Protesters have gathered at state capitols across the United States demanding state legislators reopen the economy.
Following President Donald Trump’s lead, demonstrators rallied to “liberate” their communities from governors and legislators administering each state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump encouraged his supporters earlier this week with tweets, mentioning the need to liberate Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia; all states with Democratic governors.
The president even attempted to tie the pandemic crisis to gun rights, tweeting, “Save your 2nd Amendment. It is under siege.”
Trump’s rhetoric is extremely dangerous as he flirts with combining a very serious global crisis with calls for his supporters to demonstrate their right to bear arms. It’s a formula that could lead to violence.
The president’s behavior and rhetoric during this time of crisis reveal a dominionist theology and politics.
The theological and political underpinnings fueling this most recent tirade and revolt derive from the flawed notion of Manifest Destiny.
Manifest Destiny supports the misconception that white European Protestants are an extension of God’s blessing of the Jewish people.
Derived from God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis) and God’s love for King David (1 Samuel), Manifest Destiny argues that throughout history God chose certain people to have dominion over others.
Therefore, even if the chosen people are flawed and make mistakes – like Abraham and David – God still blesses them and curses their enemies.
God destines these people to rule and lead, while everyone else should play the roles of servants, submitting to their power and rule.
From Columbus’ “discovery” of North America to the Jim Crow South, the notion that God favored white Anglo-Saxon Protestants permeated the psyche of white America.
Manifest Destiny drove indigenous people from their ancestral homelands in North America, killing them if they dared to resist white dominance.
The concept enslaved millions of Africans under the theological and political evil that somehow persons with African descent were “less” human than their white captors.
We even see the notion within the immigration debate, as proponents of stricter policies claim people with Hispanic descent are taking “their” jobs. There is no data to support their theory.
Therefore, no one should be surprised when Manifest Destiny once again raises its ugly head to place economic priorities over human life.
Why should we be aghast when white citizens who believe in Manifest Destiny demand that their right to shop supersedes others’ right to life? They are chosen by God, after all, so why should they suffer so the rest of us can remain healthy?
These particular white citizens are not the only people suffering from the virus or the economic shutdown.
In fact, African Americans are dying at a greater rate than any other group. Minorities are also more likely to be hourly wage earners, losing jobs and incomes in devastating ways.
Protesters and the president need to understand that other people and factors must be considered before reopening the economy.
The false dichotomy advanced by the president and his supporters suggests those wanting a gradual reopening of the economy driven by scientific data are unpatriotic and petrified by fear.
This week’s protests demonstrate that Trump’s supporters take his tweets and sound bites more seriously than his policies.
The White House rolled out its guidelines for reopening the economy last week, much of it keeping safety measures in place to protect citizens.
Despite these policies, Trump’s tweets and sound bites have greater influence over his supporters. Why? Manifest Destiny is at the heart of these most recent outbursts and protests.
When groups of people feel a divine privilege over others, a dangerous precedent is established. Their rights are somehow viewed as more important than others.
In reality, though, conflicts of rights are common. Constitutional freedoms do not establish the ability to say or act without natural limitations.
For example, does freedom of speech permit me to walk into a crowded auditorium and scream “fire” when there is no fire? My freedom of speech just collided with someone else’s freedom to live safely.
Manifest Destiny, on the other hand, argues that the person screaming “fire,” regardless of the outcome, is acting as an agent of God.
Therefore, even if they are factually wrong, God blesses their actions because they are the chosen people. God will protect and bless them even if they are mistaken.
As one can reasonably conclude, this is a very dangerous mindset. When people believe they are destined by God to rule over others and that others should submit to their authority, then the common good is in jeopardy.
Jesus understood faith in God to be more about serving others, not demanding privilege and entitlement.
As Jesus began his ministry, he read from the prophet Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
In other words, as the anointed of God, Jesus did not clamor for a Manifest Destiny that allowed him the privileges and honors of divine authority.
On the contrary, Jesus gazed at those who were suffering and extended compassion and kindness.
Jesus was not brandishing his sword at the capitol but serving among those stricken with the evils of poverty, oppression, marginalization, sickness and bigotry.
If protesters really want the country to reopen, maybe they need to holster their weapons and signs and pick up sewing machines and materials to make some masks.
The only healthy and productive response to this pandemic will be for good people to engage in good acts based upon good faith.