St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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Moving Forward – On Elections

In our church we sing Psalms at all services, Sundays included.  One of the Psalms we sing every Sunday has the line “Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation.”

After all the hype and speeches and relentless polls, phone calls, and e-mails from principals and workers in this seemingly endless national campaign, it helps if we remind ourselves of this sober thought.  No election will save us.

Lest you should immediately think of salvation as a “religious” concept, having to do only with life after death, please know that the concept is much broader.  Especially in the Hebrew Bible, salvation has a variety of meanings, not least of which is room to move and to be free.  People who have been suffocated by oppression or lack of space experience salvation when their territory is expanded.  Salvation can also mean simply and profoundly to be rescued from a bad situation or to recover from illness.  Salvation is not apart from everyday life; it refers not to a religious realm, but to this world as well as the next.

I write this column before knowing the outcome of the election, and I do so purposefully.  To repeat, no election is going to save us.  We Americans have a long history of placing too much faith in our public leaders; then we are disappointed when they turn out to be human just like the rest of us.  They make political mistakes, they break campaign promises, they lose track of finances, and they can become involved in graft and greed just like the rest of us.  We hold them to a higher standard than we hold out for ourselves.   We should not do so.  “In sons of men” there is no salvation.  That is to say, they are not going to single-handedly deliver us from oppression, from economic woes or from slippage in world leadership, whatever that means.

Among the ironies of history is that sometimes those who promise an end to tyranny can only make good on the promise by becoming tyrants themselves. The public square has shrunk over the last forty years to the point where polarization has replaced dialogue and good will has been replaced by animosity.  We don’t talk any more.  We have seen a reversal of the concept of “tolerance”; those who cannot tolerate alternatives, for example, now deem people who hold traditional and once universal views on marriage and other issues, “intolerant”.  After this election, let us work to renew broad-based, many-voiced public discourse on the course our nation should take.

So the message is always, Beware!  Take politics seriously but remember, “In sons of men there is no salvation.”  No single leader or government is going to rescue us from a bad situation – especially in this day of global economy and interaction. The most we can hope for is to inch toward the attainment of goals that we deem worthy and the dismissal of goals that we deem unworthy – and that’s one major reason for voting.

I received a last-minute e-mail from the editor of an online meditation I read regularly.  He said, “None of the candidates for president fully hold positions on life that are pleasing… Yet we are faced with a choice.  I believe God calls you and me to vote and exercise the wisdom he has given us.”

I would add that I hope and pray that the next years bring healing among us Americans rather than further division, and that together we can rebuild the public square so necessary for dialogue and decision in a truly free country.

Fr Gabriel Rochelle serves St Anthony of the Desert Orthodox Mission.  Reach him at Fr Gabriel bakes artisan breads at Mountain View Market, Las Cruces, and lives in Mesilla.