Ralliers and Counter-protesters at the Aug. 10 God, Guns and Liberty eventPhoto by Colin Houck

No Sermons to Be Seen

God, Guns and Liberty, and the coals of democracy

Recently, I attended a prayer vigil in support of migrant children and families.

The first speaker was a man from Belize. He and his family immigrated to the U.S. a few years ago. He spoke of being on trains in Mexico and twice being robbed on those trains, once by police officers.

His cadence picked up as he spoke of “thoughts and prayers.” He was forceful and passionate.

Then he bellowed.

“I’m tired of hearing sermons! I want to see a sermon!”

This prayer vigil was at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza on Aug. 7, and if the speaker had returned to the plaza on Saturday, Aug. 10, he would have been distressed, though probably not surprised, at the sound and fury that engulfed the area.

There were no sermons to be seen.

Instead, there was sharp provocation, agitation and inflammatory rhetoric that scorched the issues of race, class warfare and simple human dignity. Flags of tribalism were unfurled. Insults flew, each one darker than the previous. Guns were displayed on both sides. Fear and anger rose as one amongst the crowd of roughly 300.

The fuse to this particular two-hour version of the insult-Olympics was lit on a plaza named after the late Sen. Wayne Morse, a staunch civil rights advocate and a thoughtful man. It was next to the bustling Eugene Saturday Market and the Lane County Farmers Market, all on a warm, cloudy day.

It was lit by a band of angry people who perceive to be under some threat, and under the guise of “God, Guns and Liberty Rally.” It was advertised initially as the “God, Guns and Trump Rally,” but someone felt the need to steer this Titanic in another direction.

It was met by the fangs of people dressed in black, with masks, in the style of Antifa, and others with rainbows and equal outrage. There were the drums and horns. Eugene police officers ringed the perimeter.

It came on the heels of two more mass shootings earlier this month (Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas) and the general anxiety among many that the moral fabric of our society — always thin — is now unraveling.

There were no sermons to be seen.

If these are the final burning coals of democracy, they are stoked by the extreme loyalist among us, left and right.

I am Christian, and I disagree with the use of the Gospel of Luke (22:36) by the event organizers of the loyalist right for what even they noted ahead of time was a Second Amendment show of force. They took the scripture too literally, I believe, nullifying the forgiveness Jesus would show on the eve of his crucifixion and fulfilling the prophecy of love and grace in the Gospel.

Still, I don’t know if the loyalist left was any better in its interpretation of scripture, be it chalked on the sidewalk or stenciled on placards. In anger and desperation, real or perceived, it seems the God of our understanding is splattered on the windshield of our “enemies,” even if they are our countrymen.

There were no sermons to be seen.

Nor have there been many to be heard from the pulpit. Not enough clergy, especially the evangelicals who have hitched themselves to the present federal administration, have been vocal on the subject of mass shootings. It is disturbing, and it has been noticed.

Emma Green, in an essay for The Atlantic, spotlights this. She spoke with Jason Morriss, the pastor at Austin New Church, a Methodist congregation in Austin, Texas, in the aftermath of the El Paso shootings on Aug. 3. There was a specific anti-immigrant manifesto attached to that atrocity.

Morriss says, “All of this stuff has grown within the garden of people of faith. The truth is that we have mixed the Gospel in America with some deadly toxins.”

Morriss continues, “I’m not a fool. I know my conservative friends are not in favor of mass shootings.” However, “it’s not hard to see how white supremacy and ‘Make America Great Again’ come from the same side of the mouth.”

Thankfully, there were no reported injuries at the Free Speech Plaza. There was just one arrest, a man from the loyalist right who attempted to infiltrate the loyalist left and stir trouble.

The vendors and patrons of the markets continued on. The music from the Eugene Saturday Market’s main stage was a welcome respite. The Eugene Police Department kept a light footprint throughout.

Two hours passed. To see a sermon, I would have to go somewhere else. 

Dan Buckwalter is Eugene Weekly’s copy editor and calendar editor.