“America at the Crossroads.”Posted in Democracy, Sermons
Delivered on the Lord’s Day,
Political Candidates Sunday,
October 28, 2012
Isaiah 1:13-17; 2 Kings 22: 1-12; Matthew 6:5-18
(Message Bible Translation)
Carlyle Fielding Stewart, III
Much is at stake this coming November. We are currently approaching one of the most important electoral events in the history of the United States of America. Not since the elections of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt to their first and second terms in office has the future of America so much been riding on an election.
This coming presidential election may well determine whether American Representative Democracy as we now know it and our Constitutional Republic will stand as a bright shining monument of democratic self- governance for future generations or whether one of the greatest experiments in human history which is government of, for and by the people will perish from this earth.
Friends, this coming election may well be the axis point; the watershed and turning points in whether America will continue to grow as a representative democracy and actualize her true potential as a nation or whether it will descend into the permanent abyss of a plutocratic-oligarchic corporatocracy; where austerity for the many exceeds prosperity for the few; where the many are harshly governed by the few; where draconian authoritarian models of leadership become the order of the day and in the words of the Athenian writer Democrates, we lose democracy and the bright shining city on the hill becomes a Bleak House reminiscent of a Charles Dickens novel.
History has proven that the imbalance and disparity and inequality created by those lop sided strategies of domination are often short lived and in the end come to complete ruin, for they do not ensure the long term wellbeing and health of society. History has proven that balance, equality, morality and justice are the highest virtues of society and civilization; the cohesive glue or even the crazy glue, if you will, that holds societies together for the long haul.
In the book The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett remind us that the greater the equality among citizens in society the greater and stronger the society. They go on to say that” almost every social problem-poor health, violence, crime, poverty, lack of community life, teenage pregnancy, mental illness-is more likely to occur in a less equal society. That is why America by most measures the richest nation on earth, has per capita shorter life spans, more mental illness, more obesity and more people in prison than any other developed nation.” And the gap between rich and poor continues to expand at an alarming rate.
According to theologian and scholar John Dominic Crossan equality does not mean everyone getting the exact same amount, but rather everyone getting what they need-getting enough to actualize their true potential as persons of value and worth and to have a life that will enable them to live with dignity and hope.
Much is at stake during this upcoming Presidential Election and if current political trends continue; if the pendulums of political extremism and economic inequality do not sway back and forth; left to right, right to left, thus creating balance and ultimately in the end establishing a permanent resting place in the center; we could well find ourselves living in complete isolation from one another in a society where there is only rich and poor; have and have not; educated and uneducated; healthy and sick; those on the top and those on the bottom; those free and those living permanently in chains.
Looking out over our political landscape this coming election, it is precisely these extremist views that have high jacked our democracy and undermined our public morality; where legislation that benefits the many has been gridlocked and stonewalled, where the best interests of middle and lower class Americans have been overtaken and taken over by those sluggish and selfish inertial forces that would rather see the whole country go down in ruins than develop bipartisan efforts that will ensure that every citizen can get a fair shake in society.
So rather than get serious about getting America moving again, it is the number one goal of a political party to see that the president is limited to one term in office. So let us throw it all away and waste precious time and play political parlor games and get nothing done with this “My way is the highway politics.” Who serves his country best serves his party best, said Rutherford B. Hayes.
America today is at a cross roads and one monumental issue facing us today which transcends persons and parties has to do with our moral choices. It is not just private but public morality; how we walk the talk; how we live the values we profess as citizens and as a nation. It is not just what we do in the bedroom but what we do in the boardroom and in school room and in other rooms of our multi-roomed democracy that tells who we are.
Everything that we do as a nation; a democracy; a global community has a moral basis. The budgets that we craft are moral documents. The words that we speak are moral vehicles for either building or destroying human community; either by befriending or alienating our neighbors, by helping the poor and the oppressed and helping the captives go free. The legislation that we pass reflects our moral conscience. The way that we treat our land, water and air; the citizen; the widow, the poor and children, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, and members of the LGBT community; the way that we treat the elderly and others speaks of our moral value system as a nation.
The ultimate paradox is how we pollute the air, kill the water, pillage the land and defile the food and when people get sick they were once denied health care for previous conditions.
To discard and trample afoot America’s weakest and most vulnerable persons; to grant or deny the basic rights of persons solely upon the superficial social, religious and political categories to which we have unjustly consigned and labeled them, condemned them and ultimately demeaned them, speaks volumes of our moral vision, and our moral capacity as a nation forged through the fires of adversity and struggle.
This upcoming presidential election is so very important because we will be faced with more critical moral choices which will either further instigate our moral erosion and disintegration as a nation or will reaffirm and reestablish those moral values that make for human solidarity and strong communities; that bind the wounds of our wounded citizens; that give liberty and hope to all of America’s citizens notwithstanding race, age, class, gender and ethnic origin, sexual orientation or religious persuasion.
The great problem facing us is today friends is the loss of moral courage; the depletion of our moral will; the abandonment of those moral principles and purposes that seek to lift the boats of every American. The great problem facing us is for those of us who know better to do better; to decry the direction our beloved country is headed and to dispel the fear, anger, resentment and greed that are overtaking and dissolving us.
