If I asked which presidential candidate has been described as being “aided and abetted by the powers of darkness,” about whom would you guess this quote is referring too? Where might the quote have come from? Does the quote seem out of place in this year’s election cycle?
The quote actually comes from an issue of the North Carolina Baptist newspaper, The Biblical Recorder, from 1861. Yes, President Lincoln was no longer a “candidate” at this point in history, but I find the quote to be striking nonetheless. Southerners, at least some of them, had begun to see Lincoln as other than human. The conception and idea of Lincoln-the-person conjured up ideas of demonic forces that surrounded him and even strengthened him. While perhaps this was not literally believed, the rhetorical value was and is significant.
As I have watched the 2016 election cycle unfold, I have noticed that the rhetoric is sharpening and becoming all the more pointed. For almost everyone, at least one of the candidates spells doom and gloom for the rumored coming apocalypse and the end of the United States of America. I noticed the other day Chicken Little and Nostradamus in the unemployment line.
Please do not misunderstand my words; being critical of presidential candidates is important. There will be consequences — both good and bad and big and small — regardless of who is elected come November. However, empty rhetoric that caricatures candidates into some supra-human entity who are aided by powers of darkness to bring an end to the world as we know it only abstracts the choice before us.
I tried not to watch the Republican National Convention but a clip of the benediction from the first night caught my eye. As I listened to this benediction by Pastor Mark Burns of South Carolina, I was sickened. “We got to be united,” he shouted. “Because our enemy is not other Republicans — but is Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.”
As the blood rushed to my face in anger, he began to pray, “Father God, in the name of Jesus, Lord, we’re so thankful for the life of Donald Trump. We’re thankful that you are guiding him, that you are giving him the words to unite this party, this country, that we together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party.” I felt as if I was watching Pastor Burns sell his ordination for a bowl of porridge.
Words like those delivered in The Biblical Recorder or from Mark Burns have no other purpose than to divide and pit people against one another. What makes it all the worse is that both of these examples utilized religion to demonize political figures.
There are certainly a lot of changes that have taken place between 1861 and 2016. Social media in particular has created a significant amount of change in only the past eight years. Rather than reading bombastic statement in a local newspaper, in mere seconds, we can generate statements for public consumption ourselves. Our inflammatory statements in turn contribute to a divisive rhetoric that seems to be compounding daily.
Certainly there is a need to release anger and frustration with what candidates are saying and doing, but perhaps we might think about turning away from our screens the next time we need to vent about the election. Rather than feeding the fire, we strive to take away its oxygen.
The book of Proverbs claims, “the Prudent are restrained in speech” (10:19b). I recognize that sometimes we might feel as if our voice is all that we have, and I am certainly not suggesting that we keep silent, but our voice in this election will never be louder than on Nov. 8 when we cast our vote. In the meantime perhaps we try to vote with our actions, and love with our voices.