Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #038. First published in the St. Cloud Times Sep. 28, 2010

“The most important election in a decade.” No, let’s make that “in a generation.” Why stop there? “In the history of the universe.”

Our political rhetoric, inflated like a gas-filled balloon, could use a dose of Lake Wobegonish restraint, as in the marketing slogan of Fisher’s Club in Avon, “a pretty good place for quite some time.”

When we go to the polls five weeks from today, we will be making some pretty important decisions that will affect our community for quite some time — and this is plenty of reason to take our opportunities and responsibilities seriously. It shouldn’t require an apocalypse to get our attention.

But there are people who, in the interest of stirring up fear, are caricaturing anyone who disagrees with them and holds different views as at best valueless, and at worst a demonic threat to America.

If you’re with them, you’re among the sanctified. If you have another point of view, you’re in outer darkness. They consider all history to be a tale of unremitting struggle between absolute good and absolute evil, so every election attains universal import.

The current manifestation of this either/or approach is the “Values Voter Summit” held earlier this month in Washington, D.C. Some 2,000 Christian conservatives gathered to proclaim and confirm their commitment to work for the preservation of their version of “Judeo-Christian values” in America.

The local connection is the prominent role our U.S. 6th District Rep. Michele Bachmann played in the event as a speaker during the opening ceremonies.

The Judgment Day scenario is clear. One of the breakout sessions was titled “American Apocalypse — When Christians Do Nothing, Secularists Do Everything — The Case for Christian Activism.”

It is downright un-American to imply that because I disagree with them, those folks have values and I don’t, that the only alternative to their version of “Christian” is “secularist,” and that by implication “secularist” is inherently evil.

This has revived a memory from six years ago, when I had a “Christians for Kerry” bumper sticker and was occasionally asked, “How is that possible?”

The central issue is not the apocalypse, however. Another breakout session title gets to the heart of the matter: “Social Justice: Am I My Brother’s Keeper?”

The panelists were suspicious of government, though not as extremist as Glenn Beck, who has been granted virtually apostolic authority by millions. Earlier this year he set the stage when he urged his disciples to find out whether their
churches were preaching “social justice,” which he called a cover for communism and Nazism. Here are his words: “I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church’s website. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”

Were Beck’s advice to be heeded, many churches in the readership area of the St. Cloud Times would be empty, including the most numerous ones, the Catholic and Lutheran.

The Catholic position on social and economic justice, including “the preferential option for the poor,” is deeply embedded in papal teaching and the pronouncements of bishops. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America officially states that “this church is committed to defend human dignity, to stand with poor and powerless people, to
advocate justice, to work for peace, and to care for the earth in the processes and structures of contemporary society.”

The Values Voters Summit claims the mantle of American and Christian tradition, but narrows both in defiance of the deeper traditions of American diversity and Christian ecumenism.

In her speech at the summit, Bachmann characterized the president’s way of thinking as “infantilism.” It’s she and her

followers who need to outgrow their immature either/or fixation.

In this pretty important election that will affect our common life for quite some time, we voters who disagree with the Bachmanns and Becks in this country are not the valueless demonic menace they claim.

We are Americans who believe that “We the people” means all of us.