Baptismal vows resist evil

In his “Monday Memo” of March 14,  Rev. Jack Harnish views the 2016 political campaign through vows made at Baptism.

JACK HARNISH
Detroit Conference Pastor, Retired

I’ve hesitated to call it “evil”–this rabid spirit that seems to be rising in our nation as represented in the recent Donald Trump rallies.  I’ve hesitated to call it “evil” because I thought maybe it was in fact just what the pundits said it was–the release of anger in the populace over the do-nothing Congress and the failure of government to deliver, or resentment against a financial system that seems rigged against the ordinary guy, or at worst, a reaction against the changing demographics of the country by those who would prefer to “Make America White Again”.

Since I am a firm believer in the freedom of speech and really do believe people ought to be involved in the political life of the nation, I was willing to allow for those voices, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with them.  That’s just how democracy works, I thought.

But then, I was preparing for the celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism in a couple weeks and reread the questions I will have to ask the families who present their children and the adults who will stand in front of the congregation:  “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of your sins?  Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”  …and I had to ask myself, “Where do you see the spiritual forces of wickedness at work in this world?  In what forms do evil, injustice and oppression present themselves today?”

I was reflecting on that this weekend in juxtaposition to the news of increasing violence at the  Trump rallies, representing the seeming total breakdown of civility in our political process, and I had to say to myself, “Well, there it is.  Evil presents itself in the revved up and “trumped up” rhetoric that demeans anyone who is different from us.  Evil presents itself in the ginned up and hyped up animosity toward those who disagree with us. Evil presents itself in the months of mean-spirited rhetoric which has built up to a fever pitch, then tries to blame everyone else for the almost predictable results.

I am not defending protesters who also turn violent. (Whatever happened to Martin Luther King and the non-violent protest movement?) I am not arguing about partisan party politics.

I am reflecting on the Trump campaign and his crowds as a pastor who must ask myself the same questions I will ask these candidates for baptism.  Where do I see the spiritual forces of wickedness and the evil powers of this world at work?  In what forms do evil, injustice and oppression  present themselves in this day?  I am sure there are many answers to that–militant Islam and terrorist groups, more gun deaths in America than there are days in the week, persecution of Christians in China or Syria, human trafficking–but certainly one clear nexus of evil can be seen in the bigoted speech and vicious tone of Mr. Trump’s campaign from the very beginning.  It can be seen in the angry, fired-up throngs who follow him as he eggs them on.  If I were one of those preachers who believes there will be popular political leader who will arise as the “Antichrist” in the end times, I would be tempted to believe it is Mr. Trump. At this point, I just have to call it “evil”.

And if as a pastor I am going to ask these baptismal families to “resist evil in whatever form it presents itself”, I need to be willing to do the same.

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