November 15, 2004

Reflection on the Recent Election

November 2, 2004, was a sad day for me. When it became obvious the next day that President George W. Bush had been elected, I wrote the following message to the e-mail list of Progressive Episcopalian of Pittsburgh (PEP). I am PEP’s president.
Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.
— 1 Peter 5:8-10 (NRSV)
I am profoundly sad today, and I suspect that many in Progressive Episcopalian of Pittsburgh feel as I do. Even supporters of George W. Bush—a group that most certainly does not contain me—must have reservations about yesterday’s elections. Although both the popular and Electoral College votes will be closely divided, the vast interior of the country is, to borrow a term from Maureen Dowd, Bushworld. Democrats cling to the continental fringes—the Northeast, part of the Upper Midwest, the West Coast, and Hawaii. Florida, whose residents surely favored Gore in 2000, is today blood red. Republicans continue to be a slim majority, yet rule with arrogant swagger. Bush has failed utterly to be a uniter and not a divider. And, yet, we appear to be condemned to another four years of his polarizing “leadership.”

Putting aside my fear that neither the United States nor the world can survive another four years of Republican rule without some as-yet unknown global calamity, I am worried by the widely remarked phenomenon that the Bush victory—and I assume it is a victory—is driven by “moral values.” Apparently, 80% of people interviewed in exit polls who cited “moral values” as their top concern voted for Bush. This appalling statistic is a challenge to all Christians who are not conservative Evangelicals. I fear that, in the popular mind, God is a Republican. This is a situation we must change, lest the years ahead see a spiritual and intellectual return of the Dark Ages.

Whatever our immediate goals in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the Episcopal Church, or even the Anglican Communion, we, with other Christians in the country, must represent Christ’s message as one of love toward God and of our fellow brothers and sisters. Christianity needs to be recognized in the popular imagination as a religion whose message is not necessarily one of literal adherence to a simpleminded reading of the ancient texts. I want to be proud, not embarrassed, to call myself a Christian. I want others to join me on the Christian journey, a difficult path whose twists and turns are not always obvious and whose borders are often ambiguous, rather than sharply delineated. I want people to recognize that “moral values” are not a fixed checklist so much as a set of principles and a process for applying them. Chief among those principles is love and the example of it we have in Jesus Christ. We achieve our moral vision by engaging our entire selves—mind, body, and spirit—in the quest for God’s plan for us. Prayer, study, reflection, and listening are elements of the journey, as is action, but not simply reflexive action that mistakes self-interest and prejudice for God’s will.

Perhaps our mission statement is too narrow, our audience too restricted. We are Christians, and our job is to represent Christ to the world. That world is very different from the one in which he walked two millennia ago. We would do well to ask ourselves the question often asked, though perhaps poorly answered, by conservative Christians: What would Jesus do? Let me put that another way: Were Jesus in the White House, would his agenda be that of George W. Bush? The answer to that question is obvious to me. We need to make it obvious to others.

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