Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Amazing Grace?

Maybe it’s the weather. It’s 75 freaking degrees in December. Maybe it’s my personal business slump. Maybe it’s sitting in the hospital with my Dad since last Thursday. Whatever it is, I just had an epiphany. Here it is: we are all sinners, selfish, mean-spirited, despicable sinners.

I was reading a commentary about the controversy surrounding Susan Rice, her handling of the Benghazi information and her fitness for the job of Secretary of State. After the article there were around 150 comments. I made the dreadful mistake of reading them.

The article itself touched on several different themes, but it’s primary focus was basically Republican criticism of Rice and Democratic accusations of racism being the primary cause of the criticism. The comment section covered these topics but also wandered into the fever swamps of affirmative action, and feminism.

What a bunch of miserable people we have become. Now, I am fully aware that the comment thread of a political website doesn’t exactly qualify as a representative sample of the American population. The very fact that you’re on a political website, let alone that you took the time to write a comment, probably means that you are a partisan outlier. Nevertheless, the level of discourse I found was so hot, so untethered from reality, so bitterly unreasonable. It was like driving by a terrible car wreck. I just couldn’t stop reading, and the more I read, the more I was convinced of the existence of sin.

I read that article with an opinion, that the author managed to validate. I believed his points to be sound and reasonable. But when I read the comments, even those who agreed with mine, I was shocked at the venom, the bitter acrimony, the accusations of treasonous intent. It was as if nobody on either side of this debate could admit the slightest possibility of error, no one could grant anyone from the other side the slimmest presumption of good faith. The debate wasn’t a debate at all, but rather a dogma-slinging contest where the goal seemed to be the humiliation of the enemy.

And then it hit me. A memory flooded into my mind from some long forgotten sermon. There was a bible verse that went something like this…

For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…There is no one who is righteous, not even one, no one who understands, no one who searches after God.”

Strange that I would remember that verse when normally I can’t remember where I put my keys. But that truth resonates with me this morning. We are all a bunch of dreadful sinners, blinded by our own conceits. We have all convinced ourselves that the truth we possess renders our enemies idiots, and somehow not fully human. We speak about those with whom we disagree as if they are aliens, creatures from another world, instead of men and women with flesh and blood and beating hearts. If the argument causes us to lose our humanity, what good does it do to win?

Last weekend I saw the Lincoln movie. Nothing in our political fights today can hold a candle to the existential battle going on in 1864. Fevers were high. The debates in Congress were vicious. We were literally killing each other. But, the one thing that struck me about Lincoln was his graciousness towards the conquered. In victory, there would be no gloating, there would be no unquenchable thirst for revenge, no humiliation of Lee or his men at Appomattox. Grace would win the day. Amazing grace.

It made me ask myself, who is demonstrating grace in our politics today? The answer came swift and sure…nobody, including me.