Barack Obama’s victory has crushed conservatism, ended the Republic, and ushered in a thousand years of darkness. Or such was the mood last week among many political conservatives, who saw this election’s results as the sign of the death of our free republic, the people surrendering the risks and rewards of liberty for the certain thin gruel of a dole. And many traditional Christians spoke about the reelection of our American President in even darker, apocalyptic tones, as if the man were Nero redivivus.
My advice to my conservative Christian friends’ weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth was to sleep well, wake rested, and continue to bear witness to the Gospel, to do what Christians are supposed to do day in and day out, whether the Gospel finds itself in season or out of season.
I was reminded of the ancient Taoist story of an old farmer who experienced a sequence of what seemed to many as great losses and great blessings. When something good happened, his neighbors remarked on his good fortune. “May be,” he replied. When something bad happened, his neighbors noted his misfortune. “May be,” he replied.
The point of the story: In the moment one does not know the ultimate significance of some event. On Good Friday, none of Jesus’ disciples envisioned Easter Sunday. Having forgotten Jesus’ predictions of his passion and resurrection and remaining ignorant of the true witness of the Scriptures of Israel to those events, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 had their world fall apart. But the risen Jesus rescues them from their despair by proclaiming the truth to them and feeding them with the Eucharist.
We Americans, supposedly possessed by the philosophy of pragmatism, can speak Hegel’s German all too easily when it suits us. We who eschew metaphysics suddenly surrender to the Absolute as it supposedly suffuses itself in our story, forcing us Forward! to some inexorable sterile utopia progressives hail and conservatives bewail. But Hegel is dead, while Christ is alive. Our human history moves in fits and starts, and while it may not turn on a dime, it does often rotate on a quarter. But for us Christians, we confess that history culminates in Christ at its end, whatever path it takes on the way to the Eschaton.
This is not to say that the present political moment does not present profound challenges. The current administration is pursuing policies that do really threaten First Amendment freedoms, particularly freedom of religion and assembly as well as speech as its promotion of the culture of death in service of state-sponsored pelvic liberation proceeds apace. In a speech at Notre Dame, Pope Benedict’s nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, spoke of a concrete “menace” to religious liberty, calling out “a platform being assumed by a major political party, having intrinsic evils among its basic principles, and Catholic faithful publicly supporting it,” in which the nuncio sees “a divisive strategy at work here, an intentional dividing of the Church” by which “the Church is weakened, and thus . . . more easily persecuted.”
In a time such as this we are presented with profound opportunities to grow in faith and fidelity. We ought always be chary towards claims that God is doing something specific in our own time and place, but it may just be that God is using the present political challenges to encourage us Christians to get our houses in order since we have largely failed to do so in recent decades, tolerating all manner of sin and indiscipline. Perhaps, as St. Peter writes in his First Epistle, it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God. Perhaps, in God’s providence, we are being offered an opportunity for purification, to have nonessentials and distractions pruned from us as we cleave ever more closely to Christ. Pope Benedict predicted this moment over forty years ago when he wrote:
The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning . . . As the number of her adherents diminishes . . . she will lose many of her social privileges. . . . It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church . . . And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.
In short, we are now becoming the “creative minority” Benedict prophesied as the political class and culture turns ever more against us, and we should perceive these times as a severe mercy, respond in penitence and faith, and act always with divine charity as our Lord would have us act, enduring suffering for his sake, praying for those who persecute us, and returning good for evil. Pruned, we grow.
Leroy Huizenga is Chair of the Department of Theology and Director of the Christian Leadership Center at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. His personal website is LeroyHuizenga.com. His previous “On the Square” articles can be found here.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, “Religious Freedom, Persecution of the Church, and Martyrdom”