Mid-Week Bible Study

I’ve been pondering a lot since yesterday as to how the election of 2010 will come to affect us.  A million thoughts are swirling around in my head, my heart, and my gut — not all of them very pleasant I must say.  But one effect became clear to me last night at Bible Study.  This election, perhaps like none other before, has made divisiveness and public viciousness more of a norm and (lest you think I’m saying this is what happened at Bible Study — it did not) it has made those of us who feel vulnerable in some way to the attacks of others even more anxious and on the defensive (which is what I witnessed in my precious community last evening).

It’s nothing new for electoral politics to breed mud-slinging and encourage public defamation.  I remember in high school learning about some of the political cartoons and speeches of the 1800’s that would compare quite easily with what we saw this fall.  What happened this year was this negativity was brought directly into our homes and personal lives in unprecedented proportions.  Simply horrible commercials began airing months ago, and poured into our lives on every available television station like a huge unstoppable mudslide in the weeks before November 2.  Cards, letters, and newsletters from dear friends and beloved institutions were mixed in with bold, graphic, and stinging postcards and flyers from candidates.  I didn’t even have the choice of opening or not opening these wretched pieces of refuse for they glared at me from the moment I opened my mailbox.

For a community like Franklin Circle Christian Church, where we work hard to “widen the circle for ALL God’s children,” such hateful language and thoughtless accusations stir up a lot of painful memories for us.  For a multi-racial, multi-ethnic community, where our work against racism and efforts to nurture reconciliation are vital to who we are, this campaign can’t help but remind our sisters and brothers of color, and those of us who would stand in solidarity with them, of attacks against them for hundreds of years in this country.  For an accessible congregation that seeks diligently to include persons of a wide variety of physical, emotional and mental abilities and mobilities, what we’ve been through in the last few weeks and months surely must give them pause to wonder how safe it is to ask for help and believe that accommodation for their unique needs is legitimate anywhere, even at a church that proclaims them valuable and worthy.  For an Open & Affirming church, and I can speak for myself here, to have the campaign plunge to the lowest of lows and watch even trusted politicians reduced to name-calling and spiteful tactics, it has unnerved me and caused those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning to watch even trusted friends and colleagues just a little more warily and to express my particular point of view and critique on the world just a little more cautiously.  Most tragically, I believe, the tenor of the public debates will eat away at the dignity and sense of self-worth for those of us who are poor, under- or unemployed, hungry, lonely, and living life on the edge… thus hurting irreparably some of the most beloved members of my church.

To put it bluntly, this campaign has made those of us who feel vulnerable already to fear more and trust less.

And this effects our life in community, even if the communities of which we are a part have clear and proven commitments to protect all and advocate for the least among us.  Our work will be harder in the coming years because of what happened in the United States in the mid-term elections of 2010.  Which is another way of saying our work will be even more important in the coming years.

I’m not saying that the anxiety and anger, the tension and confrontation that happened last night at Bible Study would not have happened before.  In fact, there has been a conversation needing to happen in our community of faith about what it means to widen the circle so much that we include people with widely different theological, political, and social perspectives.  It’s probably the cutting edge for diverse congregations like ours, and we need to begin talking about it openly and honestly before it divides us unnecessarily.  What I am saying, however, is the tension I experienced drew up more quickly within me feelings of shame, vulnerability, defensiveness, and self-protection than ever before, and this “thinness of skin” was unmistakably due to the damage wrought by this election.

My prayer, of course, is that we recognize what this election has done to us, and to diverse communities like ours, quickly and honestly, so that we can again let the wisdom of Jesus and the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit nurture and enable us to be our very best selves.  May it be so.

God’s Grace Is Abundant,

Pastor Allen