I need to write a sermon, and I'm struggling with that. Even yesterday, though the prospect seemed daunting, I felt up to it. Not so much today. Today I'm feeling inconsolable sadness and exceeding fear. This is not who I normally am. Even in the face of great difficulties, I am often the strong, positive, hopeful one. That's one reason I'm good at my job. Today I feel inadequate.
One reason is because of the sadness and fear of others. Because I'm a pastor and normally a reasonable, thoughtful, and hopeful person, people are coming to me with their grief and horror. Always we pastors carry the feelings of those who come to us. Sometimes that burden gets to be quite heavy. This is one of those weeks.
My planned third reflection was to talk about ministry. So, I'm going to do that, but this post is a little different than what I would have written yesterday.
A colleague said to me, "I don't understand how anyone could listen to any sermon I've ever preached and vote for Donald Trump. I feel like a failure."
I must confess that I feel something similar.
In the mid-Aughts when the majority of Americans supported the invasion of Iraq, almost every major faith group in America opposed it. At the time I read one article which explored this fact and was troubled by it. The author concluded that faith groups had ceased to be moral influences upon congregants. This was a scary thought.
The major faiths in Nebraska, and particularly the Roman Catholic Church which is the largest and politically most powerful of denominations, supported the repeal of the death penalty here. When the returns came in the other day that two-thirds of Nebraskans voted for the death penalty, I was again disheartened on this very point--the church is supposed to be a place where we find ethical guidance. Our denomination never tells people what to do, but you do hope for some moral suasion, particularly on fundamental issues.
The election of Trump suggests the defeat of the church as a moral influence in American culture. Why? Because so many of the things he has said and done are antithetical to basic moral teachings. We proclaim personal sacrifice and generosity instead of greed. We teach compassion and hospitality to strangers and victims of violence and oppression. We try to help the poor, the sick, and the abused. We pray for peace. We teach the virtues. These are not "liberal" Christian teachings, these are common teachings across the theological spectrum.
So, what appears to have defeated (at least for a moment) the moral influence of faith in our society is not left-wing secularism but an extreme right-wing populist nativism. One good result may be that now we progressives can finally communicate clearly how faith, family, and virtue are our values?
Yesterday morning I feared for the church. I was worried that its vitality would decline. But then there were signs of encouragement. The social workers who came to lunch in order to be uplifted in prayer on a day of uncertainty. The atheist who showed up here and wanted to talk because he felt drawn to the church in the midst of his confusion and fear. The people who were walking the labyrinth last evening praying. The young woman who hasn't been to church in a long time but reached out this morning because the election has evoked the trauma of her sexual assault and she needs pastoral care.
Yes, we are often our best when we are working counter to the culture, so maybe we will have years of vitality ahead as we become a place where people come to deal with their confusion and find the encouragement to work toward the goals of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
But, I'm going to find it difficult to preach, knowing, as my colleague pointed out, that some have listened to my words about compassion, inclusion, generosity, peace, and justice and somehow drew the conclusion to vote for a candidate who I believe is antithetical to the core values of my faith.