Election 2014: Something important has just happened.
Big money bought an election. Fear prevailed over confidence and loathing over reason. The majority chose not to vote, allowing a passionate minority — older, whiter — to change the balance of power. Attack ads drowned out issues. A broken political system tolerated cheating and bullying.
Most worrisome is the absence of the virtues that enable a democracy to function in a challenging world. Civic-mindedness gave way to clever voter-suppression tactics. Freedom of the press got lost in attack ads and deliberate distortions of reality. Respect for opponents is gone. So too is the search for common ground, competing ideas, confidence in the nation, confidence in government, confidence in the future. Gone, gone, gone.
How could this happen? Several reasons — from intellectual laziness to self-serving leaders. The reason that touches my world is the collapse of progressive Christianity as a teacher of civic virtues.
Progressive Christianity is only one voice on the spectrum of religious opinions. But over the years it has had a large impact in its insistence on honesty, fairness, tolerance and humility. Progressive Christians have fought slavery, racial injustice and oppression of the vulnerable. Our search for truth has allowed room for other truths, other voices — a critical attitude in preserving democracy.
Our voice, however, has gotten weak. Our obsession with sexuality and institutional survival rendered us self-referential and timid. As we fought battles that were too much about us, we left the door open to a tragic re-emergence of racism and practices oppressing the poor.
I know that, individually, many of us are deeply concerned and eager to act. Nothing will change, however, until we speak as a community with a more forceful and coherent voice to the very real issues that people are facing. We know our voice can make a difference. Look at what Christian witness contributed to the call for justice in Ferguson, Mo. Look at the Moral Monday demonstrations in North Carolina.
For that voice to grow, we need to let politics into our pews. Not church politics, which are safe, but national and local politics, which tend to be unsafe. We need, for example, to be asking why racism is suddenly out in the open. We need to ask what our own people have contributed to economic injustice. Jesus spoke truth to power. We have tended to send them pledge cards.
We need to respond with theological and ethical clarity to critical issues, not just discern whether we “like” this or that cause. And certainly not sit back while Bible bullies make outlandish claims about what God wants and loathes.
We need to be forming alliances with minorities, the bruised and marginalized, and with people who want to make a difference, especially young adults. We need to stand for generosity and civility and against the politics of meanness that would suppress votes, deny benefits, punish women and minorities and wink at overzealous police power.
Our national and local politics are awash in money and fear. Gone missing are ideas and solutions, and a sense of confidence. Progressive Christianity needs to call out the destructive forces pursuing oligarchy, even when they sit in our own pews.
(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)
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