“For God did not give you a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of sound judgment” (2 Tim 1:7)
I went to vote first thing this morning on the way into the seminary for an early meeting. I cast my ballot. When I asked, the precinct workers reported that turnout was up somewhat over recent elections even at the early hour. I stuck my “I Voted” sticker on my lapel. I left.
By this time tomorrow, barring some unforeseen scenario involving hanging-chads or malfunctioning voting machines, the results of the 2016 US election should be established knowledge. Many will be relieved to leave behind a campaign season that has seemed mean and demeaning to a degree most of us have never seen in presidential politics…if we can, indeed, leave it behind. As I was driving to the seminary, news features on two radio stations examined the necessity of, and measures available for, “healing” the rifts in the body politic.
As unpleasant as this campaign has been, then, it has served to reveal the hardened divisions that run throughout our culture, the fear of changing demographics and social norms roiling in some segments of the population, and the anger that motivates almost one-half of us to mistrust and denigrate the other half, reciprocally. It has uncovered the troubled state of race relations, brought to the surface an undercurrent of misogyny, and exposed structures that slant the playing field in the favor of those in power – to name but three examples.
On the theory that facing the truth squarely promises a better outcome that continued denial, those of us who care about where we live and about others living here with us will confront an obvious question tomorrow and in the days to come: Now what?
I want to remind believers that, until the consummation of the Kingdom of God, as has been true throughout human history, every generation will face such moments of crisis. I have already lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis (I was in elementary school in Orlando, FL; it was a very real experience to me), Bull Connors’ Birmingham, 1968, the end of the Vietnam War, a major recession in the early 1970’s that put my father out of work for nearly a year, Watergate, the Iran hostage ordeal, four dollar per gallon gasoline, the fall of the Iron Curtain…. If you will search your memory, you will recognize that there has been no extended period of true peace and shared prosperity in modern history; if you search the history books, you will recognize that recent events continue an aged pattern. Now what?
I want to remind believers that – as important as politics and government are to the administration of justice, the maintenance or order, and the promotion of the common weal – we do not place our ultimate allegiance in the state or look to it for our salvation, neither here nor in the life to come. I saw a church marquis only yesterday bearing the admonition, “Put your trust in the lamb, not in donkeys or elephants.” Although silly in its phrasing, it makes an important point. Now what?
I want to remind believers of the exhortation from 2 Timothy cited above. In Christ, we have no reason to fear the circumstances we now face. We must honestly acknowledge them, of course. Otherwise, we will tacitly accept and help to perpetuate them. For those in Christ, however, they do not represent threats to be feared, but wounds to be healed, injustices to be corrected, and rifts to be reconciled.
Furthermore, 2 Timothy assures us that those in Christ find the power to do the work necessary. “Power” is a tricky word. In everyday usage, it can mean “authority to control” or “ability to coerce,” on the one hand. Clearly, the Gospel of the Crucified One does not view such “power” as a gift of God. “Power” can also mean the energy, impulse, dynamism necessary to effect change. I pray that tomorrow, rather than recalibrating how to wield coercive, controlling power or merely lamenting the chaos, the church will reconnect with the power of the Gospel to change lives, families, communities, and entire societies.
Next, 2 Timothy lists “love,” underscoring the importance of using this power to bring life and liberty rather than to enforce control. This love moved God to “give God’s only begotten son” (John 3:16); it is patient, kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude; it does not insist on its own way (1 Cor 13:2-5, paraphrased).
As if aware of our circumstances, the author of our text concludes this brief, poignant admonition with the reminder that, in Christ, we do not wield power aimlessly and we do not love sentimentally (and ineffectively), but with sound judgment. In the days and months to come, no matter who wins today, we will hear calls for political retribution, threats of obstruction, and recriminations. Sore losers and over-confident winners will fill barbershops, coffee shops, and break rooms. Debates on cable news will not become suddenly more civilized. If we make progress of any kind, it will be because those with sound judgment powerfully and lovingly lead the way.