"You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
An evil spirit has fallen upon the United States. We saw it coming with the screaming and shouting that violated civil discourse; with the threats made to people who expressed sympathy for Muslims and immigrants, with the violence of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (USCIS), with the illegal, protracted incarceration of accused terrorists at Guantanamo Bay; and in many other events.
Everyone has an opinion on how it began. Was it the Supreme Court's decision to strike down every law against induced abortions? Was it the increasing dependence of many Americans on drugs and alcohol or the widening gap between wealth and poverty? Some would place it on Prohibition which spawned organized crime in the United States. We have never been able to suppress it since it flourished in the 1920's.
Perhaps we are watching the inevitable failure of democracy, which has been described as "an experiment which can always fail and never succeed." Maintained by religious freedom and respect for law, we have managed the experiment with enormous effort and great courage for over two centuries. But with the decline of religion, democracy must also fail.
Democracy is nothing if not an intentional effort to love one's enemies. Some might prefer the words opponents or adversaries but we have a natural tendency to hate anyone who opposes our desires. Children believe, "What I want is good, and what I don't want is bad. Who gives me what I want is my friend; who prevents my getting what I want is my enemy."
Democracy pits citizens against one another in the pursuit of their goals. Though they might agree on many things, their differences will tell unless they cultivate deep respect for one another.
We have seen that respect disappear. We have seen the democratic process rigged by the Republican Party. Many supported that violation in pursuit of a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion. The GOP clearly lost the recent presidential election by three million votes and yet they won the presidency. Candidate Donald Trump insisted the election was rigged and he was right. With the Republicans now in control of both houses of Congress, many governorships and many state houses, they will almost certainly not reset the electoral college following the census of 2020.
This will mean a continuing persecution of Muslims and Mexicans, a continuing vendetta against anyone who calls for fair and free elections.
In the United States then, Christians must be a people peculiarly his own. We are those who listen to opponents without contempt, who welcome immigrants into our churches, places of work and neighborhoods, who protect the unborn and the elderly, and so forth.
The ashes of last weeks service set us apart; we belong to God who "makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust." If we do not enjoy the respect of our fellow citizens we remain confident of God's mercy.