Say what you want about the history of our beloved country; however checkered and bloodied our past; however apathetic and indifferent we have been toward one another and different we have been based on class gender, race, religion or ethnicity, we had always had a sense, vague or clear, however loosely or closely connected, that we were all still in this together, that hope still lingered on the horizon; that the promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were not trivial pursuits but realities to which every American was sworn to, blessed with and entitled to.
Three basic moral trends are now taking root as normative practices in the religious and political realms which should give us all pause and cause us all concern which has to do with an overturning of our value systems that revered love, truth and justice as guiding lights for our personal and public lives.
These new trends will continue to haunt us and drive us over the cliff lest we reverse course and re-establish those values that make for strong and viable communities and nation: injustice disguised as justice, lies misrepresented as truths and hatred disguised as love.
Injustice Disguised as Justice.
This nation is at a moral crossroads and this coming presidential election will be yet another opportunity to make wrong right; to see that equality and justice for every citizen are not only a cherished ideals but vowed and hallowed promises to become living realities for every American.
America is again at the cross roads and this has been made possible by the loss of moral courage; the abandonment of those value systems that make for strong nations and communities; the cooptation of those systems of governance and power that once stood for fairness, justice, equality and truth for common citizens.
Friends, history has proven that is it precisely this loss of moral courage and belief in a higher system of morality that becomes the great undoing hastening the great unraveling of great societies, empires and civilizations.
History has proven that when the two most important institutions in society which are religion and politics: the twin sources of individual value and collective social value; the two bastions and citadels of moral authority and power are no longer credible, no longer believable and are no longer concerned about truth and justice and life and liberty, then it is a matter of time before the whole nation goes asunder.
When religious institutions which are the primary upholders of love, truth and justice in the personal realm and political institutions which are to be the principal couriers of liberty, truth and justice in the social realm can come together in harmony and grace it makes for a better, stronger society. But when these two institutions are coopted and corrupted and fail to possess to check and balance each other in ways that will ensure the salvation and safety of every citizen, it is a matter of time before the threads of social organiztion slowly unravel.
We have seen all too often lately how certain elements of the Christian faith have been corrupted by power politics. We have seen how certain aspects of the Christian agenda have been domesticated by the hidden agenda of the political establishment. Rather than use religion as a force for healing, unity and community; it has been used as a tool and wedge to divide and conquer; to persecute and alienate citizens, to justify the devaluation and even obliteration of the rights of those who are different and other.
Both religion and politics as forces of strident morality for a nation should synergize their efforts to uphold, love, truth and justice. Democracy should be the secular expression of the Kingdom of God on earth. Both religion and politics should share common goals of humanity, liberty, equality and charity for all. Reinhold Niebuhr reminds us that love on the individual level is expressed as justice on the social level. While societies cannot love their citizens like individuals love one another, they can make sure that each citizen receives justice; not just retributive justice or restorative justice but distributive justice. Justice is a moral principle.
When average citizens no longer believe that justice is possible; that truth is still verifiable; that equality is doable; that the great vision of a great nation can still come to pass, it is the beginning of the end of that society. It was the beginning of the end of Rome, Macedon and Babylon and Egypt and other world empires. The religious and political institutions have a moral obligation to ensure that life in both the private and public realms can be actualized through love, truth, and justice which confers upon each person a sense of value and worth that will enable the society to become better and stronger.
And once those institutions become corrupted and blinded by their own self-interests; when the people they have been called to serve no longer believe in their power to ensure that love, truth, liberty and justice can be actualized in the private and public realm, it is a matter of time before it all comes apart.
This is why the first chapter of Isaiah speaks so furiously, lyrically and eloquently to the importance of Justice. Let me read it again.
“Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your religious games;
Monthly conferences, weekly sabbaths, special meetings-meetings, meetings, meetings-I can’t stand one more!
Meetings for this and meetings for that . I hate them! You have worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go on sinning. When you put on your next prayer peformance I will be looking the other way. No matter how long our loud you pray, I’ll not be listening.
And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing my people to pieces, and you hands are bloodly. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your clean of your evil doings soI don’t have to look at htem any longer.
Say no to wrong. Learn to do good.. Work for justice. Help the down and out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.
The issue is primarily distributive justice; the value systems that influence our treatment of people privately and publically. Not just retributive or restorative justice; which becomes the domain of our judicial systems, but distributive justice which should be the hallmark of every true and just society.
God is much more concerned about how we treat one another; how we live out our claims to justice in the realm of our private and public lives rather than our worship posturing and our political proclaming. God is more concerned about substance than our rituals; our relationships with each other than what we profess with our lips but do not practice in our hearts. God is tired of our lip service as individuals and as a nation.
Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:5-18(Message Bible) that God is less concerned with religion as a theatrical production or a consumer product designed for show than he is a religion of humility and substance; that sets the world right; that practices forgiveness as it receives forgiveness and that keeps us safe from ourselves and the devil. It is the concern for justice in the private realm; of how we model our practice of religion in ways that point to God’s love, truth and justice that are important for Jesus; not what we say but what we do; how we walk the talk so to speak both privately and publically.
