As part of my morning prayers, the Psalm of the day was Psalm 137:
By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
when we remembered you, O Zion.
As for our harps, we hung them up
on the trees in the midst of that land.
For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,
and our oppressors called for mirth:
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
How shall we sing the LORD’S song
upon an alien soil?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
Remember the day of Jerusalem, O LORD,
against the people of Edom,
who said, “Down with it! down with it!
even to the ground!”
O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy the one who pays you back
for what you have done to us!
Happy shall he be who takes your little ones,
and dashes them against the rock!
Setting aside the imprecatory last two verses, I was struck by how relevant this Psalm is for those of us who still seek to follow the way of Jesus in 21st Century America.
Like the Psalmist, we live in Babylon, the pre-eminent empire of our time.
The church has chosen the idol of Religious Freedom over the call to love its neighbor as itself. When faced with the gravest health crisis of any of our lives, it chose to flout lockdowns by singing its songs for Babylon in mass worship concerts and to teach its children to burn their masks rather than wear them to protect their vulnerable neighbors. When confronted with the essential dignity of all people, regardless of who they are and who they love, it chose to exclude and file lawsuits to enforce its exclusion. When challenged to treat people of all faiths with kindness and compassion, it whined about a “war on Christmas.” Neighbor love is not high on its list.
Like the Psalmist, we weep for the fall of Zion, the church which has been swallowed up by the original sins of our nation: white supremacy, Christian Nationalism, and patriarchy.
When confronted with the call to affirm that Black Lives do, indeed, matter, it chose to once again sit on the sidelines and offer up a weak “All Lives Matter.” When 10 AM on Sunday remains the most segregated hour in America, we know that the church has fallen. And when asked to just learn about and understand the struggle that BIPOC people in our country have always faced, the church instead made up a strange new theology that says Critical Race Theory is opposed to the gospel.
When we turn on our televisions and see Jesus Saves flags at an attempt to overrun and overthrow the people’s will through an election, we know that the church has fallen. When our fellow congregants are more likely to believe in QAnon conspiracies as in the radical love of Christ, we know that the church has fallen. When adhering to Fox News Conservatism become the marker of whether one is a true Christian, can we come to any other conclusion than that the church has fallen?
And when we see a “good Christian” gunman walk into businesses and murder Asian-American females in order to eliminate the “temptations” he blames for his “sex addiction,” we see the damage the church’s patriarchy and purity culture has done. How it blames women for the sexual violence of men. How it victim shames. How it gaslights. How it infantilizes men by stating that their raging hormones are uncontrollable and so they need to live a so-called “pure” life rather than doing the work needed in order to see all women as equals and not objects.
And so we weep.
But for those of us who still seek out the way of Jesus, “how can we sing the Lord’s song upon an alien soil?” By joining in with the chorus of the captive American church, we forget our Jerusalem. It would be better if our tongue was unable to move than to sing the songs of empire disguised as worship and praise songs.
And so, I would rather leave the captive church than stay and sing its songs to Caesar. I would rather leave the captive church than hurt my very own flesh in my neighbor. I would rather leave the captive church than teach my children to forget who they truly are and how they should be in the world.