It is said that we preachers only have three to five things to say and we just keep finding new ways to say them. There is some truth to that I think and this state of being is not always bad. Themes of living love, extending forgiveness, seeking justice, etc. are well worth coming back to again and again and again. With this in mind, I apologize for what may soon just be heard as "blah, blah, blah, graciousness, blah, blah, blah, blah," but it seems as though the "soap box" upon which I have been standing during this presidential election season has a big ol' neon sign saying to my Christian brothers and sisters, "Don't be mean!"
If you did not catch it, yesterday a video was released from a private fundraiser where presidential candidate, Governor Mitt Romney, got into some hot water with the following comments:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.
One can imagine the heyday folks were having with this one. Obama supporters, Romney detractors and even conservative columnist David Brooks all joined in on the dog-pile on Romney festivities. And then there was Romney"s press conference to explain the comments and Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said that Romney was on message.
Now as I have said before, there is very little chance (0 percent) that I will vote for Romney and the accompanying Republican platform, but, no matter how much I may disagree with his perspective and the policies that would emerge from them, I am also not going to jump on the "Romney Hates You!" train. After all, it was only one short election cycle ago that, then candidate Barack Obama got into his own hot water when at, yes, a private fundraiser, he was caught saying the following to explain why he was having a hard time attracting support from the Midwest and working-class Americans: "And it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
And much like Romney's current gaffe, there were press conferences, apologies, justifications, etc.
So what? Are these just words taken out of context, missteps from campaign-weary candidates, blatant pandering or insights into what a politicians soul? Probably a little of all of these thing and I bet, no matter the origin, none are election game changers. Incidents like this certainly galvanize people who are against a candidiate and may even lessen the fervor with which some will support a candidate, but I doubt that any single incident, or even compilations of incidents will cause a Republican to vote for Obama or the other way around.
As I watched the commentary role out and the snark-fest reach a crescendo, I did think to myself that, as people of faith, we have missed an opportunity to witness to a better way of engaging in the public square and political arena. Rather than join in what feels so often like a village mob seeking the head of some political monster, imagine the power of collectively offering a vision of disagreement and discernment that does not resort to one-dimensional characterizations, dehumanizing rhetoric and mean-spiritedness masked as righteous indignation.
That would be pretty awesome.
It saddens me people when people call Obama a socialist, a Marxist or a dictator and label him as stupid, ignorant and anti-American, because no person, no matter the office held should be seen the target of hateful rhetoric and personal attack. What then is the difference when Obama supporters do the same to Romney or Ryan? Not much. Sure, this is politics, where spin runs rampant, mud-slinging is justified and strategy trumps truth, but when approached with a lesson of faith that should guide our whole life, aren't we compelled to speak outside of this style and tone?
Yes, yes we are.
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will." - Romans 12:2
Or as I posted on Facebook yesterday, albeit with far less tact: "Okay church, please remember that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control did make the final 'fruit of the Spirit' list... JACKASSERY, however, did not."
Ultimately, as I engage in conversations about politics and the common good, I ask myself the question, "To what end?" and as difficult as it is to resist the satire, snark and sarcasm that feels so good and feeds my soul, building community across lines of ideology, theology and perspective is more important than any snarky captioned picture that I might add to the conversation. So while I will probably not call anyone out in particular, it's my hope that rather than join in and promulgate hatred and discord, more of us will seek to live those fruit of the Spirit ideals: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
A boy can dream.
Peace be with you all.