I am particularly proud this week to be a citizen of South Carolina.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott practiced an old biblical principle called speaking truth to power. His comments castigating both our president and elected leaders of Congress for uttering divisive and bigoted speech about race reminds me that Scott is the conscience of the United States Senate.
In the Bible, Abraham spoke truth to power when he challenged God for threatening to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah in the Book of Genesis. Moses challenged Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free in the Book of Exodus. How many times did the ancient biblical prophets challenge the moral authority of the kings of Israel and Judah? Job’s calling out God for his actions fits into a larger of pattern in the Bible which is that it is allowed to challenge an unjust king as well as to challenge an unjust punishment by God against the people.
The truth is that today we are not speaking about condemning one leader or one party over another. Our problem continues to be a lack of civility and respect for the positions and the people who become elected officials.
In addition, we appear to be losing sight that God and the spirit of this nation set out a higher platform for us to conduct our nation’s business. Scott was quoted as saying, “No matter our political disagreements, aiming for the lowest common denominator will only divide our nation further.”
I rely on a passage from my own tradition that guides me why religion is so important to the moral fiber of this nation. From the pages of the Talmud, which was written over 2,000 years ago, the sages ask a question: “Why did God create one human being at the dawn of civilization?
The first answer they gave was, “To teach that whoever destroys a single life, scripture reckons it to him or her as if that person destroyed an entire world. Furthermore, the person who saves a life Scriptures reckons it to that individual as if that person saved an entire world.”
The sages added one more reason why God created one person at creation, which was for the sake of peace among human beings so that no person should say to another, “My father is greater than your father.”
It is embarrassing that we have this kind of discourse in our nation’s politics. We are supposed to watch vigorous debate on the issues, but using race as a way of criticizing or demonizing another individual, especially for political gain, serves no useful purpose except provoke more violent and reactionary rhetoric that makes it more difficult to conduct the nation’s business.
When national leaders use the race card, do they realize that they are demeaning not only those whom they attack but they, in a way, destroy a life of those of the same race, religion, gender or sexual orientation?
The great historian David McCullough, in his book “The American Spirit,” wrote, “We need to talk sense, to speak the truth, to work harder and stay faithful to our fundamental beliefs. We are, all of us, responsible for our own actions, but we also know that it has also been bedrock in our American creed, that without cooperation, without all of us working together, we can’t make it.”
Stoking the flames of race and religion only drives us further away from the beliefs our Founding Fathers had in creating this great nation.
I stood with my family in Williamsburg on the Fourth of July as an actor dressed as Thomas Jefferson recited the Declaration of Independence. We know today that those ideals did not apply to people who were enslaved. We fought a civil war because of race over 90 years later. We learned that ideals are only as good as we are willing to work for them to apply to all Americans.
We have come a long way, but hurling invectives about race toward and between national leaders does not befit the dignity of public office. It has to stop now.
It sends a horrible message to the nation’s young people that racial divisions are justified. How do we build a nation where faithfulness to the principle that all men are created equal has meaning?
America is better than that. My prayer is that our nation’s leaders take a step back and think hard on their speech and remember that every word can save or destroy the world we live in.