"Religion and race. How can the two be uttered together? To act in the spirit of religion is to unite what lies apart, to remember that humanity as a whole is God’s beloved child. To act in the spirit of race is to sunder, to slash, to dismember the flesh of living humanity. Is this the way to honor a father: to torture his child? How can we hear the word “race” and feel no self reproach?" National Conference on Religion and Race, Chicago, 1963, A J Heschel.
Heschel is widely recognised as one of the greatest American religious leaders of the 20th Century. He came to the US as a refugee in 1940 after he and his family were threatened and eeported to Poland, before escaping to England. The humane discourse of Heschel is a reminder that humanity is always vulnerable when language becomes dehumanising. In the politics of the Western Democracies it has become urgent, perhaps even crucial to our future, that the language of dehumanising rhetoric be challenged and exposed like the lancing of a lethal infection before the application of antibiotics.
The simlarities between the Trump phenomenon and the rise of Fascism and National Socialism are simply too obvious to ignore, and are only denied by those with self-inflicted moral blindness. That so-called Evangelical Christians are supportive of Trump, and find labyrinthine moral obscurities and ethical conundrums to justify such support in the face of overwhelming evidence that Trump is unfit for high political office, says all that needs to be said about the meaningless nonsense that the word Evangelical has become in North America. But that's the least of it.
I have no idea how anyone who understands anything about Jesus can suggest with a straight face that Trump is the moral choice for Evangelical Christians. The Sermon on the Mount is the polar antithesis to the speeches and pronouncements of Donald Trump. The arrogant egotism of his addiction to the first personal singular is not, I think, what Jesus meant about the Kingdom of God. Even Pilate was interested in questions of truth, and when it comes to political expediency, cultural understanding and military pragmatism,Trump is no PIlate.
So I read A J Heschel and ask, "What has happened to a country so divided that neither candidate for the Presidency has qualities of personal integrity, political wisdom, humane qualities and at least the required minimum of trustworthiness?" Amongst the reasons for such a tumble in the moral worldview of a nation is the use of language to diminish those others, those strangers, those incomers, and then to blame them for whatever isn't going right. To diminish others is to devalue the worth of human beings, and then comes the justification for fearing the other, and then the reasons are to hand why we must see them as a threat, and then we have the right to remove them as a threat. It's not new, it is sinisterly familiar. It is the toxic mix of fear, anger, loss of hope and the inner subversion of the values that matter most. When torture is thinkable, then humanity is in danger. When building walls is the idea that has caught the imagination, then our common humanity is slashed in pieces. When hate and discrimination are lauded as virtues, then we celebrate our own rights and value by depriving others of their rights and value.
So as a follower of Jesus, trying to be faithful to his words, his atoning death and his risen life-giving Lordship, more than ever I feel the weight of responsibility for words. Both the words I speak and the words I refuse to let pass without challenge; both the way I speak to people and about people, and the discourse I am prepared to resist by using another discourse. For in the end bearing witness to Jesus will now inevitably require an ethic of language, a discipleship of discourse, a witness through words, a rhetoric of conciliation, a speech that is peacemaking, vocabulary that is visionary of an alternative way, and all of this sustained and inspired by the One whose evangel is in direct contradiction to those who abuse the word Evangelical by making it a politically charged currency that has no purchasing power in the Kingdom of God.