So, the last week has been on of suffering and death. Across the world — because it almost always is the case someone’s at war somewhere — and nationally — with black men dying pointless at the hands of police officers, and police officers dying pointlessly at the hands of a black army veteran — and then in my own life, where another young person with an almost indescribable tale of violence and abuse has come to me.
I was reminded of this passage of scripture in the face of it all:
1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Say to the people of Israel, Any one of the people of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. 3 I myself will set my face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given one of his children to Molech, to make my sanctuary unclean and to profane my holy name. 4 And if the people of the land do at all close their eyes to that man when he gives one of his children to Molech, and do not put him to death, 5 then I will set my face against that man and against his clan and will cut them off from among their people, him and all who follow him in whoring after Molech. (Leviticus 20:1–5 ESV)
In the last year, as I have done a ministry of presence with abused, neglected, unwanted, and trafficked foster kids, I have come to see our foster care system as Molech, an altar we have built on a high hill and upon which we sacrifice — we slit throats and we toss into fire — children we do not care about. Because make no mistake, there are children — lots and lots of children — we do not care about. Children who have lost their parents to death, addiction, prison, children who have come to exist only to be bought and sold and traded for sex and/or profit. If they mattered, they would be with family. They would have family to begin with.
They are things, these children, mere objects.
Not human beings.
Children who have no protectors, no one who cares for them, who can be abused with impunity, because no law protects them. They the Bible’s fatherless who have no one to stand up for them, no one to requite or redeem them, no one to fight for them when they are beaten and stolen and raped, but the Lord God of Israel himself.
We have sacrificed them to our violent, angry god. I do not know what we get in return, or what we think we are getting, when we offer their broken bodies up. But sacrifice them we do. Willingly, eagerly, happily, to our god who takes and takes and takes but never gives.
But our children are not the only people we willing sacrifice to Molech. We are an angry, violent people, and we have come to worship our angry, violent god.
We are Americans, torn between our universal proclamation that “All men are created equal” and the fact the only men whose equality and liberty really mattered were Protestant Englishmen. From that, we have crafted a more inclusive whiteness, but our proud confession of liberty and equality has never really included Black men and women. They are, at best, a subject people granted a very partial and conditional place in our grand, American experiment. Mostly, they are a captive and subject people, terror-inducing bodies that must be subdued, an other in our midst who must never rule. Who can never be Englishmen. Never be equals.
Never be human.
We sacrifice them to our violent, angry God. We hang them on trees and impale them on sticks and have compelled their labor, making them hewers of wood and carriers of water. I do not know what we get from their sacrifice, what we earn from our angry, violent God with the spilling of their blood and the breaking of their bodies. But sacrifice we do. Willingly, eagerly, happily, to our god who takes and takes and takes but never, ever, gives.
We seek order. We want peace. But we arm ourselves, we fear our neighbors, we demand all the unruly and unseemly and all the others in our midst be beaten into submission. There is some truth in the adage, “if you want peace, prepare for war,” but not as much as those who speak it think. Because in the end, you are always armed, always ready for war, always seeing threats where none exist.
Always willing to respond with violence.
There is no peace in that.
I am a fatalist. This gets worse before it gets better. We have knives and torches and all we can see is blood and fire, in the hopes that enough blood and burning will give us the peace and security we crave. And so, the streets will run red. The altars will drip with blood. The furnace will reek of burning flesh. We cannot stop the sacrifice. We cannot turn away from our angry, violent god.
He is us. We are his. We are captive to him and cannot free ourselves.
I want to call down fire from heaven and have all the priests of Baal swallowed up in flame. I want to crush their altars and their poles into a thousand pieces. Because there aren’t enough stones in all the world to put to death all those who sacrifice children, Black men, police officers, refugees, migrants, poor whites… I don’t know where to stop.
But I also know … I am not without sin. I cannot cast the first stone. Ask me, and eventually, I will confess there is someone’s life I do not care about. I might not slice their throat and spill their blood myself, but I might — under the right conditions — demand it. I won’t look away, or care, when they are fed into the furnace.
I too could easily feed someone to Molech. If I haven’t already.
And so I weep. For the dead. The broken. The beaten. The cast off. The unwanted. The frightened. The lost, lonely, and defeated. For myself. For the world. For my children. For my countrymen.
We are cut off. From each other. From our creator. Because we continue to sacrifice, to spill blood, to devote souls and bodies to destruction on behalf of a god who offers us nothing in return. Our shattered, alienated, angry society is the inevitable consequence of all this idolatrous sacrifice.
And of our failure to stop it.
Which leads me to a question, one that puzzles me.
What do we expect to achieve by sacrificing those we neither want nor value to our angry, violent, blood-thirsty god? If we do not value them, we do not want them in our midst, do not love or care for them, why do we expect their spilled blood and broken bodies to accomplish anything of value? To do us any good?
Or have we been afraid for so long, been so self-righteously angry, and sacrificed to Molech for so long we no longer know why we do it?