“If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Let each one test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.” (Galatians 6:3-5)
It is an interesting twist of providence for me to try and preach through this section of Galatians while the content of (and reactions to) the Republican National Convention are filling up every corner of the world outside my study. Prayers that glorify the name of America instead of the Lord God. Benedictions that are not truly benedictions. Rhetoric of uniting against the enemy, who has somehow come in the flesh in Hillary Clinton. Rhetoric of moral superiority coming from both the Republicans and their detractors. The closer the conventions gets to coronating Donald Trump, the more charged the language gets and the more anxious the populous.
Amidst the circus of the Republican National Convention, we can see a moral drama playing out before us. It is a story about power, pride, and humility. David Brooks, in his recent book The Road to Character, describes how pride can take the form of boasting, bragging, and claims to superiority. But it what is usually hidden by pridefully language that is worth exploring in our current political climate. Brooks comments:
One key paradox of pride is that it often combines extreme self-confidence with extreme anxiety. The proud person often appears self-sufficient and egotistical but is really touchy and unstable. The proud person tries to establish self-worth by winning a great reputation, but of course this makes him utterly dependent on the gossipy and unstable crowd for his own identity. The proud person is competitive. But there are always other people who might do better. The most ruthlessly competitive person in the contest sets the standard that all else must meet or get left behind. Everybody else has to be just as monomaniacally driven to success. One can never be secure. As Dante put it, the “ardor to outshine / Burned in my bosom with a kind of rage.”
It is interesting to note in our current political contest how pride and anxiety have been intertwined. The more puffed up the candidates become, the more they may be hiding their own fear and anxiety about their positions, campaigns, or even self-worth. As Paul puts it, “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.” Part of the story of the current elections is that power laced with fear often looks like confidence, when it masks a deep anxiety. We see this in the incessant competition and comparison between Trump and Clinton.
But if this is the dark side to this pride-filled anxiety, it has an even darker side. Paul’s letter to the Galatians speaks of the dangers of pride and self-deception within the context of significant moral relationships. He speaks of our view of ourselves within the context of how we should live together as a community of Christ. In other words, how we treat others is intimately connected with how we view ourselves.
So as the conventions convene and candidates are coronated, I invite you to pay particular attention to how the candidates treat those who are not part of the fold. We are told in Galatians to restore sinners “gently” and to “carry each other’s burdens.” However, when we are caught up in the anxiety-laden competition to win and finally be seen as significant, our treatment of others is often the first to be sacrificed.
The moral character of leaders matters. It is concerns of character, perhaps more than anything else, that has fueled mistrust in this election cycle. Many are concerned about the obvious flaws in Trumps character as well as the flaws the Clintons. He boasts, belittles, and demeans, while she evades and obfuscates.
Instead of giving in to the culture of competition and cheap character, we are called to something different. Instead of sowing the seed of discord, anger, or oppression, we are called to “sow to please the Spirit.” We are called to not grow weary in doing good for others, but at every opportunity to serve those around us, carrying their burdens, especially of fellow believers.
How do we respond to either of these party conventions with anything other than resignation? We can begin by loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, seeking to carry other’s burdens, and being willing to let others carry ours. Perhaps in this, the harvest will be much greater than what was sown.