I had never been to a protest before last Monday’s gathering at Lenoir Rhyne University. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know if people would be civil to one another, if violence would break out, if there would only be a handful of us present to proclaim peace and mercy and love in the midst of a potentially angry situation. What I did know was that L-R University is an institution of the ELCA and is founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was also certain that people with strong emotions would be present on both sides. And I knew that as a pastor here in North Carolina, I needed to be present to uphold Jesus’ message to all in attendance.
So, I got up early on my day off, put on my clergy collar and headed out. As Pastor Greg and I were driving the fog was really thick. I remember wondering what effect it might have on the morning’s activities. I also thought of God’s incredible creation and the beauty of a misty morning sunrise in the beautiful Catawba Valley. Arriving at the university we noticed several media trucks and security personnel present. There was also a long line of people hoping to get into the auditorium to hear Mr. Trump. The long line snaked across campus and some estimates put the number of people waiting in the thousands. I knew not all them would fit in the auditorium and I wondered how they would respond to being left out.
I also noted there were several of my fellow pastors, rostered leaders, faculty, seminary students, lay people, and our bishop present. They were gathered in front of the chapel, so we joined them. What surprised me most was the sense of celebration among these “protestors”. There were hugs of greeting and asking “how are you?” and smiles and laughter and so on. Someone passed out signs that had words of love, acceptance, and caring for one’s neighbor on them. Someone else passed out song sheets from our hymnal. We sang those hymns; in 4-part harmony no less! It certainly didn’t feel angry or violent.
At some point we learned Trump’s arrival was delayed by the fog. Some worried the delay might lead to anger as people who had already waited hours now had even longer to stand in line. Some people left at this point, I suppose realizing that the day was going to be longer than anticipated and that they weren’t going to make it inside to hear the speeches. As the fog burned off and the sun warmed us up, emotions got a bit heated as well. There were a few tense times, when both supporters and protestors became confrontational. We just kept singing. And somehow our voices seemed to calm the tension.
That is how it went all morning, even after Mr. Trump finally arrived 2 hours late. Many people left outside the auditorium were disappointed and blamed the protestors. I really wished I could explain to them that it didn’t matter if protestors were present, there simply wasn’t enough seating! Again the tension and frustrations threatened to rise up and overwhelm what had been a relatively peaceful gathering thus far and once more several of us came together in song and acted to bring peace between the groups. At one point several of us locked arms to separate the groups and lifted our voices in Amazing Grace.
The day turned out to be longer than I expected. Following the rally several of us gathered in grace chapel to pray and seek God’s presence.
Thinking back on that day I realize how over and over again I experienced the Gospel’s power to bring peace in the midst of turmoil. I pray our voices brought some comfort to those who were full of anger. I know that several people were able to honestly talk with one another and discuss why they supported or disagreed with the candidate and his ideas. Once again it was the power of Jesus’ message that opened the way for peace to reign. Does that mean there were no mean spirited conversations or threats? Unfortunately, those things still happened and I witnessed them too. But despite them the Gospel of Christ was proclaimed. I don’t know if anyone’s political opinion was changed; that isn’t what matters most to me. What matters is that Christ was lifted up, that love was proclaimed to all, and that the power of the Gospel was once more revealed to the world.