Saturday, November 12, 2016

the lesser evil

The day after the election, I posted the following on our hermitage blog, where I normally only post my homilies. I did it with some hesitation, only because there I am speaking for the entire community and I do not pretend that we all agree on these things. I am going to re-post it here on my own old blog and follow up a little.

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I try so hard to be non-partisan from the pulpit or when speaking in the name of New Camaldoli, but I’ve gotten so many traumatized emails already I feel impelled to respond. I am not preaching today, but I want to address the situation as I see it from the Word of God and our Catholic tradition.

Today in the Catholic communion we celebrate the Feast of the Lateran Cathedral, the cathedral of Rome, in honor of the basilica which is called omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput––‘the mother and mistress of all churches of Rome and the world,’ and a “sign of love for and union with the See of Peter.” As our friend Barry Huddock, now an editor at Liturgical Press, wrote on his blog three years ago:

It’s been over 50 years since the conservative American magazine National Review, under the leadership of Catholic William Buckley, published its now famous “Mater si, Magistra no” in response to Pope John XXIII’s just-published encyclical, Mater et Magistra. Good Pope John had, for the first time in that 1961 encyclical, moved the Church a few steps away from the socially-politically conservative institutions and ideas with which it had generally aligned itself until then and placed it more clearly on the side of policies and reforms that favored the poor. He voiced strong support for government involvement in issues like unemployment, and he called for respect for the right of workers to just wages and to a share in the wealth generated by the corporations that employed them.

Today as we celebrate his See, I feel confident that we can and ought to fall back on the authority of Pope Francis, hopefully with our own bishops here in the US following his line, in regards to Catholic social teaching, and regard the Church as both our mother and our teacher.

It was almost eerily prescient that this should have been the reading that I chose for us to hear at Vigils this morning. Imagine this coming from the Word of God at 5:30 AM the morning after Election Day:

Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. … For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Pt 2:1-3, 13-17)

The challenge will be to do this while still fearlessly speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15), while still being like yeast in the dough (Mt 13:33). Now more than ever it is important to fall back on the non-violent example of Gandhi, Dr. King, Dorothy Day, Nelson Mandela, and all the more reason to keep doing what we do, living as we live. As Therese the Little Flower so famously wrote, “In the heart of the church, my mother, I will be love, and thus shall be everything.”

I found this below to be comforting and good practical advice, from Dr. Ali Michael, PhD.

“‘What should I say to my students after the election if Trump wins?’ a principal asked me recently. Good question. What should we tell our children?

Tell them, first, that we will protect them. Tell them that we have democratic processes in the U.S. that make it impossible for one mean person to do too much damage. Tell them that we will protect those democratic processes ― and we will use them ― so that [Mr.] Trump is unable to act on many of the false promises he made during his campaign.

Tell them, second, that you will honor the outcome of the election, but that you will fight bigotry. Tell them bigotry is not a democratic value, and that it will not be tolerated at your school. Tell them you stand by your Muslim families. Your same-sex parent families. Your gay students. Your Black families. Your female students. Your Mexican families. Your disabled students. Your immigrant families. Your trans students. Your Native students. Tell them you won’t let anyone hurt them or deport them or threaten them without having to contend with you first. Say that you will stand united as a school community, and that you will protect one another. Say that silence is dangerous, and teach them how to speak up when something is wrong. Then teach them how to speak up, how to love one another, how to understand each other, how to solve conflicts, how to live with diverse and sometimes conflicting ideologies, and give them the skills to enter a world that doesn’t know how to do this.

Teach them, third, how to be responsible members of a civic society. Teach them how to engage in discussion—not for the sake of winning, but for the sake of understanding and being understood. Students need to learn how to check facts, to weigh news sources, to question taken-for-granted assumptions, to see their own biases, to take feedback, to challenge one another. We need to teach students how to disagree—with love and respect. These skills will be priceless in the coming months and years as we work to build a democratic society that protects the rights of all people ― regardless of the cooperation or resistance those efforts face from the executive branch.

Finally, remind them―to ease their minds―that not everyone who voted for Donald Trump did so because they believe the bigoted things that he has said this year. Many of them voted for him because they feel frustrated with the economy, they feel socially left behind, and they are exercising the one power they have. We need to challenge [Mr] Trump and his supporters to differentiate between their fears and the bigotry catalyzed by those fears.

