My father (of blessed memory) once told me that the scariest moment he had witnessed in his life was when a munition accidentally exploded on a dock, causing a stampede. His memory was especially poignant considering that Dad was a child of the Depression and served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
I think Dad’s memory helped create my general discomfort with crowds, especially when other types of explosions might occur. I feel no inclination to attend a political rally for Donald J. Trump, whether to support him (I do not) or to oppose his politics (as one who became a Republican in the early 1980s, I can think of several respectable alternatives).
That said, I share the sense of dismay that many Americans feel in watching the chaos that unfolds, time after time, as Trump’s supporters rally and his opponents try to disrupt (or even shut down) his speeches. Anyone who has followed the political news of recent weeks knows the scenes: a group shoves an African American young woman at a Trump rally; a veteran asks forgiveness for joining the crowd in shoving her; a man sucker-punches a protester who is being escorted out; tensions at a Trump rally at the downtown University of Illinois-Chicago leads Trump to postpone his speech there.
Episcopalians have expressed their concern in recent weeks about the tenor of Trump and his massive political rallies. Statements by my fellow Episcopalians have ranged from scolding to more subtly critical (the House of Bishops). The House of Bishops’ statement has circulated widely, as the bishops approved it unanimously. Leaders of the United Church of Christ found the bishops’ statement impressive enough to sign on to it. But the bishops’ statement engages in one of the more troubling habits of Episcopalians: repenting on behalf of others.
The Rev. Canon Mark Harris made this point last week while explaining his minor disagreements with the bishops’ document:
We miserable sinners are both convinced that it is not “they” that are responsible for our state, but “we.” The arc of our liturgical life in Lent leads us to understand that even the best of us are given to the miseries of humanity groping in half-light for a vision of hope. So it is the time of the year when we read the Ten Commandments, sing the Great Litany, and finally on Good Friday put the cards on the table, showing that we, even the best of us, are indeed people under God’s judgment and in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. All of which ought to inform our sense of what is going on out there in political land.
The Bishops, however, did not go there. Good Friday, crucifixion, resurrection … they all are invoked in this message, but become events in the suffering of the innocent, marginal and poor at the hands of those caught up in the web of idolatrous power and wealth. True, but not true enough.
Although the bishops do not mention Trump by name, the fingers of accusation point outward:
Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others.
What I find lacking in this statement is any sense of personal confession. It is no challenge to furrow our brows when angry voters and protesters end up swinging at each other. Such violence is not a besetting sin for most Episcopalians — we seem to favor superciliousness — and it should surprise no one that Episcopalians are alarmed by it.
With Canon Harris, I appreciate that the bishops felt a need to address the toxic atmosphere of American politics in this campaign. But I wish they had written something that challenges Episcopalians to feel something more than satisfaction about refraining from sins that do not tempt us.
Here is my effort to face the darkness in my own soul. I expect this campaign’s conflicts will drive me to say this prayer many times between now and November:
Almighty God, show your mercy on United States citizens as we choose our 45th President. Guide us as we decide who will lead our nation with compassion, honor, justice, and mercy. Guard us from protecting our interests at the cost of the common good. Deliver us from adding to backbiting, envy, gossip, malice, slander, or wrath. Forgive us for those times when we define our neighbors chiefly through the fog of discord. Help us to greet our brothers and sisters, including those whose political choices baffle us, as we would greet Jesus Christ our Lord.