It’s always funny to me how people read about one sentence or a headline and make instant judgements. Social media is a lawless and wild frontier, and it is so easy to find people who take any issue and immediately go into spleen-venting mode. I fell into this trap last week in the fallout from the State of the Union address and the impeachment vote the following day.
I am really starting to think the winners and losers are predetermined and we are just watching a giant reality show.
President Donald Trump entered the chamber and declined to shake hands with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He then used his time to recognize the specific accomplishments of his time in office and also made attempts to unify the room around issues such as supporting veterans, finding money for infrastructure and generally putting forth an America First approach. As expected, the audience was mostly polarized, even on issues where there had been agreement in the past. At the conclusion of this pro wrestling-styled spectacle, Pelosi ripped up the printed copy of the president’s speech. Then, the internet broke.
But what I commented on was a story about the National Prayer Breakfast, which came a day after the Senate voted to acquit the president on impeachment charges. The keynote address was by Arthur Brooks, a conservative writer and professor. Brooks laid out the case for loving one another, even if reconciliation means having to fake it until we make it.
It is written in the book of St. Matthew, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
President Trump — and this is what I found completely shameful as a Christian — then used his opportunity to speak as a victory lap about the impeachment trial, then (and if you read the transcript, you will see this is not an exaggeration) he mocked Christians who believe in what Jesus taught about reconciliation and loving one another. He went on to essentially tell everyone present if they weren’t with him, they weren’t Christian enough.
I am no theologian, but I found it to be a dangerous statement. Imagine if a previous president had spoken this way. So I made that comment and was attacked by “progressives” and “conservatives.” It makes me wonder if there is anyone willing to stand on the middle ground anymore.
Let us take the story of St. Valentine, since we are celebrating his day this week, as an opportunity to maybe appreciate the long view.
St. Valentine (or Valentinus) died on February 14, 273. He was a priest, and later a bishop, who was eager to hear and support anyone who said they were in love.
During this era, the Romans looked with scorn upon soldiers getting married. The thinking was a man couldn’t be a true fighter if his thoughts were on romancing a woman. Additionally, Christians were under extreme persecution at the time and anyone who helped Christians was also in danger.
Claudius II, who was the emperor during this period, had Valentine arrested for promoting all this love. Claudius actually took a liking to Valentine — until Valentine made an attempt to convert the emperor to Christianity.
Valentine was condemned to death.
Claudius had Valentine brutally beaten with clubs and stones. However, this failed to kill him, so soldiers dragged him down the Via Flaminia, or Flaminian Way. The Flaminian Way was an ancient Roman road leading from Rome over the Apennine Mountains to the coast of the Adriatic Sea.
At the edge of town there was the Flaminian Gate. Valentine was publicly beheaded right outside the gate.
To this day, when we think of love against all odds, we remember the martyr who gave this holy day, this holiday, its name: St. Valentine.
Which brings us back to the prayer breakfast, and my comments may get me beheaded but here we go.
If we truly wish to behave as Christians, or even live in a society based on Judeo-Christian values, in my view the wrong way is to attack people who disagree. And this goes for both sides in politics. This scorched-earth behavior in which both Democrats and Republicans are engaging poses a serious threat to not only how we are viewed in the world, but how we treat one another. Valentine staked his life on those three special words: “Love one another.” Wouldn’t it have been better if that had been stated by our leadership at the National Prayer Breakfast?