts writes, “on the pretext that ethnic Germans were being persecuted. German operatives, disguised as Poles, even staged an attack on a German radio station, yelling anti-German threats into the microphone. With that lie, the most devastating war in the history of the world began.”
We don’t know where the current invasion of Ukraine will lead, but we do know it has begun with lies. Lies by Putin that he had no intention to invade even as he massed over 100,000 troops and military weapons near the border, lies that his effort was “peacekeeping,” lies that he was protecting Russians who lived in the eastern part of the independent country, lies about evicting Nazis from Ukraine which had democratically elected a Jewish person as its president. As with Hitler, he began with lies. Where will it end?
But Pitts doesn’t end with historical comparisons to Nazi Germany, he shines the light on the more recent history in our own country where a systematic pattern of lies led to the “Big Lie” that sought to destroy our own democracy.
Many innocent citizens of Ukraine have already been killed. Where will it end? Pitts can only conclude, “What begins in lies tends to end in carnage.”
A recent webinar from the Religion & Society program at the Aspen Institute focused on the lie that led to the insurrection on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Religion was essential to what happened on Jan. 6. Religious imagery, biblical passages, and religious symbols gave permission and validation for those who supported the lie. This has all been documented by a project at the University of Alabama Department of Religious Studies, and Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. It was reported by the Baptist News Global and can be accessed at: https://baptistnews.com/tag/capitolsiegereligion/
One of the webinar speakers, Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, is the dean of the Episcopal Divinity School and Professor of Theology at Union Theological Seminary. She gave a powerful analysis of where we are as a country in our path to a truly democratic nation with respect for all members. At our country’s founding it was only white, landowning males who were allowed to vote, yet the goal was to create a democracy for all. It took a long time to arrive where we are today, and there is still much to be accomplished in order to reach the goal. Democracy was not and is not a full reality, but it has been an aspiration to be that. And we are all responsible to work toward that goal.
The events of January 6 were a wake-up call for those who believe in that goal, she said, and it is our responsibility to “speak the truth.” What kind of a nation do we want to be? Can we grow into that vision or will we be pulled back to an earlier, more limited understanding of who counts as full citizens? Faith leaders have historically been at the forefront of the challenging effort of expanding what justice means for all. We are all accountable not just for how things are, but how they should be. Citing the experience in South Africa, she noted, it was a religious leader, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was called to lead the Truth and Reconciliation effort. But it begins with Truth, and only then can we hope for Reconciliation.
Rev. Dr. Douglas concluded by urging faith communities to step forward and speak the truth: "Faith communities play a significant role in leading the way to becoming a nation where every single human being will be treated as sacred."
Reading Pitts’ column and watching the Religion & Society webinar has challenged me, as a Christian, to stand against those who would attempt to use my faith to perpetuate lies. I trust that a great many persons of faith will also step forward to “tell the truth.” We can no longer hide behind separation of church and state. That separation has already been breached, and people of faith must regain a leadership role in preventing carnage of war on the world scene as well as in the threats to our democracy. It is time to tell the truth!