The morning after Election Day in America, I asked myself and a few friends: What frightens you the most? For me, it was war. But I do not have to fear for my family’s safety. I am not made to feel unwelcome in any room. I am secure in my job, my home, my family, my little church, my healthcare. I am respected and not despised. The system works for me.
We Americans live in a country in which more and more people have more and more fears, and fewer securities. By some measures we are more free than we have ever been, but we are also more alone. We are free to do anything we wish, but more and more of us doubt that anything we do can make a difference. Trump voters in West Virginia, Bernie voters in California, Occupy Wall Street activists in New York, and Black Lives Matter activists in Missouri, all agree: the system is rigged. Arguably this election was won by a large new coalition of Americans who believe the system is rigged against them: rural and rust-belt working-class whites, the people J.D. Vance writes of in Hillbilly Elegy.
Who has rigged the system? There is usually an assumed answer to that question, sotto voce or out in the open: It is the financiers, the fat cats, maybe the Jews; it is Washington and all of the politicians; or maybe it’s the blacks, the racist bigots out in the country, the liberals, the media, Big Oil, the haters. Anyhow, there is more than enough evidence on my Facebook feed to confirm that it is all their fault. I had nothing to do with it.
America is a free country, so we have always said about ourselves. The idea was that there would be no system, no rigging, no hierarchies or restricting traditions, but only free individuals joining together to make a new and better world: novus ordo seclorum. The trouble is that we cannot seem to get away from the System. The more we hack away at it, the more it creeps up again, but now somehow invisible, impervious, far away and outside our control. We are not pulling the levers, wherever they are, so it must be them.
We say we are free, but more of us feel alone, afraid, angry, despised, and powerless. The freedom America brought has begun to feel like a freedom from community, shared values, stability, security, family, and dignity. Does it need to be? Do all of those words really mean, without quite saying: My community, our shared values, my tribe’s stability and security and not yours?
In the Bible, freedom is an ambiguous word. It was a very great good for the Israelites to be liberated from slavery in Egypt! But the very first thing the children of Israel did with their freedom was worship a golden calf. And so God brought them to Mt. Sinai, where they were given the Law and commanded to teach it to their children’s children. They were given the Temple, to worship God and make atonement for sin. They were given the land and a king in Zion. But the children of Israel worshiped idols all the same, and their kings became lovers of power and money, and the twelve tribes turned on each other. And so in the fullness of time they were given the Lamb of God and the King of Kings, the great deliverer from every enemy and the perfect atonement for sin. In the Church we are given all of this too, by God’s grace. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel! For in Christ’s body we are set free to worship him without fear, all the days of our life (Luke 1:74).
Here is no rigged system, but a God in whose service is perfect freedom, in whose Son is pardon and deliverance from all our sins, and in whose Church is perfect communion, as all join together with one voice in praise and thanksgiving, now and forever. Amen!
There are no shortcuts to this freedom: no way to get there without God and his saving and sanctifying gifts. Insofar as American freedom has told us that we could, it has all been a lie, just another golden calf. Insofar as our church has bought into this lie, we too have bowed the knee to Baal. But God has given us everything we need to follow him now, without any fear. We have the Word to teach to our children’s children. We have the gospel to proclaim, sins to confess and absolve.
We have all of the gifts of God we will ever need to draw together a broken, fearful, divided, lonely, angry world into one people of God, in Christ’s broken and risen body. That is where God’s politics begins, as it always has.
Thanks be to God.