Last week I had the privilege of leading a group of students though a class in which I introduced them to a hero of mine named Silas Soule. The class was held at Riverside Cemetery where Captain Soule’s life is marked by a simple granite military headstone.
It was 152 years ago that Silas Soule's life took a dramatic turn. November 29th 1864, Captain Soule chose to deliberately go against the orders of his superior. That superior officer, Colonel John Chivington, ordered his entire regiment to an attack on an unsuspecting peaceful encampment of Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians in what became known as the Sand Creek Massacre.
On that day, 26 year old, Silas could clearly see that within the Indian camp an American flag was flying high and just below it a white flag. Captain Soule was one of two officers who refused to obey Chivington’s orders. An estimated 150 Indians were not just killed but many horrifically mutilated by young men looked upon by many as patriots.
Despite threats to his life, Soule would testify in court against Chivington. Five months after the massacre (and five weeks after getting married) Soule’s lack of blind obedient nationalism would see him murdered by those loyal to the Colonel.
As I stood next to that headstone sharing the story of Silas with those students a distinct wave of disgust flowed over my being. I haven't been able to shake it in the days since.
Chivington, a racist nationalist was also an outspoken Christian, a Methodist preacher in fact. I wonder, how do characteristics such as these seem to be the very pedigree that continues to promote the latest versions of John Chivington to move up the food chain of American public service today?
The longer I sit with this, the more visceral the disgust becomes as I profoundly sense that this rancid cocktail of white supremicist nationalism disguised as christianity must be spit out of my mouth before it gets transferred to the generations that follow.
I should probably say the phrase again for proper emphasis - white supremacist nationalism disguised as christianity.
There's a time to be disgusted.
There's a time to be angry.
There's a time to ask ourselves, So, what are you gonna do about it?
How did Jesus speak to it?
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matt. 23: 27-28)
I'd call that a strong theology of disgust. He didn't mince words.
And clearly calling out bull shit comes with a cost. When you choose to pick up the cross of Christ rather than the flag of Empire disguised as a cross you know a death is coming. There's a cost to real integrity in the way of Jesus.
That death doesn't always come in the form of exhausting all the air in one's lungs. Deaths can come in the form of lost jobs, lost friendships, and small bank accounts among other things.
We can be certain that the type of deep change derived from a strong theology of disgust will carry a significant cost.
There's another challenge that comes with following through on disgust and dissent: What if, in my anger, I become just as violent and bigoted as the very ones I'm calling out?
It's a valid and necessary question. Take notice, it's not the type of question narcissistic and hate-filled people tend to ask.
But let's take a closer look.
If you are disgusted by issues such as...
- ecological devastation & neglect
- marginalization and oppression of the other (other religion, race, sexual orientation, etc)
- the greed of the wealthy and powerful
- the judgement & bigotry of the religious
- violence in all it's forms
...then your disgust isn't just warranted, it's actually holy. And it can be trusted because God shares it with us.
But it's hard to trust ourselves isn't it? Especially those of us who grew up in stained glass environments where rocking the boat (naming the true source of disgust) felt like a capital offense.
Silas knew lives were at stake. He believed in an integrity that carries power over death.
He trusted his disgust which led to a holy rebellion resulting in at least a few lives saved.
Although Silas Soule is not exactly a household name in American history my gratitude goes out to him more than ever. Because in this particular season of time I need frequent reminders that I'm not alone in this ultimately sacred sense of disgust.