In the aftermath of this traumatic election, I hesitate to even exercise my voice in this way. In the past year, I received hate mail and a death threat from white supremacists for blog posts like this―blog posts that are, let’s be honest, fairly insignificant expressions of personal opinion from a person with very little power. I am not a threat. And yet people have threatened me―and my family―for expressing my view that we should build a world in which all human beings can live freely in the wholeness of their identities. I fear that this kind of intimidation will only increase in the event of a Trump victory. I fear that it will worsen tomorrow―as soon as I hit send ― if Trump supporters are emboldened in their aggression towards people with whom they disagree. And yet the only thing that makes me feel safe in this moment―as I stare into the face of a possible Trump victory―is to speak up and speak out, and to invite others to do the same.”

That last paragraph of his was chilling, and is somewhat my own fear, but let us be courageous and take good care of each other. Let none of us, red or blue, feel emboldened in aggression toward people with whom we disagree. Instead, let’s rid ourselves of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander, so as to be yeast in the dough, salt for the earth, speaking the truth in love.  As our Br. Timothy said this morning, calmly and wisely, “God is still God.”

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One of my friends responded saying that while it may be that “not everyone who voted for Trump did so because they believed the bigoted things he said,” everyone who voted for him did so, in spite of those things he said (and did) as though they did not matter, as though that level of bigotry and contempt for women and immigrants and war veterans and the poor were not significant. And they must now take responsibility for that decision. Another sent a link to this very powerful blog, entitled: “White Christians who voted for Trump: Fix this. Now!” (I’ll attach it below.)

Two folks reflected (“chafed”?) at the same verse about “obeying the emperor” (and why I myself said that “challenge will be to do this while still fearlessly speaking the truth in love). One said that this was ever the problematic verse: “it’s the tension with not unequivocally doing the above that gives us the necessary moral guidance we so desperately need: Gandhi, Dorothy Day, ML King, Mandela. Because, of course, not all political governance is God-sent and too often ‘governors’ do the opposite of what Paul supposes.” Another said that the admonitions to “obey the emperor” and honor the outcome of the election sit differently now. She thought that the implications of the devastation that our President-elect and the Congress are “poised to wreak on the poor and most vulnerable among us, and upon the planet itself, are catastrophic.”

As a Christian (and a Christian monk), the first insurmountable hurtle seems to be the conversation that I almost can’t imagine happening but has to happen: a dialogue among Christians who overwhelmingly, at least the white ones, had to be Mr. Trump’s voting block, and the many Catholics, even clergy (my own classmate made national headlines for this) who thought Mr. Trump was the “lesser evil.” Time will tell, but would the election of Secretary Clinton have unleashed a wave of hate crimes and panic? Unfortunately, the kind of intimidation that preceded the election is continuing now that Mr. Trump has won, I suppose they do feel emboldened now, given license and vindicated in their aggression.
Another friend wanted to know what to say to one of his relatives who voted for Mr. Trump based on a singular issue: he could not vote for Secretary Clinton because she said abortion is between a woman and her doctor. I have no better answer to give him than he himself gave to that relative, the “seamless garment,” pro-life in the broadest sense possible, which includes the environment, the death penalty, and caring for the poor. And again, if a vote for someone other than Mr. Trump (there were three other candidates, we seem to forget, and always the possibility of a write-in) was an evil at all, would it really have been the greater evil?


One of our monks today at lunch said that at least one bishop, one priest, and one theologian said that he had committed a mortal sin by voting for Secretary Clinton. Would any bishop, priest, or theologian dare to also affirm that voting for Mr. Trump, with all his ethical baggage, was at least equal to that (if it was a sin at all, let alone mortal)?


I am trying to find the highest common denominator, and that would be, for me and my “constituents,” Catholic social teaching and the lead of the Holy Father and the American bishops in union with him. So, along with the prophetic voice of the above mentioned evangelical pastor, I was pleased to find among the headlines that Pope Francis came out and spoke about advocating policies of inclusion, saying God’s plan doesn’t exclude people based on their social class, race or religion. Francis told a group of faithful on that Christians should welcome others “without classifying them on the basis of social condition, language, race, culture, religion.” He added “mercy is that way of acting, that style, with which we try to include others in our life, avoiding closing up into ourselves and into our selfish securities.” Of course this comes as anti-immigrant politicians are enjoying a surge in popularity in many developed countries, not just ours. And Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, no social or theological liberal, led an interfaith prayer service Thursday evening in which he stressed the importance of unity and reassured immigrants in the country illegally that the church would continue supporting them after the election of Donald Trump.


That’s a start.


One of our staff announced today that he is leaving New Camaldoli because he wants to put his body between the Trump institution and the poor and the oppressed. That’s more than a start.