Can we claim to speak for God and not address the reality of justice? This is a primary value in the Judeo-Christian faith. Justice is a primary value both personal and socially. We can’t claim to be a Christian and love our country and then confiscate the resources of the poor, blame them for their condition and then give it all to the rich many of whom really don’t want it. That’s not justice.!
You can’t make a pledge to one man not to raise taxes when those taxes will help unshackle the bound and help pay off the society’s debt. That’s not justice. Giving allegiance to one man over country is not justice. We can’t claim to be for justice when we take good paying jobs and send them overseas for the cheaper wages and then destroy those social programs upon which displaced workers must depend and claim to be Christian. That’s not justice!
We cannot claim to love God in this society when we are masquerading as just persons when in reality we are cruelly unjust to people who are different or other. If we are not concerned about justice, we are not concerned about God. If we are not concerned about others, we are not concerned about our country.
It begins in the heart and it moves in the home and then spreads out to society. We cannot claim to love and serve God if we are only concerned about ourselves; when we are not concerned about the treatment of less fortunate citizens in our country. Away with all our meetings and meetings, and our false worship; away with all our creeds and prayers and going through the religious motions that ring hollow when we mistreat the poor; when we steal bread from the hungry and health from the sick and lowly. That’s not justice; that’s injustice. We have a moral choice today, to do justice and to walk humbly with our God!
The moral choice that we make must be to provide justice and not to cloak our rhetoric or our actions in the language of justice privately and publically when we do harm to the least of these. God is not pleased. God is not mocked. Let us practice distributive justice for every man, woman, boy and girl in this society and watch how our democracy is strengthened.
Lies Misrepresented as Truths.
Stop insulting Burger King by calling the lies of political candidates whoppers. These are outright lies. Since when has lying in public become a virtue? Since when have we descended into a value system that says that it is ok to lie to build the public’s trust? We see the Pinocchio syndrome unraveling before our very eyes. Where are the outcries that we can elevate liars to office rather than outliers who are exceptions to the rule? What is happening to this country that says it is ok to get it anyway you can even if it means lying, cheating and stealing. Tell lies about your political opponent and let the chips fall there may? Is that it? Where is the outcry from the political, media and religious establishments? Is it a matter of time before it all comes apart? What is happening to us folks? What kind of immoral canopy are we casting over this nation that people can run for office, tell bold faced lies about their opponent and get the adulation, enthusiastic support and endorsement of their supporters? What kind of value systems are we constructing? What kind of world are we creating where truth is no longer truth and that we allow people to say what they want whenever they want without being fact checked or challenged on the things that they say? We are moving into maelstrom by the slippery slope and will not bode well if this is the direction we are going as a nation.
Has Orwellian double speak become the new language of political discourse where we say evil is good, hatred is love, war is peace and lies are truths? Where is the moral courage that says that this is wrong? Where is the moral outcry that seeks to turn right side up what has been turned upside down?
Hatred Disguised as Love.
Let’s get real. Would we see all the code words and hate words spilled over the airwaves if Obama were a white person? We hear these pejorative terms thrown about like monkey business, primate president, the food stamp president; lazy president; all the typical stereotypes that have been used against black people over the years. How can you we say that we love our country and then hate a person because of the color of his or her skin? I cannot say that I love God and then hate my brother or sister because he or she is different or other. How can we say that we love our country and then allow this hate talk to go unanswered, unchecked and unquestioned?(The Eliminationists) Where is the moral courage? Where is the moral outrage? This is not right. If you can’t respect the man at least respect the office. The whole country goes down and falls down when we allow this kind of unethical, immoral behavior to have unanswered license in our public discourse. It is not ok to allow this. It is not ok to say to say these things to the president and then let our silence prevail. The only way for good to prevail is for the good to remain silent.
When the religious and political establishments which are to be the chief harbingers of love, truth and justice in our society, turn their backs on these behaviors; allow them to go without some moral response; when priests and politicians look the other way when such immoral behavior is allowed to flourish without moral correction, it gives impetus to the citizenry to do the same, and when such behavior becomes enshrined as virtuous behavior, it sets the stage for the slow undoing of nation and country; it allows untruths, hatred and injustice to take hold of us and then use us instruments in our own defeat.
There must be some moral response to these current trends if America is to grow and thrive and flourish. Write a letter, make a phone call, do something that will register your concern about what is happening in our country. Don’t just sit there. Don’t just look the other way because you are afraid to make a difference. “One on the side of God constitutes a majority,”and until we say something and do something about this we will find ourselves in quagmire that we cannot escape. ‘
This hatred that people have will destroy us if moral voices, and moral conscience and moral courage do not come to the fore? Do you love your country? Do you love your God? Do you love your neighbor? Do you love the stranger? Then let love, truth and justice prevail so that every man, woman, boy and girl can have life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, so that the will of God will be done on earth as it is in heaven; so that coming to the cross roads means that each of us takes up his or her cross and does what is right and lives according to love and truth and justice for all Americans.