The November elections are just about a week away, and political rhetoric is frenzied. A front page article in the October 26 Grand Rapids Press claimed that Kalamazoo billionaire Jon Stryker and his Michigan’s Coalition for Progress is funneling millions of dollars into commercials opposing Republicans candidates. Some of the commercials depict a cartoonish Dick DeVos sending jobs to China. Others show Republicans protecting drug companies against lawsuits. While Republicans complain about Democrats pouring mega money into political races, DeVos has contributed $35 million of his own money toward his race to unseat Governor Jennifer Granholm.
I have a lover’s quarrel with our political system in the United States. I believe that politicians have a high calling. We trust them to run our local, state and national governments with integrity, honesty, fairness and compassion. The survival of our democracy depends on the participation of every voting citizen and their knowledge of the issues.
Unfortunately, ordinary people are often excluded from elected government positions because of the enormous amounts of money spent today on campaigning. I am also saddened that money which could feed the poor and shelter the homeless is used to create TV and radio spots promoting politicians, some of whom virtually buy their way into office.
However, I am most offended by the negativity of the advertising, debates, automated telephone calls to our homes, and comments from candidates themselves. What a poor example they are setting for our children, who can’t help but assume that it is normal and acceptable for people seeking political office to demean, caricature, denigrate and even demonize each other.
I believe it is our responsibility as clergy and people of faith to model healthy ways of interacting with one another. Every person deserves to be treated with respect and common courtesy, no matter who they are, what they say, or how they act. Unfortunately, I occasionally observe mean-spirited behavior in the church as well. I’ve seen people bully and intimidate others, make threats against fellow church members, completely “lose it” when they don’t get their way, talk behind other people’s backs, and ridicule those whose beliefs differ from theirs. I’ve even heard people say, “I’ll never forgive him/her.”
Such behavior is always confusing to me because, growing up in the Mennonite Church, I was steeped in the pacifist tradition. I was taught not to return evil with evil and to take literally Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:38-45,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, ‘Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
Our Amish brothers and sisters have modeled that behavior for us in the past month. Immediately after the slaying of Amish schoolgirls in Nickel Mines, PA, parents of the children expressed words of forgiveness to the family of the killer. Of the 75 people attending the funeral of Charles Carl Roberts IV, half of them were Amish. They even helped to establish a fund for the family.
Just this past week, another Amish girl, 11 year old Kathryn Miller, was killed by a drunk driver outside Fremont. Again, words of forgiveness were heard, and the Amish community has publicly said they are not interested in pressing charges.
Mennonites and Amish have often been called “The Quiet in the Land,” die Stillen im Lande. They do not call attention to themselves but have chosen to live a quiet life apart from the rest of the world. They live by Paul’s words in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world…”
Some would accuse the Amish of being passive. They say the Amish are allowing themselves to be victims by not pressing charges or expressing anger at the evil they experienced at the hands of others. Others are simply confused by the stoicism and serenity of the Amish. Don’t be fooled: the grief of the Amish community runs deep. Tears flowed freely, and hearts have been broken wipe open. Why do they forgive, then? It’s simple. Because Jesus told us to forgive. The Amish are simply modeling the self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, who gave his life for us.
The Amish will never be the loudest voices in this country. They won’t be elected to political office. And you will never see them calling for vengeance. Isn’t it funny, however, that in times like this, the quiet voices of the Amish are loud and clear and bold. They are doing more to redeem our world and witness to Jesus Christ than any negative campaign commercial will.
How are you as a pastor setting the tone for your congregation? Are you offering resources for healthy communication? Do you allow all voices to be heard? Are you gently helping your parishioners learn how to treat one another with respect and compassion? Do you make sure everyone has a place at the table? Are you willing to model forgiveness?
I’ve decided to completely tune out the negative political advertising. I want to vote for candidates who tell us how they can positively change our country and world rather than candidates who only tell us how inept their challenger is. See you at the polls!!!
“Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”