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Probably it has a lot to do with the recent hospitalization of my mom-in-law and her dealing with some tough health issues in her late 80s. Probably it has something to do with the death of a friend and former parishioner whose funeral I will help to conduct at week’s end. And most probably it has something to do with this furious political season and my spending too much time pondering Facebook posts (and making posts of my own) and then reading responses upon responses to those posts. But four weeks from election day in the U.S. and I find myself feeling tired and sad.
I’m sad at how divided we are as a nation but also as circles of friends and even in family circles and most certainly as fellow Christians. My earliest political memory is Richard Nixon’s resignation, so you’d think I’d have sadness in my political DNA (although truth be told, folks in West Michigan were so proud that our own Jerry Ford then became President that we were the one part of the country that was not quite as shaken as everyone else!). But although differences of opinion mark every political process and most certainly every election cycle, things have gotten palpably worse since 2000. And because almost all of the political hatred that has been simmering and coming to a boil for the last 25 years is focused on Hillary Clinton, her candidacy this year has guaranteed a spiteful, hate-filled election cycle. Sunday night’s debate in which a presidential candidate took the unprecedented step of threatening his opponent with prison if he ever gets the ultimate power in this nation was a pitch-perfect encapsulation of the mood of so many. So now we’re living in Idi Amin’s Uganda, I guess.
But I am also sad to see what’s happening to the church. Of course, my views (insofar as they are known) cause lots of people, including in my wider family, to shake their heads and cluck their tongues when I’m not around. I make them sad. But I am also saddened to see people posting on Facebook well-discredited lies (often in the form of memes, curiously enough) about this or that candidate–but mostly about Clinton–and when I look up the Snopes article or other credible sources that disprove the claim as a boldface lie and post it, few if any apologize, take down the post, or confess an error. Mostly they double down like the woman interviewed outside a Trump rally in Florida two weeks ago who claimed Obama has never produced a birth certificate. When the reporter told her that he most certainly had done so five years ago, the woman blankly said, “No, I don’t think so.” And so it goes in this fact-resistant climate.
But back to the church: family values figures like James Dobson–who used to decry divorce and bad language and the scourge of pornography, who used to challenge leaders in the church to be family people to support that pillar of society–these leaders have thrown in their lot with a twice-divorced groper of women whose language on the Howard Stern show alone over the years counts as a form of audio pornography the likes of which Dobson used to tell us to shun.
Now evangelicals have their candidate defended by Rudy Giuliani who says that “everybody” has past infidelities and “all” men talk locker room talk about women’s bodies and we’re all in the same soup as Trump so what’s the big deal? And Jerry Falwell, Jr. responds to a pornographic verbal exchange that glorifies assaulting women by saying “We’re all sinners” as though that suddenly levels the playing field and makes it OK for Christians to go along with these things since, again, we’re all in the same immoral soup. But the “we’re all sinners” line–true though it is–never excuses or saves the pastor who is found in bed with the church secretary and is seldom used as a reason just to forgive him and let him keep baptizing babies and preaching sermons. So I don’t see how that becomes a flip way to keep supporting what, when I was a boy, I was told to flee and shun for the worldliness it represented. Now I find a large swath of the evangelical church in this country just brushing past it and supporting a tawdry, race-baiting figure because they somehow believe it’s a pro-life thing to do. Our witness may or may not ever recover.
I think in a post on The Twelve last summer I looked ahead to this election and to this fall and said I dreaded it. I wasn’t wrong.
But someone in my Facebook circle of friends posted something apt along these lines a while back when he reminded us that Jesus once said that in this world we’d have all kinds of trouble but to take heart because “I have overcome the world.” That’s more than good enough for me. These days, it has to be. And may that same Lord somehow put us back together as his people, his Body, somewhere down the road.