As I write this, it is the first day after Epiphany 2021, the first day after the U.S. Capitol building was stormed by those seeking to disrupt and overturn the formal counting of presidential electoral votes. I find some comfort in today's scripture reading for our daily Morning Prayers.
I have witnessed the corrupt become powerful,
and flourish like trees born for this soil.
Then suddenly they vanished and were gone -
I looked for them, but they couldn't be found.
But take note of the blameless - behold the upright,
for there is a future for peacemakers.
(Ps. 37:35-37, The Inclusive Bible)
As an ordained minister and seminary professor, I try to be careful about venturing into partisan politics and mentioning the names of specific politicians. But sometimes the gravity of the situation makes it necessary. I have closely followed the news during the last four years. And I have become increasingly dismayed at the corruption and blatant self-interest of the current 45th U.S. president and the incredible damage he is doing to our nation. His lying has been constant, his denial of truth has been continual, his demeaning of anyone who gets in his way has been consistent, and his abuse of power is deeply concerning. Christian values of justice for the most vulnerable, care of creation, compassion for those suffering, hospitality to strangers, and upholding of truth have all been trampled. And now he has encouraged this.
What has been especially disheartening and puzzling to me has been the way many white evangelicals have embraced and supported him. The white evangelicals I know are good people. Some are my family and friends. The disconnect between what I know of their good character and that of the President they have chosen is jarring. The most magnanimous way I can understand this is that they are in a social bubble of people being deceived and manipulated by the web of lies and conspiracy theories this president and his media supporters continually promote for their own gain.
My hope is that the events of yesterday popped that bubble, and that there resulted an epiphany, a new grasp of reality whereby what is happening was finally made clear. The claims of widespread election fraud are lies made up so that this president can retain power. They have been investigated by election officials and courts and deemed unfounded. The integrity of the election has been repeatedly affirmed by those in official positions to know. Accepting the results of a fair election is essential to democracy. And democracy, with its respect for individual rights, best aligns with Christian hopes for a just and thriving society for all.
The truth of what is happening is not that the election victory has been stolen from this president. It is that he is willing to abuse his power, stoke unrest, and do whatever is necessary to hold on to power for himself, despite the fact that he lost the election by wide margins. Yesterday he stood by silently for hours as his fervent followers totally disrespected a primary symbol of our democracy, the U.S. Capitol building, vandalizing and disrupting its democratic processes with violence. It is time that this corrupt leader to be gone for the well-being of this nation. And it is time for us to support Congressional leaders who are seeking to preserve the integrity of our democracy.
This is also a time for considerable reflection as Christians and as pastoral leaders. How did we get to this place? How is it that so many of our Christian brothers and sisters are devoted to this president? And what can be the role for those of us who seek to be upright and peacemakers in the midst of this situation of political turmoil? We know that a lasting peace must be built on the foundation of truth, yet it is truth that has been trampled and distorted so that for many it is no longer recognizable.
Many of us may have relationships with people who have been caught up in the lies of this president. It is easy to want to remain silent so as to "keep the peace" and avoid conflict. This is especially so in congregational settings. Now we have seen how dangerous it is to do so. People caught in a bubble of deception need different but trusted voices. We need to use this upsetting time to engage in conversations wherein we first listen curiously to the perspectives of these others and then speak factually-based words of truth in ways that are respectful and kind. There is never room for violence - not in our words and not in our actions. Attacks and harsh expressions of anger do not promote the needed self-reflective process.
"Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves," Jesus said (Mt. 10:16). That is, be careful to discern the truth, but also always be gentle and nonviolent. Perhaps for some there has come a time of epiphany and a need to rethink the reality of what is occurring. If so, our "speaking the truth in love" is what is needed.
By Ruth Rosell, Director of the Buttry Center for Peace and Nonviolence
Posted January 8, 2021