A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste
Every crisis is an opportunity to dig deeper and stretch farther. It can lure us back into the cozy myths and convenient assumptions of a nonexistent past or it can urge us forward to a higher, better and possibly more challenging future. We cannot choose the crises that come our way, but we can choose the way we respond to them. Twenty years before Ft. Sumter, in his poem The Present Crisis, the abolitionist poet, James Russell Lowell wrote words I’ve quoted before.
Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side…
Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside…
And the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.
Count me o’er earth’s chosen heroes,—they were souls that stood alone…
Stood serene, and down the future saw the golden beam incline
To the side of perfect justice, mastered by their faith divine.
Peter Storey is a longtime friend and one of “earth’s chosen heroes” for many of us. He led the Methodists in South Africa through the struggle against Apartheid and continues to be a forceful voice for gospel-centered leadership today. He offered this challenge to fellow Methodists in the USA.
Praying for a Prophetic Church
If the Gospel of Jesus has nothing to say about the outrages the rulers of this world perpetrate on our common humanity, then the Gospel has nothing to say. Confronted by systemic evil, a silent church is no church at all.
I’m praying that the United Methodist Church in the US will warn its members that whatever party they may usually support, there is a theological problem this time: voting for Donald Trump could be sinning against the Trinity, against a Creator who made in God’s image all who Trump mocks and insults. Against the Son who died for all who Trump despises. Against the Holy Spirit who longs to break down Trump’s walls of hatred and enmity, binding us all together in the bonds of peace.
Leaders like Donald Trump rely on the tendency of good people to get used to things. They pile outrage upon outrage hoping to outrun our capacity for indignation, until their evil becomes the new normal. It is not the last thing said or done that should outrage us, but the first. Revisit those first speeches of candidate Trump and recall what you felt then. If you cannot feel it now, he has prevailed over your conscience.
What if every Methodist preacher…who’ve never endorsed political candidates, but said this time they had to do what preachers did in apartheid South Africa, saying: “Followers of Jesus cannot vote for Donald Trump…This President is the trespasser: his attitudes, words and actions have let loose all that is ugly, hateful and unworthy in a nation’s psyche, interfering mightily with God’s holy designs of love, compassion and justice.“
When we in South Africa were sliding into our own brand of racist Fascism called apartheid, we saw it too late, we acted too late. Maybe we were too close to see it for what it was. Thank God for all around the world who saw it more clearly, named it, shamed it and prayed and worked with us to end it. It took 40 long, costly years to throw off its yoke.
Peter Storey, Cape Town, 10 October, 2020
No Ordinary Time
I never publicly endorsed a candidate as the pastor, though I did try to speak to critical issues from a biblical perspective. But I’m no longer the pastor of a congregation and this is no ordinary time and no ordinary election.
No political candidate or party is perfect. Every candidate and party stand under the judgement of the words of the biblical prophets and Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God. Every follower of Christ has both the right and the responsibility to decide which imperfect candidate contributes to the “common good” in ways that are consistent with the coming of God’s Kingdom, and which one does not. God does not choose our Presidents; we do.
In this “moment to decide, in the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side,” the choice is abundantly clear for me. Donald Trump’s personal pattern of immorality, misogyny, vulgarity, financial corruption, racism, dishonesty and general meanness would, in any ordinary time, be more than enough to disqualify him. The choice is also about the incompetence and corruption of this administration along with its policies and practices, from global warming to separated children at the border.
Joe Biden is not perfect, but he’s a decent human being, with genuine compassion for others, consistent practice of the Christian faith, and a gift for laughter along the way. I don’t have to agree with all of his policies, but at least he has some, many of which I share. I’m confident that he can put together a competent administration of people who respect the Constitution and reflect the diversity of our nation. (I’m currently offended by looking at the government and seeing nothing but old, white guys like me!)
Because of the theological issues Peter defined and the policy concerns I listed (along with a lot more), I must bear witness that for the sake my children, grandchildren, and the “more perfect union” I believe this nation can become, I’ll put my ballot in the box for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris when the polls open on Monday,
If you see things differently, I will continue to respect you, even as I expect you to respect me. In the words of Martin Luther, “God help me! I can do no other.”
Grace and peace,
13 thoughts on “The ‘Present Crisis’ Is Now!”
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jim! It can’t be said any better or louder or truer than this!
Sent from my iPhone
Jim: Consistently, you bring truth to darkness. Your words, more finely crafted than mine, lift up the danger and the option. When politics endangers people it must be confronted with love and justice. Thanks for your insights, caring, and prophetic voice. May you be safe and well.
Thanks, Larry. Your response means a lot to me.
Thank you Jim. I am not Methodist but I read all of your offerings which help me a lot. This recent post is brave and true.
Thank you so much for this, and all your writing. You say exactly what I think, but say it better than I could. I understand your a friend of my friends Ken and Sandy Roughton. I had the pleasure of being their pastor until I re-retired in June. They are awesome folks! Again, thank you for sharing your wisdom. Rev. Charlotte Hendee Wells, ME
The courage and love in your words are so appreciated! Thank you
Probably the best Continuing Education event I ever attended was at Duke with Peter Storey… challenged my assumptions about what a sermon was all about. Thanks for the reminder. I appreciate your writing and sharing your thoughts. Have a blessed and fun week. SHALOM, Tom Mc
I couldn’t agree more, Jim. I’ll be there to vote – perhaps Tuesday to avoid the early rush that has been seen around the nation. I hope it’s more the Democrats (and like-minded folks) who are *determined* to vote this time. What still astounds me are those I know who are devout – even zealous – Christians who enthusiastically support Trump and believe that he is the best choice for them. It just defies reason.
I also pray daily for our country – for peace, decency, and civility to return. I believe Joe Biden can facilitate that, but it won’t be easy.
Best Regards, Chris
Thank you, Jim, for your insights and prophetic voice, Well said.
Excellent commentary on the responsibility of pastors and all Christians. This is not an ordinary election. It’s for the very soul of our democracy and our Christian beliefs. All of us should be speaking out against Trump and his evil administration. Thank you Jim.
Thank you for such eloquent words that speak what my heart and mind have been saying— no, yelling!