Some things never compare to childhood learnings.
I was perhaps barely a teenager… in that age when you’re growing up, observing adults, aware of when things just aren’t pure and good, but also not quite certain how to process the lack of purity and goodness.
My family attended a small midwestern church. It was a special place to my family; but during this particular time, we had a pastor who seemed to be struggling. It was obvious from my teenage perspective that his leadership was questionable. Some seemed to revere him; others, well, were seemingly unoffensive with their words, but yet, I knew something was off. Even at a young age, I discerned that our pastor’s authority was questioned by a significant many. His leadership was not entirely effective; in fact, it seemed only effective with somewhere near half the congregation.
Sometime thereafter, I remember our pastor making several emphatic, controversial statements from the pulpit. Again, something seemed off. Then through a series of events that were somehow hidden from an observant teen’s eyes, the pastor did something that to me — simply put, even in my elementary understanding — felt wrong. In order to continue his professional tenure — knowing his leadership was significantly questioned and arguably effective with only, at most half the body, he articulated a refusal to resign. Granted, as a kid, I’m not sure it was necessary he resigned; he was an honorable man. But what happened next was also not necessary…
He asked us to vote. To vote on whether he should stay… or he should go.
Friends, that vote served one purpose and one purpose only; it divided the people.
This post is not about my childhood pastor. It’s also not about how the contemporary American church is obviously often an imperfect reflection of who God is. This post is about how and why sometimes our leaders intentionally employ division. Just like my childhood pastor, he chose to divide the people in order to survive. I wonder if that is happening again now.
As Pres. Obama said recently on “60 Minutes, “I’m the first one to confess that the spirit that I brought to Washington, that I wanted to see instituted, where we weren’t constantly in a political slugfest… I haven’t fully accomplished that. Haven’t even come close in some cases… My biggest disappointment is that we haven’t changed the tone in Washington as much as I would have liked.”
Some days I wonder if Pres. Obama has increased the division. I must thus also wonder, just like my old pastor, if the division has been intentional. A few observations…
One, Pres. Obama’s 2008 campaign rhetoric regarding unifying our country was so inflated, it has been impossible to obtain… “There is not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America — there is the United States of America”… “I’m in this race not just to hold an office, but to gather with you to transform a nation”… “We will remember that we are not as divided as our politics suggests; that we are one people; we are one nation and together, we will begin the next great chapter in the American story with three words that will ring from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea: yes, we can.”
And yet, it is no secret that at times the President has pointed out what divides us… Black vs. White… Republican vs. Democrat… Wealthy vs. All Other Classes. He also has pursued divisive policy. For example, as he prioritized health care reform even when our economy was flailing, he did so behind closed doors on a partisan basis with no majority, public support. Unity was irrelevant. Hence, from my limited perspective, division has often been encouraged in the past four years, especially nearing elections. I thus ask why.
Truthfully, I can’t answer that question. When Obama came to office with a contagious message of hope and change, I was impressed. I wanted the tone to change. I wanted us to change our spending patterns; and I wanted to change the divisiveness that has existed in the USA ever since lobbyist restrictions were eased during the Carter administration. I looked forward to greater unification, lesser partisanship, and decreased government intrusion. But that’s not what hope and change have evolved to be.
I can only surmise that just like my childhood pastor, the President believes the division is somehow necessary to maintain his current professional tenure. Knowing his leadership is significantly questioned and arguably effective with only, at most half the nation, something must be done to spark his supporters’ passion — even if that means intentionally dividing the United States of America.
The Intramuralist will always be seriously disappointed — regardless of party — in any who utilizes a strategy that intentionally divides in order to propel one’s own election… as some things never compare to childhood learnings.