Can We Talk?
Who could have imagined such an election season as this? Day after day, worse news, worse language, worse behavior. The conversation we’ve been privy to on the national stage has been difficult at best. Around the rest of the world, our country’s prestige must surely be at rock bottom.
It has not been an easy conversation to listen to. For too many of us, the mention of sexual abuse takes us back to a particular event in our own lives when someone forced themselves onto us in an abusive way. There is no debating that those sorts of memories can be painful. And it’s clear that some percentage of the population, both women and men, can relate directly to being the target of this kind of abuse: some say 35% of women, maybe more. But if you’re one of those who’ve been through it, the overall percentage doesn’t matter - you’re 100% sure it happened to you.
As much as we need to condemn such abuse, and as much as we need to help the abused cope with their injuries, it’s also important to remember that in any gathering where such things are discussed, we are likely to have some folks who have been abusers themselves. I have seen it change the conversation when we keep in mind the broad range of human behavior and brokenness.
But it isn’t only abuse that has been troubling in this run-up to the election. So many adjectives have been used to try to get across what a disaster this campaign has been: horrible, mean, angry, hateful. With all the over-heated rhetoric and lack of policy discussion, it hasn’t seemed to me that the people on different sides of the political divide have been able to hear each other, much less understand where each other are coming from. And this is probably not going to change overnight on November 9th.
How on earth did we get to this point?
As the news slides further into the gutter and the rhetoric passes the boiling point, there is a biblical passage that keeps occurring to me: it’s a story about Jesus and a woman accused of adultery.
In the story, some people bring before Jesus a woman they say has been caught in adultery and they want him to approve of the law Moses handed down that requires that they stone her to death. In response, Jesus does something strange: when they ask him the question, he kneels down and writes on the ground. When they press him for an answer, he stands up and says, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” and he kneels back down to write on the ground again. While he’s scribbling in the dust, they all grumble among themselves and drift away. So in a minute he stands up and asks the woman who it is that’s accusing her. She looks around and says, “No one, sir.” And Jesus tells her, “So go, and be good.”
Keeping in mind our own foibles and our own underbellies and our own shadow sides might change the way we engage with people during this national nightmare of an election process. It’s not going to get any better any time soon, and I think we'd better be careful how far we go in offering up self-righteous condemnations of where other people are, especially when we haven’t bothered to examine our own glass houses.