The summer of 2016 has been filled with tragedy. Society as we know it is changing, not just in the United States but throughout the world. Shootings, bombings, protests, harsh rhetoric abounds reminding us that this change has been gradually creeping toward us for decades. William Butler Yeats wrote a poem entitled “The Second Coming” in 1920 that begins with these prophetic words:
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
It sounds to me like he is very much describing the state of things around us. These old words have a new urgency in our time. Curiously Yeats penned this poem between World War I and Hitler as if he were prescient about what was to come.
More and more we are letting the fringes “the worst full of passionate intensity” commandeer society, as if radical hatred was an excuse for killing. We see this all over the world. We who sit in the middle are baffled by the immorality and blood thirsty actions of the fringe. The temptation is always to meet hatred with hatred. Blow them up. Give them what they deserve. But you and I know that is not the way of Jesus. When we hate we become the haters.
It strikes me that people like us, Episcopalians who are wise enough to respect the dignity of others, are unable to tell the difference between respect and condemning voices of hatred. I remember in the 1980’s after several trips to the Middle East telling my secretary that the next war would be a religious war. Like it or not we are engaged by the fringes who hate all that we stand for. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all have hate fringes. As Christians we have a responsibility to speak out and condemn those voices that purport to speak for Jesus and do not. We cannot condemn the voices in Islam or Judaism as authentically as we can condemn those Christian voices that distort the message of Christ.
So what do we do? As Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of,” and so we pray. There is more that we can do. We can help refugees and immigrants. We can work for a solution to sane gun control.
Moreover we can tell the truth; that is we can and must honestly confront differences of belief religious and social. “Sharia Law,” is the basis of Islamic society and at the same time it runs counter too much of Christianity. It is not politically correct to say this, and mainline Christianity goes through all sorts of twists and turns not to be confrontive but this is wrong. You do not have to be a scholar to realize values like equality, religious freedom, democracy and equal rights under the law are consider evil by Sharia Law. How can we talk to others by minimizing what we believe in order not to offend them? It is their responsibility as much as ours to accept the difference and the differences are vast, between our social systems.
The tendency in the West is to patronize others by watering down our own beliefs. We can no longer do this and exist. We lack the conviction Yeats talked about and as a result young people are turning away from Christianity. They are leaving looking for a spirituality of conviction. It is up to us to offer that conviction and not minimize or apologize for Jesus. It is time to put the Lord Jesus and his world view back in our faith and our politics.