America is a nation in crisis. We have been facing a political crisis of ever-deepening division and widespread distrust in our own leaders for many, many years now. With the emergence of the COVID-19, we are being confronted with a public health crisis of a magnitude unparalleled in living memory. This in turn has precipitated an economic crisis of massive proportions, one which will almost certainly rival (if not exceed) the Great Depression itself.
But as significant as these various crises no doubt are, nevertheless in the past month there has arisen a crisis which may yet prove to be more critical than any of them (although in truth they are all intertwined). And that crisis is a moral crisis. That crisis is a spiritual crisis.
The brutal murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers struck the heart of our nation with grief and horror. The wounds of past months and years and decades and centuries have been torn open afresh (although it must be said that for many among us, these wounds were never actually closed). And so the crisis facing us is this: how can such terrible wounds be healed? How can we, as a nation, repent of our sins? How can we root out injustice and plant in its place the righteousness for which so many now so earnestly seek?
For answers to these vital questions, most of us seem to be looking to politics. Some, finding there no solutions, have turned instead to violence. And – to sum up an incredibly complex and tragic situation – we have come to such an impasse that on all sides and everywhere around us, we seem to see only anger and hatred and rage and blame. Yet there is one direction in which we have perhaps forgotten to turn: toward the Lord Jesus Christ.
Both Christ and the society in which He lived were by no means strangers to injustice and persecution and unrighteousness. The Israelites under the Roman occupation were a subjugated and humiliated people, routinely exploited and without the rights of Roman citizens, and Christ Himself as well as most of His followers were brutally and unjustly murdered by the authorities acting with complete impunity. Everyone — even the disciples — expected Christ to do something about it, to cast off the hated oppressors, to “at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel.”
Yet what did Christ actually do? He taught us that when we are beaten we are to turn the other cheek, when we are extorted we are to give more than is demanded, when we are exploited we are to do more than we are told. He told us to bless those who curse us, to love those who hate us, to pray for those who persecute us and abuse us. And He told us, in the midst of all of these things, to rejoice.
His words were not mere empty talk; He proved that on the Cross. Nor were His teachings in vain; He proved that through the Resurrection. Nor was He Himself an exception to the rule of human existence; He proved that on the Day of Pentecost.
If we as Christians want to bring righteousness into the world — and we must want this, with all our hearts! — then we must always remember the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov: “Acquire the Spirit of Peace, and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” Only by our personal union with the Lord Jesus Christ can we possibly hope to do any good for anyone. For as the Scriptures say: “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
And if our hearts are truly united with Christ, if we are truly filled with the Holy Spirit, then there will be absolutely no place in us for anger or rage or blame. These things drive away the Holy Spirit as nothing else can, as the Scriptures and Holy Fathers repeatedly warn us.
Rage may be effective in bringing about some temporary political change (and make no mistake, all political changes are temporary). But broken though our political system may be, it is not ultimately the source of our unrighteousness. To heal our country we must heal our own hearts. As Gandhi once said, inspiring Martin Luther King Jr. and countless other activists: “We but mirror the world… If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” Rage and resentment will not cure the sickness in us, or in our nation. For that, we need repentance, and forgiveness, and mercy, and prayer, and love.
May God grant us these gifts. May He grant us His Spirit of Peace. May He grant us to love one another, even as He first loved us, with a love sparing nothing — not even our own lives — for even the worst and least deserving among us. This is the new commandment of Christianity, and there is absolutely nothing that the world needs more. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).