I am not one who necessarily pays much attention to the movements and symbolic gestures generated by social media. Yes, I alter my profile picture to support cause and I post reminders of awareness days and months; but, that is pretty much the extent of my involvement. That is until recently. Despite my best efforts to avoid social media after the election, I found myself scrolling through my news feed and noticed an article about wearing safety pins. I groaned a bit but clicked on the article anyway. I was, to say the least, blown away by the potency and the power of the meaning that had been given to the pins. The idea is simple enough, we are living in a time of great fear and uncertainty; so, in order to show the solidarity of welcome and acceptance, people wear safety pins to show others that they are safe people. The pins become a small but shining symbol of a refusal to accept the divisiveness and hatred that took hold of this nation as we fought our way through a dark and ugly political season. The pins are an equally powerful symbol that we will not accept the separatism, cynicism, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, or dehumanizing that created a schism large enough to cede power to ugliness. Even so, I have heard voices of dissention and criticism concerning the safety pin concept from both sides of this debate. As for me, I think there is something deeply sacred about these pins, these crude little symbols, and I hope that they are here to stay. They are the kind of small symbol that people of faith know well as a quiet and loving way to tell others who we are and what we believe.
Some of our brothers and sisters criticize the pins as liberal whining about losing the election and I would ask those brothers and sisters to listen for a moment to the real concern that has arisen from this political storm. This election saw some of the most dramatic increases in hateful rhetoric, action, and organization in recent memory. The kind of name calling, abuses, and threats we are witnessing from the playground to the political discourse have been terrifying and they have created an unease that now overshadows this nation. Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans, LGBT, and so many others no longer feel safe in their own country. The rhetoric of this election has grown bigger than the party or the person who first uttered its words and it is now a dangerous cloud of suffering that threatens the peace of our democracy. This rhetoric has turned into action as we see too many pictures of bloody faces, burning churches, and gleeful superiority. Our political leaders are worshipping at the altars of privilege and we have been witnesses to a new political faith that was all too willing to sell principles for power. This is bigger than electoral sour grapes. This is an America that so many of us no longer recognize and too many of us find frightening and dangerous. If you mock the statement of the safety pin because you think that we are sore losers then you have not been listening to the tone of your nation for some time now. We wear it because we want to find some small way to reclaim our hope in a nation that values justice over privilege and peace over power. We wear it because we are dedicated to the notion that all people are created equal. We wear it to send this message to others and to remind ourselves that this too shall pass and the arc of history will once again bend toward justice and inclusion.
Some of our brothers and sisters criticize the pins as empty gestures designed to make people feel better about themselves or to lend lip service without having any real skin in the game. I would ask these brothers and sisters to also take a moment to listen and to hear the earnest hope and sincere pain that lives behind each safety pin. Movements are often defined by a combination of their symbols and their actions. In the case of these safety pins, they represent both symbol and action. Wearing a safety pin is an invitation to ask questions and talk about issues and it is this dialogue that becomes the basis for change. Wearing this pin is also a reminder to enter the world each day with a renewed sense of dedication to a set of values and behaviors that seek to build peace in the place of pain. Each pin is a kind word, a handshake, a hug, a “hello,” and a statement that tells others, “I see you, I value you, I welcome you, and I love you.” There is nothing empty about any of this and I would hope we can remember the power of a red ribbon or a rainbow flag or even a cross to motivate and activate large groups of people. Of course action is more important than symbols and it is also important to remember that some symbols are actions.
For me, wearing this little pin is a holy thing, a sacred thing, and I don’t care if this movement lasts or not. I like to think that the Jesus of welcoming strangers and of loving neighbor would pick up a pin and wear it with us because I like to believe that we are wearing them as representations of everything he teaches us. Yes, I think there is something sacred about these safety pins because I think that there is something sacred about standing up and rejecting the cynicism and division that pulls us away from our God’s call to community. I think that there are moments when we, as the Body of Christ, are so worn and so beaten down by human brokenness that the only thing holding us together are these safety pins. We are living in an uncertain and scary time and if wearing a pin can make even one person feel better, can make you or I feel better, then I am going to wear that pin. I am going to wear that pin and I am going to use it to remind myself that we are better than this, that God is bigger than this, and that hope, love, peace, and dignity are still alive and well in the heart of God’s creation.