A minister in Tempe, Arizona, praying for the death of the president after delivering a sermon entitled “Why I hate Barak Obama”? Other preachers, from California to South Carolina, telling their congregations that they pray President Obama will die in office? Yikes!
On election day when George W. Bush was declared winner of his second term as president, I was in India. An Indian man said to me, “Do you understand how unique you Americans are? You fight hard during a political campaign, but after the election is over, you all settle down and work together. No one burns an opponent’s village. No one beats members of the other party to death. You still have strong disagreements, but you work together for the good of the country. We cannot understand that. The whole world watches you with admiration.”
I wonder what they are saying this year?
Two years ago I wrote Once Blind: The Life of John Newton, the story of the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace.” An 18th century English slave ship captain caught by God, Newton was transformed into a powerful preacher and an abolitionist who helped turn the heart of a nation against the slave trade. Looking back on the brutalities he had personally witnessed (indeed, that he himself had committed!), John Newton shuddered in horror. He vigorously condemned the atrocities, but he didn’t stop there. He insisted that the actions of slavers so changed and hardened them that they themselves became out-of-control barbarians. Then he went further still. He expanded this charge to say that allowing slavery to exist calloused British society as a whole into dangerous moral compromise.
“In treating [the Africans] as less than human, we become less than human ourselves,” Newton said. “How else could we act in so uncivilized, so unchristian, a way?”
John Newton could well be speaking to the United States of America in 2009. Does the hate-filled vitriol we hear today come from deep-seated racial prejudice?
“No, no,” some are saying. “It is merely politics as usual.”
Not when preachers of the gospel of Christ stand in their pulpits spurring their parishioners on with hate-filled prayers, it isn’t. No, at that point we must look inward and ask, “What is happening to us? What are we becoming?”
Americans—Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians… those who agree with current policies and those who disagree—if the president of the United States ever needed your prayers… if our country ever needed them… now is the time. For the sake of us all.
Kay Marshall Strom, Eugene author of 36 books including her most recent, The Call of Zulina, Book 1 of the Grace in Africa fiction trilogy (Abingdon Press).
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