Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On economic disasters and political discussions: A Christian Approach

For whatever reason, I find myself one step removed from the daily onslaught of breathy newscasters prognosticating doom and gloom regarding the economy, and slashing lives and destroying souls as they "report" the latest news from the Election Trail.

It helps not having television. Whatever news I get I either hear on NPR over breakfast, or read in the few online news sites I frequent, or catch as I work out at the YMCA. But I'm spared the 5:00 news, which is repeated in the 5:30 news, and then rehashed in the 6:00 news, which is then spun over in the 6:30 news, and then repeated all over again in the 10:00 news. And I'm fortunate to not be swamped by the 24-hour-a-day, never-ending "It's the End of the World as We Know It" coverage on the cable news networks.

Perhaps because of that separation, because we get our news sparingly, I find myself more interested in the HOW question than the WHAT question. I'm truthfully not all that interested in what is being reported, so much as I'm fascinated (and troubled) by how the issues are being discussed, both at the "professional news" level and at the "common citizen" level. It is obvious by now that professional news organizations are anything but impartial - whether you are watching Fox or CNN or MSNBC, as much time is spent mocking Obama or Palin or McCain or Biden as is spent reporting what they actually say and do. Vitriolic diatribes fly back and forth, making fun of Palin's wink or blasting Obama's ex-pastor. And it's not just the candidates: let's show clips of rednecks carrying McCain/Palin signs; let's find clips of Christians praying for certain candidates; let's make caricatures of them lib'ruls and their money-wasting, anti-American ways.

I probably don't need to say anything more about that. You're smart enough to know what I mean.

The other issue, of course, is the economic disaster facing our world. And the tsunami-o-blame crashing around in its wake. It's the double-whammy, really. People are frightened, people are losing their jobs and their retirement funds. I had the "good wisdom" about a year ago to take a chunk of cash out of a low-interest savings account and invest it with the Covenant Trust Company. I'm sure the plan, which was to do better than that savings account, has actually backfired. I've been hit hard, too.

And so people are fearful, they are doubtful, they are wondering what tomorrow brings. They are tied into the news, rejoicing over every uptick on the Stock Market, despairing with each successive drop.

Between the two - the political scene and the economic scene, it seems that two emotions rule the day: anger and fear. The anger manifests itself every time a person says "I'm thinking about voting for. . ." Friends of mine have had threats leveled at them because of the political bumper stickers on their car. Internet message boards are filled with slander and venom toward those who support one candidate or the other. Anyone who disagrees with another is an "ignoramous" or a "neo-con" or a "fundamentalist" or a "socialist." I've been warned against discussing politics in the church, because we may end up causing anger and division. And, there's probably some truth to that.

The fear manifests itself in the endless stock reports, the sell-offs, the message boards and coffee shops where people sit around comparing our time to the Great Depression, where people stare into the opening chasm of financial chaos and see the end of their hopes and dreams, and wonder if they'll be left selling apples on the street corner. People who are beginning to stock up on cans of soup, people afraid to rent a DVD or go out to dinner, people who lie awake at night and feel the cold snake of anxiety slither into their room, constricting around their heart and smothering their soul. Fear that the world is sinking around us, that our ship is going under and we may just miss the lifeboats. Fear that the sun will not, in fact, come out tomorrow.

Fear and anger. Anger and fear. Perhaps the two most prevalent emotions of the day.

And as I sit back and watch all this, as I ponder the how of this conversation, I'm struck that the conversation within the church isn't much different.

I get the letters in the mail, I read the internet message boards, I notice the advertisements. There are a lot of angry Christians out there. Christians angry at the "liberals trying to ruin the country." Christians angry at the gays for trying to ruin the country. Christians angry at the fundamentalists for giving a bad name to Christianity. Christians declaring "no follower of Jesus could vote for Obama." And Christians saying "anybody who reads the words of Jesus HAS to vote for Obama."

And Christians who are afraid. Or at least silent in the face of doubt and uncertainty. Christians who are fearful of what tomorrow may bring.

Or, of course, those other Christians who are ecstatic -the ones who figure that all this means Jesus must be coming back in the next week or so, so "Praise the Lord for all the devastation! It just means prophecy is being fulfilled!"

In the end, it seems to me that these reactions - anger, fear, exaltation at the suffering of others - are the exact opposite of the emotions that ought to mark followers of Christ.

Instead, the people of God ought to shine in the world as examples of gentleness, peacefulness, and simple trust. Consider:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not think you are superior.

As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other.

. . .I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.

So, then, this is the proper response for Christians in the midst of political turmoil and economic disaster: love, respect, gentleness, trust, prayer, peace.

Imagine if Christians engaged in political discussion in a way that was truly respectful of the opinions of others. If Christians could strongly disagree over candidates and issues, and yet treat each other with humility, considering each other better than themselves. Imagine if Christians utterly refused to allow political beliefs and opinions to divide them. Imagine if every time Christians had a political discussion we did so under a huge banner that said "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." And what if we actually lived it?

In other words, what if our common faith in Christ was more important, more precious to us than our opinions on earthly political matters?

And what if we chose to believe God's promises of provision? What if Christians truly were a people of hope and courage in the midst of recession? What if we joyously professed our belief that God will provide? And, just as important, what if those who still had money and possessions shared what they had with those who had lost jobs, those who had witnessed the disappearance of their savings?

What if the Body of Christ were enthused with hope, and practiced love and care for those who suffer?

Just what kind of impact would that make? How would it change the conversation?

So this is what I believe:
1. Those who follow Christ must be marked by the fruit of the Spirit - gentleness, kindness, love, peace foremost. We must not behave like news broadcasters, pundits, and so many bloggers, spitefully mocking those with whom we disagree. We must listen and respect all who come to the conversation.
2. No matter how bad things become, Christians must not lose their hope that God will make all things well. Thus, Christians can radiate joy and gladness even in the midst of pain and sorrow, for we know that, ultimately, we are in God's hands, and, in the words of the great song, "no power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from his hand."
3. In all things, the Body must stand strong together, meeting each other's needs, caring and providing for those who hurt and hunger, challenging those who are becoming divisive and unruly.

What I'm really saying is this: we are not of this world; thus, we ought not to behave like this world. May the mind of Christ dwell richly within us, so that it is his light that shines through us, bringing hope and civility to a world that has lost its way.

1 comment:

Erin said...

Amen to that!