God’s boundless love hasn’t exactly reconciled race and clan

Dear President Trump,

Yesterday in church the opening hymn was Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You (the real title is The Hymn of Joy). With an opening line of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You, God of glory, God of love” it’s quite an awkward one to sub out the word “God” with “love” like I’ve been doing at church for several weeks. Nonetheless, I was chugging my way through it ok until we got to the second line of the fourth and final stanza:

“Boundless love is reigning o’er us, reconciling race and clan.”

I couldn’t keep singing at that point.

It’s hard to sing when one is crying, at least it is for me. How about you? Is it hard for you to sing when you’re crying? Do you even know the answer to this question from personal experience? Doubtful. Maybe at your mother’s funeral these two very human experiences synced up and you had a tough time getting the words of her favorite hymn out because you were tearful. Maybe. I hope so, for your sake. I also hope so for our sakes, though whatever compassion for those slain, those who survived, and all their loved ones that you might be able to eek out of some distant memory of what it’s like to lose someone you (hopefully) loved is going to be far too little, far too late at this point.

I looked up Joyful, Joyful to better contextualize it and learned that a Presbyterian minister (who was also a Princeton Professor) named Henry Van Dyke published it in 1907. The commentary I read said that he wrote it during the grim time shortly before the beginning of WW I, but since WW I didn’t start until 1914, that seems like a stretch. Rather, 1907 would have been smack in the middle of the Jim Crow era and I wonder whether he was trying to conjure God’s boundless love to bring about reconciliation between races and clans since it surely wasn’t happening on humans’ watch. There’s nothing about Van Dyke’s politics or his beliefs about slavery and reconstruction in his Wikipedia page, but there is a line about how his father, who was also a minister, was an anti-abolitionist, which apparently is the polite way to say he was in favor of keeping black people enslaved. Maybe Van Dyke the younger was pushing back against Van Dyke the elder. Hard to say.

What is clear is that neither our socially constructed idea of a God of boundless love or our own human efforts have brought about much in the way of reconciliation around race or a reduction in tribalism in the intervening 112 years. Yes, we have made progress and no longer have any blatantly racist laws on the books, but I daresay Van Dyke wouldn’t be too thrilled with our current state of affairs. If he really had any concern about race relations he would be appalled by a POTUS who can only behave himself and almost not sound like a racist asshole when he woodenly reads a speech written by someone else from a teleprompter.

And just for the record, even though you mouthed a few semi-reasonable sounding platitudes, don’t think for a second that a lot of us didn’t catch your reference to increasing the use of involuntary commitment to crack down on would-be domestic terrorists – there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that you would use such a control mechanism in a morally upstanding way. Nope, I can see you abusing it and detaining people who you find to be politically threatening, insisting that you the need to invoke it protect the public from such “dangerous” individuals. Who suggested this gem? Stephen Miller or did you pull it from Vladimir’s playbook?

May we be safe from fascist creep (and creeps).
May we humans be willing to keep working towards true racial reconciliation.
May we see that racial reconciliation requires full truth telling and listening along with reparations.
May we accept that peace isn’t going to come from on high – we’ve got to do it ourselves.

Tracy Simpson

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