Fast-forward with me to Friday, January 20, 2017 – Inauguration Day.
No matter who moves into the White House that day, people of faith in this country will have work to do in ministries of reconciliation.
I’m writing from Washington DC, meeting and praying with others at the two-hundred-year-old St. John’s Episcopal Church, across Lafayette Square from the White House and a thirty minute walk to the Capitol, where St. John’s Rector Luis León prayed at President Obama’s 2013 Inauguration that God would bless us, “that with a spirit of gratitude and humility we may become a blessing among the nations of this world.” León, a native of Cuba who was sent by his parents to the U.S. in 1961 as a 12-year-old refugee, had also been asked to pray at George W. Bush’s second term Inauguration in 2005.
We find ourselves these days in the midst of an unprecedented, vitriolic political campaign in which rude and vulgar behavior is often rewarded. But out of this roiling cauldron a new governmental administration must emerge in less than a year.
I was taught as a child not to discuss religion or politics at the dinner table – much less religion and politics. But here I go, in print – where angels fear to tread.
Last December Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Jon Meacham (a graduate of the McCallie School and Sewanee, who got his vocational start at the Times Free Press) said of former President George H.W. Bush, "This is the last American president who truly tried to create an atmosphere of consensus and compromise to do big things.” Is it likely that the next President will likewise try to create such an atmosphere? That remains to be seen. And it would be an uphill climb.
What I do know is that people of faith can become just as polarized as politicians. Faithful Christians can self-identify themselves as conservative, as can faithful Jews and Muslims. Truth is, some faithful Christians, Jews and Muslims can also be seen as reformers, progressives and liberals. And then there are the radical, fanatical fringes that have abandoned the central tenets of each of these Abrahamic faiths and can no longer be called legitimate adherents of these religions.
We as Christians (among other people of faith) will have our work cut out for us after Election Day and Inauguration Day. Do we want to be healed, to be made well?
Brian Baker, the Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Sacramento, preaching on Palm Sunday, the Sunday of the Passion, said that it takes two things to turn a crowd into a mob: fear and a target. Some Christians say that almost 2,000 years ago fear on the part of some of the self-righteous religious authorities of the day, in an unholy and uneasy, tense and strange alliance with the occupying Roman political and military forces, turned the crowd in Jerusalem into a mob shouting, “Crucify him.” Jesus was the target, the scapegoat.
It seems to me that much anger and brutality of spirit in our land these days issues from fear. Fear of the changing culture. Fear of immigrants. Fear of loss of status, power, station and position on the part of some. Fear of being left behind as “The One Percent” prosper beyond measure.
In my youth I could not ignore the struggle of the Civil Rights movement. As a white Southerner, I witnessed the tension within the Episcopal Church amid the obvious fears that our church schools and camps could close if integration were to be introduced. Fear on the part of white Southerners and others – if “Negroes” gained their Constitutional right and power to vote. The Church moved forward. We wanted to be healed, to be made well.
In leading this church nationally and beyond, our first African American Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is now calling us to new mission and ministry as evangelists and healers. Much of this is the work of reconciliation in our Lord’s name in this land. Bishop Curry is calling us to leadership in addressing racism, among other evils, and to be people who live out the Gospel, proactively praying and working to reconcile all God’s people in this country and beyond.
And so as a follower of Jesus I ask, shall we drink from the water of life and use the leaves of the trees for the healing of the nations? Do we want to be made well? Do we want to experience God’s saving health – and seek to become a blessing among the nations? I’m working from Psalm 67 and with this text from the last chapter of the last book of our Bible, the Book of the Revelation to John (22:2)* as expressed in the words of the Liturgy for Baptism in the Church of England:
I saw water flowing from the threshold of the temple.
Wherever the river flows everything will spring to life. Alleluia.
On the banks of the river grow trees bearing every kind of fruit.
Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail.
Their fruit will serve for food, their leaves for the healing of the nations.
For the river of the water of life flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
Other Christians will recognize this Scripture text in the hymn:
For the healing of the nations,
Lord, we pray with one accord,
For a just and equal sharing
Of the things the earth affords.
To a life of love in action
Help us rise and pledge our word.
Help us rise, indeed – rise above religious and political discord and rancor, and pledge our word to pray and work for the healing of this nation – and its place, our place, in the healing of all nations.
* See: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearC_RCL/Easter/CEaster6_RCL.html
The Rev. Dr. Donald Allston Fishburne is a consultant to congregations in stewardship, ecumenical social justice ministries, mission trips and pilgrimages. He is a former Regent at Sewanee: The University of the South. For more information: http://www.donaldfishburne.net/about-donald/ And www.eo.travel/episcopal
First published April 30, 2016 in the Chattanooga Times Free Press: