Politics

5 things to watch as the 2016 campaign gets underway (COMMENTARY)

A barn is painted with an image of the Statue of Liberty and a U.S. flag in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, March 8, 2015. Iowa, the American heartland. Endless farm fields and quiet towns. 56,273 square miles that are soon to become the focus of the nation as the long process of electing the next U.S. president begins. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Young *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-EHRICH-COLUMN, originally transmitted on April 14, 2015.
A barn is painted with an image of the Statue of Liberty and a U.S. flag in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, March 8, 2015. Iowa, the American heartland. Endless farm fields and quiet towns. 56,273 square miles that are soon to become the focus of the nation as the long process of electing the next U.S. president begins. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Young *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-EHRICH-COLUMN, originally transmitted on April 14, 2015.

A barn is painted with an image of the Statue of Liberty and a U.S. flag in Mount Vernon, Iowa, March 8, 2015. Iowa, the American heartland. Endless farm fields and quiet towns. 56,273 square miles that are soon to become the focus of the nation as the long process of electing the next U.S. president begins. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Young
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-EHRICH-COLUMN, originally transmitted on April 14, 2015.

(RNS) As presidential candidacies multiply and campaigning accelerates, we can expect much tawdriness to occur. These are difficult times in American democracy.

Money will pour into negative campaigning and ideological posturing. Lies will become the norm. Every word will evoke counterattack, and facts will lose their currency. Barbed sound bites will be mistaken for wisdom. Bullies claiming to be “Christian” will be among the loudest. On both sides.

What are people of faith to do?

We can assume, first of all, that truth-telling will be absent all around. We, then, need to be truth-seekers, reading beyond the sound bites and toxic jabs for actual insights into what candidates stand for and what is their character.

We can assume, second, that God’s name will be taken in vain by everyone. Every candidate will tell stories of personal faith, maybe even dramatic conversion. They will quote Scripture and claim to be promoting God’s work.

In fact, to judge by candidates’ behavior, their words will be insincere and their faith a concoction meant to satisfy the sweet tooth of religious leaders. We, then, need to do our own work of discerning whether they have any functional familiarity with Scripture and any real concern for Christian ethics.

We can assume, third, that people will be heard less and less. As campaign volume ratchets up, the voices of actual citizens will be drowned out by invective. We, then, need to be people who listen to the voices of citizens and do what we can to make them heard more widely. Churches should be listening centers, not dispensers of campaign literature. Preachers who brag about influencing candidates should preen less and listen more.

We can assume, fourth, that efforts will be made to prevent some people from voting, especially people of color. We, then, need to take practical steps to ensure full participation, such as escorting vulnerable citizens to the polls and calling out voter suppression tactics as they occur.

We can assume, fifth, that “Christian” values will be reduced to sexuality, as opposed to anything Jesus actually cared about. Sexuality is the perfect diversion while the wealthy pillage the nation.

We, then, need to remind voters about the Sermon on the Mount, the healing of lepers, the rescue of women targeted by religious bullies, the feeding of all who were hungry, the focus on the “least of these,” the calling out of hypocrites, the welcoming of outcasts, the call to let go of wealth, and Jesus’ words of tolerance and mercy, even to his enemies.

We cannot have one more election when “Christian” becomes a convenient shorthand for bigotry and bullying done in God’s name while bearing no resemblance to anything God values.

I think it is time we stopped being naive about the current state of American democracy: These are ugly times, and the forces of decency in both parties are under assault. An entire movement seeks to cripple the U.S. government, lest people they hate receive any benefits of citizenship.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich

It is time for all people of faith to be active, not just those whose guiding star is white, male, straight power. We cannot sit back and wait for the bigots to run out of steam.

The future of American democracy depends on combating the tremendous negative energy this campaign is churning up.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)

KRE/MG END EHRICH

About the author

Tom Ehrich

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com.

6 Comments

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  • Tom Ehrich said;
    “……We cannot sit back and wait for the bigots to run out of steam…..”

    Dear Tom,
    Your views appear to reflect a rather narrow (and shallow) focus on the secular ideology which views sexual orientation as the purpose and meaning of our life on earth. Believe me, there are greater things that are more honorable, edifying and desirable for humanity, and I respectfully encourage you to try to understand these matters and pursue higher aspirations.

  • Hey Tom, only skimmed the commentary, because early on, despite weak attempts to appear centrist, your own biases came through loud and clear, which only undercut the force of your argument.

  • Dear Mr. Ehrich,
    It my understanding that in order to be a priest in the episcopal “church” one must either be gay or otherwise endorse gays. Could you please clarify whether this is accurate? Thanks

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