A Lament for Our Degradation

                                                                Creative Commons

                                                                Creative Commons

© 2018 Robert Osburn

I grew up in a lower middle-class blue-collar home in Southeastern Michigan where it seemed every 10th word out of my hardworking father’s mouth was a profanity.  Since my grandparents were not profane people, I often wondered what led to the linguistic degradation of this often-compassionate man I called “dad.” I concluded that it was the combined influence of 18 months as a post-World War II US Army draftee and 45 years working as a laborer “on the line” at what was once the world’s largest refrigeration compressor company.

Though ours was a household largely devoid of Christian faith (apart from nominal churchgoing in the early and late 1960s), I instinctively knew that crude language about defecation and sexual intercourse was distasteful, if not just plain wrong.  Was I wired with some kind of moral code that resisted this linguistic trash?  My Catholic friends (and most older Reformed thinkers, by the way) would say that natural law, the law imprinted on our hearts by God (Romans 2: 14-15), is the explanation.

Why couldn’t my 8th grade-educated father find better ways to express his anger and frustration? I sympathized with his poverty of education, but, then, why were most of my high school classmates using the same four-letter bedroom and bathroom vocabulary?

When I heard that the US President several days ago chose this kind of language to describe whole regions of the world, I felt the same revulsion.  Not just because this language offends the natural law God has inscribed in me, but for two other reasons as well.  First, I work with international students from around the world, and I do not want to unnecessarily offend them.  Secondly, I am deeply concerned that our president is degrading the American people, and especially members of his political party as well as a core base of support (white evangelicals) in ways previously unimaginable and tragic.

As for my international student friends, except for a very few, I have known little but grace and respect, even among many who have nothing to do with the Christian faith that I so passionately embrace. My Chinese friends would never, in their wildest dreams, imagine causing Africans and Haitians to “lose face” in the way that our leader has. Yes, it is true the president spoke about their nations, and not of individuals from those nations.  But, what one of us native-born Americans thinks of ourselves as pure individuals, unrooted in our shared and great American story?  When you attack the nation, you are in some way attacking each member of that nation.

As for Republicans, with whom I have found a political home for many decades, they are in serious trouble because of this president. I predict the mid-term election in November 2018 will be a cataclysmic disaster for them, as a result.  Though the majority of evangelicals (of whom I have been one since a fateful day in the late 60s at the University of Michigan) did not vote for him (and some, like John Piper, vigorously rejected his candidacy) , white evangelicals are still reported to amongst his most loyal supporters.  Though it’s wrong to conflate Republicans and evangelicals, the central problem is that both groups must regularly (almost daily) invent excuses for the president’s behavior.

Americans, especially Republicans and white evangelicals, are latched, whether we like it or not, to a national leader who degrades others and is himself degrading. (On the same day that his profane comments surfaced, a very credible claim was made that his lawyer paid $150,000 to silence a porn star who had a sexual relationship with him in 2006.)

We are being linguistically and morally corrupted, fellow Americans!  Let us no longer hide ourselves from the truth.  Yes, one could say that many of Trump’s policies have merit.  That is surely true.  But, American presidential leadership is not just about the content of policies; it is just as much about the character of the presidency.   America’s future, humanly speaking, depends upon both.

Lest God intervenes, we have three more years of this degradation.  I fear for Americans, because our leader is not someone who will stop degrading us.  It will continue, and many of us will respond by clinging tightly and firmly to our best and only hope: a holy God who cannot be degraded and dragged through the mud, muck, and mire of early 21st century America. 

For my domestic friends on the left and my international friends, whether in or out of the Christian faith, I ask you to resist schadenfreude (taking pleasure in someone else’s failure) over this degrading disaster.  Instead, join with those Christians and conservatives who resist this degradation and let us create some shared civic platform where we jointly declare, “No more of this.  This is not the America we love. We will resist this ugliness in order to pursue, rather than betray, our founding ideals.”

America was once a better nation (though stained by horrors like racism).  But, at its core, Christian faith fueled America’s virtue. Evangelicals and conservatives are, however, being degraded because we have latched ourselves, reluctantly or willfully, to someone who is openly degenerate.  And, for that, like the prophet of old, I can do no less than weep (Jeremiah 9:1).