It ends before a paragraph is written. Anything I might say seems so obvious. Trite. I feel like Chicken Little! How many times can I warn that “the sky is falling!”? Why bother?
Once a preacher always a preacher? The people I most want to reach are professing Christians who leave me gasping for air: the part of the American electorate that seems so out of touch with their spiritual-moral core that they cannot see clearly the gaping chasm between their faith and their politics.
Can we find common ground?
Christians of all sorts read the same Bible. We read different translations, and we read it differently, but we read it. We cherry pick parts of the Bible that support our viewpoint and black out what we prefer to ignore. A search for a small patch of solid ground that could become the common ground for respectful conversation about faith and politics landed on Paul’s good counsel to the Philippians.
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, If there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Letter of Paul to the Philippians 4:8Letter to the Philippians 4:8
We all need more of goodness. Less ugliness. Greater attention to the things that are excellent and worthy of praise; less attention to things that are worthy of scorn; more love, less hate. These qualities of character are a succinct guide in all areas of life. But no sooner do we agree with Paul’s wisdom than the divisions re-create themselves.
Christians, nones, dones, agnostics, and atheists
Yet no sooner do we shake hands in agreement with Paul’s advice, than we retun to the fight that brought us to this moment. In 2020, what do we deem truthful, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable/worthy of praise, and how do the these qualities of character guide professing Christians as we make decisions in public life?
It troubles me that the nones, dones, agnostic and atheist friends practice what Paul advised more than the growing number who have read Paul’s letter. How does a professing disciple of Jesus become deaf to the shrillness, the ugliness, the smirk, the self-serving manipulation of the sacred, the drip-by-drip erosion of trust, the disappearance of what we once regarded as admirable?
White House Press Conference 09/23/2020
WH Correspondent: “Will you commit to a peaceful transition of power if you lose the election?” The President: “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens. You know that.”
WH Correspondent: “Will you commit to making sure there is a peaceful transfer of power?” The President: “We want to have — get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful, there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.”
Campaign mailing to homes in Minnesota
“To serve, protect, and defend the Constitution”
It’s hard to turn attention to whatever is excellent and worthy of praise when I see the American ancestors of the Philippian church applauding the desecration of what Paul taught, to say nothing of ignoring the violation of the President’s oath of office “to protect, serve, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.”
Getting it wrong and not getting it
But those who support Mr. Trump are not the only ones in need of re-reading the Letter to the Philippians. Progressive evangelical theologian and social justice activist Jim Wallis summarizes the American political scene in God’s Politics: Why the Right gets it wrong and the Left doesn’t get it (2005, Harper-Collins). Who of us is not poisoned in 2020?
In need of a stomach pump
The 2020 American electoral campaign reminds me of the day my two-year-old brother swallowed Drano before being rushed to the hospital emergency room where they pumped his stomach before the poison could kill him.
Who will pump our stomach before the Drano burns away the things that are commendable — and American constitutional republic — from inside out?
Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, September 24.