Last week’s Republican National Convention put fear, panic, exclusion and terror on display. We heard stories of immigrants killing people’s families and Islamic terrorist murders, not to mention a prayer calling Democrats “the enemy” and chants to “lock up” the opposing candidate. With a markedly different tone, Michelle Obama opened the Democratic National Convention with a message of faith, optimism, inclusion and inspiring us all to be better.
During this time of racial injustice, civil unrest, and political extremism, I often find myself inspired by a man of faith of who has witnessed humanity at its worst. Archbishop Desmond Tutu grew up in Johannesburg during apartheid at a time where black South Africans were relentlessly oppressed to the point of being removed from their homes, deprived of their citizenship, denied access to basic public services, and subjected to racial violence. Tutu became increasingly frustrated with a world where racism poisoned society; a world where some lives mattered more than others and fear was used for political gain.
The words of Tutu written five years ago in his book Made for Goodness are eerily prophetic: “You can see from the people we truly admire that we are attracted to goodness. We do not revere people who are successful. We might envy them and wish that their money were transferred to our bank account. But the people we revere are not necessarily successful; they are something else. They are good.”
We are at a place in our nation’s politics where we urgently need to be called back to our better angels; to be reminded that we are, as Tutu says, “tuned to the key of goodness.”
Tutu cites some of the most revered persons in history: Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. These leaders, who have earned nearly universal respect, are a striking antithesis to the persona put forward by Donald Trump, the Republican nominee. Where Trump is braggadocious and bombastic, these leaders are humble and gentle. Where Trump is narcissistic and greedy, these leaders are selfless and poor in spirit. Where Trump is all about winning, these leaders are about serving.
In this moment of cataclysmic political division and rising tension, we must hope that our better angels will prevail; that basic goodness will once again be the standard to which we hold our political leaders, and human decency the measure of our democracy.
This great experiment that our founders embarked upon more than 200 years ago will only prevail if we give it the best of ourselves — not so that we may “win” at all costs, but so that we may together strive to create the common good. As Christians, we are called to believe in a truth we cannot see, to hope for a future that we have not yet known. That is why, as Tutu says, even in times like these “we can face evil squarely because we know that evil will not have the last word.”
Jennifer Butler is the founding Executive Director of Faith in Public Life. Before leading FPL Jennifer spent ten years working in the field of international human rights representing the Presbyterian Church (USA) at the United Nations and is an ordained minister. While mobilizing religious communities to address the AIDS pandemic and advocate for women’s rights she grew passionate about the need to counter religious extremism with a strong religious argument for human rights. Out of that experience she wrote Born Again: The Christian Right Globalized, which was published by University of Michigan Press. Her book calls for a progressive religious response to Religious Right efforts to take the culture wars global.