[National Union of Black Episcopalians] Dear members and friends of UBE:
This has been a difficult assignment to engage. When our President, Canon Annette Buchanan, invited me to write this message my first impulse was to decline. I was and I am distressed by the Presidential election results. Distressed about what it seems to reveal about the deep race and class vitriol in our nation and what it portends for our immediate future. I am a fairly politically active citizen; my wife and I knocked on doors, did voter registration, contributed as we could during this campaign. Our souls winced at the increasingly virulent and divisive rhetoric by Mr. Trump and so many supporters. The day after the election I was so depressed that I spent the day in my pajamas (Not a pretty picture). That week I sulked: “How could so many Americans affirm (even celebrate) such clear moral regression, cultural exclusivism, and arrogant betrayal of human and civil rights?”
I can’t and shouldn’t ignore the continuing cacophony of degrading and threatening towards against people of color, women, the differently-able, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community. Even more is the continuing rhetoric which demeans the Constitution and the fundamental values of moral suasion, character in opposition and civility. Such values serve as the essential civic adhesive of a democracy. Something evil has been affirmed and unleashed. It is now two weeks since the election, and I see little that comforts me that America will be governed with human dignity for all.
In the midst of my “pity party” I was talking with a friend, a black Evangelical Christian who is also an activist leader in my community. Vera listened to my litany of woes and then said to me: “Nathan, as Christians we have to decide if our ultimate confidence is in human leadership and government or in God. Remember, we’ve been here before. Every movement in America for justice, freedom and peace has been led by Christians committed to the vision of God’s justice and saving love for the entire world. The ‘enemy’ will always find ways to challenge or reverse the progress of God’s Kingdom building. But the people of God must reaffirm their trust in God, even when it seems we’re in a strange land. This is a time for “holy boldness”, to share the Good News of Christ. Nathan, can you hear God’s call in this chaos? Do you trust the empowerment of God over political events? Praise God for what he has done and can do.”
Well, Vera called out the “old liberal bish”. I hung up the phone still angry that the evils of racism, misogyny, homophobia, classism and xenophobia now seem to have an unvarnished political power in our society. But gradually I began to feel thankful for the greater truth, that God has never allowed Good Friday to have the last word.
Yes, “We have come over a way that with tears has been watered. We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered…” The anthem began in my head and then in my soul….Slavery and Emancipation, Reconstruction and Jim Crow, the 13th ,14th, 15th and 19th Constitutional Amendments, Civil Rights Movements and the Voting Rights Act, Suffragettes and the ERA movements, the election of a black President. In all of these and more it has been the “salt” of faith that has overcome the spiritual, political and social evil constructs of injustice. I can not think of these things and the power of God to affect just change and not be thankful. As Christians, how can we not praise God’s faithfulness, even as we face these grave political times.
So, dear Christian friends, this Thanksgiving many of us may be disappointed not just in the outcome but the ungodly fruits we fear it may bear. But such despair may also mean we have become too confident in the good offices of Government; in the inevitability of human and social progress. Perhaps we have replaced political action and progressive reason above our continuing duty to proclaim justice, freedom and peace as God’s mission.
In these times can we hear God’s call to: “speak the truth in love” [i.e. Godly respect for the other],”to pray for those who treat us despitefully”, and “to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God?” Such Christian disciplines help us to keep our souls and not be consumed by despair or the fire our passion.
Well, I’ve written a lot; perhaps too much…..But I do feel better (smiles). You may not remember much of what I have written in this Thanksgiving Message. But here is a devotional abbreviation of why I have “Converted to Thanksgiving in the Time of Trump”: Psalm 146.
Psalm 146 reminds me to include praise in my prayers; that human dignity and justice is God’s mission (not simply our political agenda); and that God will empower us if we believe the mission is God’s.
So, pray this Psalm with me, especially in the days of discouragement. And may God grant us all a Thanksgiving of Praise for the trustworthiness of God, even in these times.
1 Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul.
2 I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
8 the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
10 The Lord reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.
– The Rt. Rev. Nathan D. Baxter is honorary chair of the National Union of Black Episcopalians.