The editorial board of the NYTimes this morning excoriates clerks that, on religious grounds, refuse to issues same-sex marriage licenses. In New Orleans, the mayor wishes to remove statues of Confederates as a “public nuisance.” Forget for a minute whether you agree or disagree with the stance – such actions and opinions are simply brutish. I cannot think of another word. They are actions and expressions born of pure power. They lack grace.
Wikipedia, quoting John Harden’s Modern Catholic Dictionary, gives a reasonable Christian definition of the word “grace:”
“the condescension or benevolence shown by God toward the human race”
In other words grace is the consideration and compassion shown by the powerful towards those without the power, despite the fact that the power renders such consideration and compassion unnecessary.
This brutish lack of grace shown in this editorial and in this proposal is the biggest single mark of the lack of serious religious influence in our political leadership. It is not morality, it is not what they do with their Sunday mornings or what they read – it is the lack of grace.
Grace sits at the very heart and core of Christian thought. It is the thing that separates Christianity from all other religions. Other religions share Christianity’s moral code (heck, Christianity pretty much stole it whole hog from Judaism). Other religions build grand buildings and seek new converts. There are other monotheistic religions. But only Christianity holds to a vision of God that is so full of grace that He sacrifices Himself instead of condemns the errant.
Grace is also the thing that makes democracy work. The Civil War was more than 100 years ago. Have you ever asked yourself why the Confederate flag has been around since, or why there are statues to Robert E. Lee throughout the south? It is not becasue people in the South harbor racism in their hearts, it is grace. The victors of the Union knew what a bitter pill defeat was for the South to swallow. They allowed the South grace to maintain its dignity through such expressions and in doing so a bond was forged that reunited the nation.
In WWII we conquered the continent of Europe. It was ours; we owned it having earned it the hardest way possible. It could have just as easily been divided into three nations, USA East, Continental UK and Soviet West. Why did we allow the nations of Europe to re-form? Grace.
The absence of grace hardens opposition and creates conflict. Leadership, any leadership, that relies on power instead of grace is leadership that will be in a constant state of defense against internal, as well as external, foes. Democracy is a gentle balance. Grace is the thing that keeps the fulcrum of the balance functioning well. Absent grace the balance leans to one side and friction at the fulcrum makes it so that the other side of the balance has to exert excessive force to return the balance to center.
The absence of grace is the single greatest hallmark of the Obama administration and our nation during it. That is a challenge to the church and to the next administration (be it Republican or Democrat.) The church must work on the heart of the nation. The simple graces needs to be restored to our everyday existence. The simple words, “please,” “excuse me,” and “thank you” are small graces increasingly disappearing. To mandate them is ungracious. Only the change of heart the church can produce can restore those small graces.
If the next administration is Democrat it must restore grace to enacting policy even if they are the same policies of the current administration or risk fomenting open rebellion. If the next administration is Republican then it must be gracious in its steel to return the nation to a more balanced course, for such grace will give the changes a permanence not otherwise available.
The nation as we have known it stands in the balance. Absent grace, the balance will be forever broken.