This was my sermon this morning based upon Isaiah 2:1-5. The original title was “Hold Fast to Hope,” but I don’t think so now.
The National Policy Institute sounds like a Washington public policy think tank. Of course there are a lot of these think tanks: American Enterprise Institute, Brookings Institute, Economic Policy Institute, Heritage Foundation to name a few. I wasn’t aware of the National Policy Institute until I read the articles about its Washington, DC conference on November 19.
NPI’s website describes itself as follows: “NPI is an independent organization dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world.” What do you think? Sounds reasonable? Let’s unpack it. You know, I have no place in this organization as I am not of European descent. Indeed, I’m not white. NPI is a leader in the alt-Right movement.
Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization which monitors hate crimes, hate groups, and hate speech, published an essay describing NPI on the SPLC website: “They eschew ethnic slurs and violence, dress in preppy ‘business casual’ outfits, and declare that the aim of their ‘think tank’ is ‘to elevate the consciousness of whites’ and protect America’s ‘national identity.’ ‘We have to look good,’ NPI chief Richard Spencer once explained to Salon, because normal white people would not join a movement that appears to be ‘crazed or ugly or vicious or just stupid.’” NPI is just the latest in a long line of white Supremacist agents stretching back to Reconstruction just after the Civil War. Its fundamental position on race is no different than the Ku Klux Klan or the Citizen’s Councils of the 1950s. It upholds the white race; people of European heritage. They are white supremacists. White supremacy is racist.
The conference was planned months before the election. They planned to grieve the election of Hilary Clinton, but with the election of Donald Trump, it became a celebration.
The New York Times reported that the event initially did not appear too menacing as speeches throughout the day concentrated on the marginalization of whites. However, as the day wore on the tenor of the conference took on the feeling of a Nazi rally. NPI’s leader, Richard B. Spencer “railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the ‘children of the sun,’ a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were ‘awakening to their own identity.”’
Let’s note that Donald Trump during his interview the other day with staff from The New York Times distanced himself from the conference. He said, “I don’t want to energize the group. I’m not looking to energize them. I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group.” My own assessment is that for someone whose campaign unleashed pent up racist, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, homophobic, and misogynist anger across the country, this was a very tepid rebuke. He also continued to support unequivocally his chief advisor Steve Bannon, who published the alt-right mouthpiece, Breitbart.
As a person of color, I worry. I worry about the next few years as many people have seemingly been emboldened in the wake of the election to express their hostility and anger openly to people who are not native-born whites. The SPLC tracked 701 incidents of hateful harassment since the election. (Let’s also make clear that they track hate across all races and religions and ethnicities, not just whites. These instances, however, were overwhelmingly white.) I worry that should the alt-Right gain a solid foothold, it will damage America’s fabric for at least a generation.
Nationally, we have worked hard over decades to ensure that this nation lives up to the ideals expressed in our Constitution’s preamble: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” Progress has not been easy and has come sometimes with significant costs.
The Church, especially the mainline, has been instrumental in helping this progress along. The Church worked to end Jim Crow. Our denomination raised the nation’s consciousness about environmental racism and has shown leadership to close the economic divide that separates whites from communities of color. We passed a resolution in General Synod XX (1995) to affirm the dignity and self-worth of all people and deplore any attempt to blame immigrants, legal and undocumented, for our nation’s social problems. We were the first denomination to affirm marriage equality.
None of this has been easy. Having a black president does not mean that we have arrived and that racism is behind us. Our progress on race has been uneven, but we’ve made progress nevertheless. However, this election cycle has exposed sentiments many of us thought were laid to rest years ago.
We cannot let the progress we have made as a nation slip backward. We have to be attentive to voices and actions that potentially will shred the hard won tapestry that this nation is becoming. We have to stand firm against these voices and actions and vigorously oppose them. We have to make loud and clear that there is no place for racism, xenophobia, Islamaphobia, homophobia, and misogyny in this nation.
Like Isaiah, we must be prophetic. Though the words from Isaiah 2:2-4 are a beautiful vision, they come after his comment on Jerusalem: “How the faithful city has become a whore! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her– but now murderers! Your silver has become dross, your wine is mixed with water. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them.” (Isa. 1:21-23) Judah strayed. It lost sight of God’s precepts. Following the glorious vision of beating swords into plowshares, a vision of shalom, the prophet said, “For Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord, defying his glorious presence. The look on their faces bears witness against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom, they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves.” (Isa. 3:8-9)
The conference in Washington on November 19 is a reminder that we need to do more work, especially to end hostility and hatred rooted in “otherness.” We must ensure that the ideals of this nation are not reserved for people of one race, but are for all people of all races and of all genders from all places and of all religious backgrounds. We must ensure that we are nation where people can love the person of their choosing regardless of gender or sexual orientation. We must remain true to the words engraved on Liberty’s tablet: “”Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Isaiah had a vision of true peace and justice rooted in God’s steadfast love for Judah and Jerusalem. That vision is timeless. It has not changed. It is universal. Though we have made slow and uneven progress over the decades, that vision has gotten closer. Today, however, it is under threat as we watch and listen to the alt-Right’s coded language cloaked in the guise of respectability. It is under threat as we see political leadership with a history of hostility towards non-whites, immigrants, LGBTQ people, ascend to positions vested with substantial and broad authority and power. We must be vigilant and must stand firm in opposition if we want to preserve the hard-fought, hard-won gains we have made for those gains have brought us closer to shalom envisioned by Isaiah.
If there is a time for the church to be the church, it is now. Jesus went to the cross to uphold the dignity and rights of those who were overlooked, forgotten, and oppressed. He went to the cross to ensure justice for all. The call to protect those without power is as loud today as it was a thousand years ago. We stand in a long line of prophets who have upheld a vision of true peace and justice rooted in God’s steadfast love. We must do our part to help all people hold fast to the hope upon which this nation was founded, a hope that remains a beacon for all people across the globe. God calls us to stand as Christ did then to be Christ today so that we can uphold the gospel’s light to offer hope and healing informed with grace and compassion rooted in love.
 Joseph Goldstein. “Alt-Right Exults in Donald Trump’s Election with a Salute: ‘Heil Victory’” The New York Times. November 20, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/us/alt-right-salutes-donald-trump.html
 Transcript of Donald Trump’s meeting with staff from The New York Times. November 22, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/us/politics/trump-new-york-times-interview-transcript.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=b-lede-package-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news