Dear Friends and Family,
I am just done being polite.
Having been on the receiving end of an anthrax hoax the night before last, I’m going to take my gloves off for a minute and just speak my mind.
I know this will be long, but please take a few minutes to read it, and to give me your feedback. Because I hope that this isn’t just Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder rearing up, but rather my little brain finally putting words to some long-held convictions.
This is not in response to any particular email or conversation; this is not directed to anyone specifically, but it is in response to some things that God has been stirring up in me this week, and last night just lit the fuse.
Consider it an anti-endorsement.
When this campaign started, it was like opening day of baseball season. I love politics, I love the debating and the jostling and positioning and the punditry and all the kerfuffle that goes along with a presidential campaign. But there’s been an undercurrent in this election that really bothers me, and it’s part of a larger trend in politics and in America in general, and is being echoed among the body of Christ.
There is a continued polarization, a pitting of one side against the other, and a fueling of that polarization to the point that each side becomes a caricature instead of actual people with actual, valid concerns, resorting to name-calling and jaw-dropping sound bites rather than reasoned dialog with an aim toward compromise. Rather than trying to reach any kind of understanding, the highest goal appears to be to humiliate the other side into switching over to your side.
I am tired of the bigoted, divisive rhetoric that makes Obama out to be a shadowy secret monster who is going to destroy America. I am tired of repeated talking points that paint McCain as George Bush with whiter hair. I am tired of talk of “real Americans” and $150,000 wardrobes and socialism and Joe the Plumber and whatever other distractions the campaigns can come up with.
I have been guilty of my share of divisiveness in this campaign. I have been, at times, closed-minded and one-sided. I have reveled in the awkwardness of the other side’s gaffes while defending the gaffes of those I support. I have at times been hypocritical rather than critical. I am writing this out of conviction to myself, as well as to anyone else who will read it.
What this country needs right now is a leader who will be President of the United States, not just President of the people who voted for him. We need a leader who will not fuel the us and them, the us vs. them, mentality that has come to dominate politics in the last 16 years. America is in bad shape right now — the economy is in the tank, “No Child Left Behind” has been a disaster for our schools, and we are so overextended in Afghanistan that there is now talk of negotiating with the Taliban.
The bottom line is that I believe, with everything I’ve seen and read, Barack Obama is that kind of leader.
And so is John McCain.
I believe we will be far better off with either man in the White House than we have been these last eight years, and even before that. Obama is not a socialist, or the antichrist; McCain will not just be an extension of the Bush administration. McCain’s first name is not Bush (as in “Bush McCain”) and so what if Obama’s middle name is Hussein?
The truth is, we will be better off, or worse off, not because of who wins the election but because of how we treat each other, and how we respond to the hurting and helpless — the least of these — among us.
We will be better or worse off because of how we treat those who think and vote differently than we do.
In five days, Americans will vote, and someone will win, and some will be happy, and some will be disappointed.
A few days ago, in attempting to research the truth behind yet another email I received, I found myself poking around a couple of white supremacist websites. There was some pretty ugly stuff there, and it should have been shocking.
Unfortunately, what these inbred rednecks were saying wasn’t far from what I’ve already seen coming from Christian websites and newsletters and emails from this ministry or that. They just used uglier language to say the same things.
In this campaign season, Christians have spread some of the ugliest, most divisive filth imaginable, in the name of ministry. In the name of the Church. In the name of my Jesus.
That sickens me. It makes me ashamed of the kind of “witness” that is for the rest of the world, who are watching us all the time. *All* the time.
I feel sorry for racists who have never been exposed to any other way of thinking, but I feel sorrier for Christians whose God is so small that He cannot be God unless there is a Republican in the White House.
God is God, and God will be God, regardless of what happens in this election.
God was God when the Jews were held in slavery.
God was God when innocents were being slaughtered in His name during the Crusades.
God was God during the Enlightenment.
God was God during the Reformation, and when the Pilgrims came to America, and during the Civil War, and God was God during the Holocaust, and God is God in good times and bad, now and forever.
What does all this have to do with the anthrax threat yesterday?
No matter who wins, as a result of this election we will remain a people who have been polarized by rhetoric and innuendo and flat-out lies. While most of the chatter will die out after the election is over, there will always be a small percentage of people who still cry conspiracy and fuel the rumbling of fanatics.
There will be those who do nothing more than post inarticulate ramblings on obscure websites, but there will be a few who are motivated to do more, who will, as a result, respond to this us vs. them divide to justify some otherwise very fanatical responses.
This motivation leads people to do unimaginable things. It leads people to mail fake anthrax across the country. It leads people to mail real anthrax across the country. It leads people to bomb abortion clinics. It led Timothy McVeigh to kill 800 people in Oklahoma City. It led others to assassinate great men.
The bible is clear about what is needed to counter such thinking:
If my people [God’s people, not Americans], which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
If any divisive, polarizing rhetoric is to continue, let us have no part in it.
Let us be above it. If that stuff comes to us, it should stop there.
I love America; here we have a unique freedom to live out the calling of Jesus and be an example to all nations of the kind of tolerance that Jesus embraced when he dined with sinners — neither backing down from the gospel, nor using it to drive a wedge between “us” and “them.”
Many of you have read Donald Miller’s book “Blue Like Jazz.” If you’re not familiar with him, he’s a Christian writer who has a gift of putting some pretty complex concepts into clever, clear terms. He tends to cut right to the point, and writes some pretty penetrating, insightful stuff.
Miller was invited to share the convocation one night at the Democratic National Convention this year; I repeat his prayer, in part, here.
This week, as the world looks on, help the leaders in this room create a civil dialogue about our future.
We need you, God, as individuals and also as a nation.
We need you to protect us from our enemies, but also from ourselves, because we are easily tempted toward apathy.
Give us a passion to advance opportunities for the least of these, for widows and orphans, for single moms and children whose fathers have left.
Give us the eyes to see them, and the ears to hear them, and hands willing to serve them.
Help us serve people, not just causes. And stand up to specific injustices rather than vague notions.
Father, will you restore our moral standing in the world.
A lot of people don’t like us but that’s because they don’t know the heart of the average American.
Will you give us favor and forgiveness, along with our allies around the world.
Help us be an example of humility and strength once again.
Lastly, father, unify us.
Even in our diversity help us see how much we have in common.
And unify us not just in our ideas and in our sentiments—but in our actions, as we look around and figure out something we can do to help create an America even greater than the one we have come to cherish.
God we know that you are good.
Thank you for blessing us in so many ways as Americans.
I make these requests in the name of your son, Jesus, who gave his own life against the forces of injustice.
Let Him be our example.