The pope weighed in with his Environmental Encyclical.
Laudato Si, he wrote.
Then, Charleston, S.C., happened.
Ugly, despicable Charleston happened at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
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The Pope's message was about what we want to pretend is a long-term problem, one with supposedly plenty of time to fix.
Assuming, according to some agenda-driven folk who have a lot of money to lose, it needs fixing at all.
The horrendous terrorist act of a murdering thug white racist (I'd use stronger words, but this is a family paper) is what we want to pretend to be a short-term problem caused by a sick loner, fixable (we pretend, once again) by removing a Confederate flag.
Make that pending removal. There's a conversation ahead laced with self-righteous and angry denials and a great big bunch of 19th century "state's rights" language, and it's not going to be pretty.
No prettier than the reluctant responses of vote seekers waiting to see which way the wind was blowing before realizing their "let's get the facts first" pretense was not being well received by people with brains.
Turning our heads away from both messages requires a strong dose of ignorance, laced with clergy and political pandering to the lowest common denominators among us, none of which is in short supply.
Coupled with a bizarre attempt at a cheap way out by telling some of us, including the Pope, to stick to theology.
As though theology had somehow suddenly become non-political.
As though killing nine black people at prayer in a church was not an act of white racist terrorism.
And, as though fixing our planet's environment and guarding the safety and health of all, not just a few, of its inhabitants wasn't moral and hence theological.
You know the magic words.
For climate change, they begin with, "I'm not a scientist"
For racial issues, they begin with, "I'm not a racist" (So how do all those folks who aren't accountants or philosophers know so much about budgets, taxes and the Bible?)
Funny thing. As a former chemist with a master's degree in the subject, the Pope is a scientist. Which makes him, well, an expert.
Funnier still, though in a terribly sad way, black people, too, are experts. At being black.
Including being reminded of how black they are wherever they go in this country -- not just South Carolina.
If you're a scientist, there's a part of you that learns to view the world objectively. It's what enables you to draw intelligent conclusions, make unbiased decisions, start moving in better directions. It's what allows you to cure diseases, improve communications, construct great buildings, land on the moon.
It's what may, if we pay attention, keep Florida from going underwater in the years ahead. If we're not already drowning in our own white racism.
If you're black, you know this is more than just the latest act of white terrorism. You remember the lynchings of your ancestors (as recently as the 1960s), you remember your parents (or, if you're over 50, YOU) going to segregated schools, using separate restrooms, separate seating on busses, at lunch counters, all those things and more. You remember the burning and bombing and killing of people in black churches to the point that Martin Luther King Jr's murder becomes just one more racially motivated horror in your history.
Then you look around and see a U.S. Supreme Court that says: "You're on your own! The Civil Rights Act is no longer necessary, nor is the Voting Rights Act!" And you watch while your right to vote, something you literally gave blood for, is stripped away under the guise of fighting voter fraud and the "need" for voter ID laws. And you're told flying the Confederate flag on the grounds of a state capitol is no big deal.
When you're black in this country, you know you're being told: "Watch your step. We're taking our country back. If you don't mind your manners and keep your place, you're not going to be safe not even in church."
Where's the morality in that?
And just in case you forget, there are reminders everywhere: streets, highways and buildings named after confederate generals, Johnny Reb statutes on courthouse squares and, of course, the Stars and Bars. It's a heritage thing, you're told. "Get over it! Stay in line!"
Here's an interesting reminder. In 1959, Jacksonville opened Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. Named, they said, after a distinguished southern gentleman the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. In the middle of school integration.
Its mascot? Colonel Reb. But don't worry.
The name was later changed. In 2014.
Jacksonville is 235 miles away, as the Jim Crow flies.
If we are going to continue to claim to be enlightened people of faith, we have got to start rejecting ignorance steadily being offered as its substitute. And, frankly, we've got to start rejecting its messengers.
We've got to stop seeing God as a magician while pretending science isn't real and we don't have a strong dose of racism at our core. And we've got to stop responding to, and repeating, our supposed spokespersons as though they were using dog whistles.
Our planet is in real trouble, and the first thing people who claim to lead us have done has been to try to uncredential a credentialed person of science and faith -- even to the Orwellian point of trying to ban the term Climate Change. There's no ethics in that.
And our nation and churches are in real trouble when, despite the complete immorality of it, we go directly into denial when our covert racism erupts into the latest overt act of white racism.
Because it's gonna happen again. And when it does, we'd better not shame ourselves the way we have in response to Laudato Si and Charleston. Otherwise, it's going to be Laudato No, and we'll deserve it.
The Rev. Dr. Robert Sichta, Congregational United Church of Christ, 3700 26th St. W., Bradenton, can be reached by calling 941-756-1018 or e-mailing PBKAlpha1@gmail.com. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday's Herald, written by local clergy members.