Message for Our Times
PATRIARCHS MESSAGE FOR OUR TIMES
There is nothing like a presidential election cycle to uncover the division that exists in America. But that is true of every nation. I have been to several nations when an election was taking place and the bishops, clergy, and citizens were in fear of civil war. Several times we were limited to where we could travel because of the violence. Once, two of our bishops, from opposing tribes, in a show of unity found in Christ alone, intervened to stop the violence that could have resulted in the death of hundreds of citizens. This nation is still divided, and every election still presents an opportunity for radical and extremist groups to cause unrest. Two countries where we have churches have been in civil war since I have been a bishop. Even in Europe, we find civil unrest and riots sometimes on a regular basis. It is only because of COVID 19 that Paris has been free of weekly demonstrations. For some European nations, the elections are extremely divisive and result in massive demonstrations, often ending in violence. In this, America is not unique.
America has been severely divided before. In 1960, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon ran for President. The results of the election were one of the closest, if not the closest, election in our history. Immediately, there were accusations of voter fraud which were never investigated. President Kennedy was accused of stealing the election. People feared that if President Kennedy was elected America would become a Catholic nation and the President would be controlled by the Pope. There have been other times of great division like during the Vietnam War when there were massive demonstrations. One demonstration in Ohio resulted in the National Guard opening fire on college students. Four college students died during that demonstration. Further, the Civil Rights movement resulted in division. In order to desegregate schools in some states, federal troops had to be deployed because “segregationist” state governors would not use the state police or militia to enforce federal law. Police often brutalized demonstrators and the nation divided over the use of force by police officers. There were cries for the nation “to support the local police” as well as cries to disarm the police. At this time, people looked to the courts for justice. Like today, people were forced to take sides either for an end to racial segregation or in support of the police. Following the death of Martin Luther King, there were race riots in the streets of major cities, particularly in the north. Again, troops had to be called in to stop the rioting. The nomination of the Democrat candidate in Chicago in 1968 was surrounded by violence and excessive use of force by the police, and some suggest that Hubert Humphrey lost the election because of the violence. Even the Church was divided at this time. During this time, the Moral Majority was formed and backed mostly conservative candidates. The Moral Majority played a significant role in the election of Richard Nixon and Ronald Raegan. Soon they became known as the ‘religious right’. Pastors marched against and for segregation. Pastors marched against the War in Vietnam and in support of Vietnam. Unfortunately, even today these opposing groups in the Church form a strong political base for candidates on both sides. I believe an “unholy” alliance has been made in some cases. At one time in American history, we were divided so much that a horrible war was fought claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. Also, during this divisive moment, both sides of the conflict invoked God and saw their cause as righteous.
I enjoy Facebook and Instagram because I miss my grandchildren. I recognize that of the over 4,000 friends I have on Facebook not all are “real” friends. I don’t think I know 4,000 people. Of those I don’t even know, I still like following their posts. I do have a number of “real” friends and family on Facebook and Instagram, and I enjoy hearing about their birthdays, anniversaries, family events, vacations, and especially their (non-political) humor. I enjoy Facebook when some of my “real” friends recommend books, articles, television shows, and movies. During the pandemic, I have enjoyed watching live streams from churches and hearing some dynamic sermons. Actually, if you’re interested, I am on Facebook and I live stream broadcasts daily. I appreciate the medium in its value for proclaiming the Gospel. I hope you visit my page and listen to me if you get the chance. I am planning on expanding my social media and online presence in the future.
But the political right and the political left, as well as “political junkies”, and “news junkies”. have hijacked social media. It has been hijacked not for the purpose of reasonable debate or discussion but with the intent to attack a candidate and see how many “likes” one can get. Those who object to division and accuse a candidate of being divisive often add fuel to the fire of division by name-calling and “mud-slinging.” The mere mention of certain names will cause a flurry of name-calling or Opt Eds. Debate is then done in sound bites, sarcasm, attack, and short, often poorly written, opinion editorials usually with the sole purpose of denigrating a politician or political position. So intense is the division in social media that friendships have been destroyed. Others remain silent for fear of being labeled as “right-wing,” “left-wing,” “Democrat,” or Republican.” Sadly this could ultimately result in losing a friendship. What is sad is that often times the biggest offenders of perpetuating these divisions are Christians.
There has been in American Christianity, a dangerous marriage between faith and politics. This is not something new. In American history we see this strange marriage occur repeatedly, sometimes appropriately as in the case of ending racism or protecting innocent life. However, more often it has been a division between Catholics and Protestants, White Church and Churches of color, or the forming of an alliance to push agendas that have little to do with the Gospel, like Prohibition or blue laws. I have even read on Facebook pastors acting as political alarmists and predicting the destruction of America if this or that candidate is elected in 2020. I have been challenged by some clergy and laity to take this or that position or support a certain candidate because if their candidate is not elected America will be destroyed. I refuse. I have only stated that I am Pro-Life of the Seamless garment variety. There is enough in that statement to offend almost everyone, including some of my closest friends. The restoration of human dignity is my concern and the preaching of Christ crucified is my concern.
Where is the Church to be in all of this? I believe it is imperative for the Church to speak in matters of morality. The Church must have a clear call when it comes to proclaiming the right to life from conception to natural death. The Church must speak out when there is injustice and cry out for justice. The Church needs to pray that we have righteous leaders and pray for all those in authority. The Church needs to stand strong when it comes to ending corruption in developing nations. The Church needs to be leaders in ending the sex trade industry. The Church must call for an end to any type of racism and be sure that there is and continues to be racial justice. But mostly the Church’s role is not to become another political institution, but to help her members educate themselves to form a Biblical foundation for making a moral or faith-based decision when they vote.
The Church’s role is to bring the Gospel to the nations. It is to teach and preach the Gospel that alone makes us all sons and daughters of the Father. We are to resist those who want to divide us into political parties. It must be used to help people to embrace the identity that is better than any other: Child of God and inheritor of the Kingdom of heaven. We are called to train our people in the proper use of the Holy Scriptures, the traditions of the historic and ancient church, and how to pray. We are called to kneel only to the King of the Kingdom of God and worship Him alone. We are never to embrace a false messiah or let a god of political secularism be elevated in our churches as a king or messiah. There is only one God and we know Him in Jesus Christ.
I believe we need to seek reconciliation in the Church first. The Church is divided, and it is one of the reasons our voice is not heard in the secular world. Often the Church is divided along political and racial lines (this is not something new). The world has been divided along these lines for the whole of American Christian history. In this generation, there is an urgent need to move beyond the barriers and find our unity only in Christ Jesus who is the head of the Church. We need to be about the mission and vision of our King. It is only in Christ that we will be able to come together. If we come in prayer and repentance, as the children of God, our Father will heal our lands. Are we desperate for God’s healing in our lands? If we are desperate, are we turning to the “false messiahs of politics?” Or are we seeking God for our healing?
Under His mercy,