Sunday, July 24, 2016

Beyond the Party Platform

The news has been full this week of the Republican National Convention. Delegates caroused through the streets of Cleveland, waving flags and cowboy hats, chanting “lock her up” with glee. 

Donald Trump had his say, promising to recreate a world that never existed. Respected Republican elders, including both George Bushes, stayed far from the fray, shaking their heads at what their party has become.

As I write, delegates for the Democratic National Convention are gathering a short train-ride from my home for their own speech-a-thons and wrangling over platform and party rules. #StillSanders fans are planning odd activities to show their unhappiness. Occupy DNC has been scheduling protests.

It’s an odd, unsettled time.  I sit on my back patio, watching an unsettled sky. It’s the hottest week of the summer, the hottest summer on record and we’ve been having strange storms. One seems to be brewing now.

Four years ago I spent some time sifting through the party platforms, thinking about my own. This year it all seems closer, more urgent, far more difficult.

I’m an unaffiliated voter and have been for years. From what I can see, both parties have lost their way. Both sides are far more interested in capturing the legislative process and blocking out opponents than in anything resembling good governance or reasonable solutions that promote the common good. 

That’s a wild generalization, I agree. I have the honor of knowing and admiring politicians who stand against that tide.

Unfortunately, they are few. As election rules are manipulated by undisclosed money, as sound bites control the air waves and reasonable discourse vanishes, less reasonable people will seek elected office. 

And the least reasonable will win.  

I am registered as an unaffiliated voter because my stronger affiliation stands in sharp opposition to the party platforms and behind-the-scenes practices of every party I can find.

That affiliation is to Jesus Christ and the written Word that governs my belief and practice.  

I am fiercely committed to learning to love my neighbor as myself.

I am equally determined to pursue justice, love mercy, walk humbly.

I am opposed to any system that gives preference to the wealthy, that drowns out the voices of the poor, that oppresses the weak.

I am committed to following the Prince of Peace who invited his friends to give their lives for their enemies.

I will not follow or support anyone who uses hate, fear or anger as a weapon of control.

There’s been plenty of all three on display, expertly fanned into flame for partisan or more personal purposes.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump is so far the undisputed expert.

I’ve been struggling to understand Christians who pledge allegiance to Trump, who defend his name and reputation, who insist he’s God’s chosen man for our time.

I agree that some of our media is skewed and sometimes it’s hard to find the truth.

But in this case, the truth is not hard to find. Read his own writing, watch his own speeches and the evidence is plentiful. The man is a braggart: not just about his magical ability to accomplish what no president can legally accomplish, not just about the grand, inherited wealth squandered in fraudulent businesses, not just about sexual conquests, IQ, looks. He even brags about bragging.
He’s also a bully, comfortable brandishing empty threats: to deport, dismantle, lockup, torture, kill. 

He’s a prodigious, legendary, unabashed liar.  On anything and everything.

His philosophy is unapologetically clear: he believes in money, power, self-indulgence, getting even, hitting first. One observer put it this way: "I win. You Lose." The people in his life - children, wives, colleagues – are props for his ego. There is no hint of compassion in anything he says or does.

As I said, I’ve been struggling to understand Christians who support him. I can understand those who say “I can’t vote for Hilary Clinton.” I’m not sure I can do that either.

But I can’t understand those who support Trump without hesitation, without great regret that the choice has come to this.

Like many other observers, I’ve been digging back through the history of the church in pre-World War II Germany.

Sixty-six percent of Germans were Protestant Christians.

Thirty-three percent were Catholics.

One percent were Jews.

I know Christian Germans who still look back with sorrow that their parents, their grandparents, were among those who supported Hitler.

He promised safety.

He promised respect.

He promised a return to a strong, pure Germany.

He promised to remove “that element” he described as a threat to German happiness.

He appealed to fear, to anger, to bitterness and division.

He offered to use unauthorized power.

Then followed through on that promise.

The Confessing Church of Germany, Christians who opposed Hitler, was never large.

And sadly, it was mostly silent.

I posted recently about what it means to be a citizen: commitment to the common good, governed by the ideals of wisdom, courage, moderation and justice. 

We are in a season where it’s not enough to simply vote.

Not enough to trust versions of reality a highly skewed media offers.

Not enough to sign-on to the party platform, vote the party ticket.

Not enough to be silent.

It’s time to review our own personal platforms, our own political priorities.

Time to find ways to engage in informed, respectful discourse.

Time to inspect motives.

Time to ask probing questions.

In the weeks ahead I’ll be reviewing my own earlier posts listed in “What’s Your Platform,” revising and adding where needed.

I’ll also be praying and thinking about some underlying questions:

Does our binary, two-party system deepen our divisions?

Are there people of faith who survive in politics without compromising their deepest convictions?

Do new models of communication offer opportunity for constructive public engagement?

Has the witness of American evangelical Christianity been destroyed beyond repair by alignment with unbiblical agendas?

Please join me in this exploration.

Informed, respectful comment is always welcome.

Party line responses – from any side – are not.