I’ve been searching my vocabulary for words that might describe the past week in the post-election USA. Words like relieved, followed by disturbed, and mixed in with a fair bit of stunned, just about sums it up. If it wasn’t so serious it would be farcical. And what has disturbed me more than anything has been the commentary by what the media have named as the Christian Evangelicals.
I was transfixed by a short video clip of Trump’s personal spiritual advisor Paula White praying and ranting in tongues almost demanding God to deliver an electoral victory to the Republican Party. I felt physically sick watching this corruption of a faith story that means so much to me. It made me feel ashamed to be associated with the movement known as Christianity.
But then I tuned into watching a very different brand of Christianity – an American Catholic brand. I watched US President-Elect, Joe Biden, give his ‘victory’ speech. Knowing that there is some strange stuff going on over there in the good ole US of A, I was keen to hear how he was going to navigate this high-stakes political/religious space.
Call me odd, but I love reading and listening to a well-crafted speech. Wordsmithery done well can be incredibly inspiring. Especially a turn of phrase that somehow captures the significance and the spirit of the moment. In German philosophy, it’s called the zeitgeist – the spirit of the age. Presidents and leaders in America have a history of producing some memorable moments in their speeches, particularly in State of the Nation addresses or large-scale rallies:
‘An honourable defeat is better than a dishonourable victory’ (Millard Fillmore).
‘Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country’ ( JF Kennedy).
‘ I have a dream….. ( MLK jnr).
To name just three.
There was for me a memorable moment in Biden’s speech when he said: “Tonight, the whole world is watching America. I believe at our best America is a beacon for the globe. And we lead not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example’.
I’ve been chewing on that for a few days now because it seems to me that this is precisely where faith communities of every brand find themselves in 2021. How to be beacons of hope in a world caught in the shadows of fear and hatred? Christianity, in particular, has been built upon the wisdom, integrity and faith of a man from Galilee who shone a light onto a disfigured faith and espoused that very principle: leading by the power of example and not by the example of power.
I had the feeling that this ‘ memorable moment’ in Biden’s speech may have been shaped and influenced by his Catholic Faith, the tragic death of his first wife and baby daughter in a car accident, and the death of his son Beau from brain cancer. Undoubtedly, Joe Biden has many flaws – he is only human after all, but there is a deep sense of decency that seems to emanate from him.
Such a refreshing change to what continues to emanate from Donald Trump or the brand of Evangelical Christianity that stands solidly behind him. As Jesus reportedly said, “By their fruits, you will know them”.