Saturday, January 09, 2021

"healing" America -- a guest post by Laurene Lafontaine

A couple of weeks after the US election, a number of US citizens working in the Church of Scotland were asked to contribute an essay to the Church of Scotland magazine called Life and Work. The topic was about "healing America" after such a divisive election.

The essays ended up having to be significantly edited for length, but we were told we could publish full original essays here if we wished. The magazine was published this week...and after the events of this week in Washington DC and a number of US state houses, it seems like time. 

This guest post is by the Rev. Laurene Lafontaine, a minister in Aberdeen.


Growing up in a family which was neither religious nor political, I was a bit of an outlier with my overwhelming interest in both religion and politics.  There are  memorable moments in my journey of faith, and I can clearly remember various political moments as if they were yesterday.  For example, at a 1984 rally, I met Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman Vice-President nominee of an American major party; shaking hands with both Bill and Hillary Clinton after getting up at 4:45 am on election day 3 November 1992 for their 6:00 am last campaign stop in Denver; the resounding roar of 80,000 people when Illinois Senator Barack Obama accepted the nomination for Democratic nomination for President in Denver, Colorado 2008; meeting Vice President Joe Biden in 2012; and the haunting election night of 8 November 2016. 

In 2016, as voting results were reported along the political prognosticators’ acknowledgement they had got it wrong, a growing angst and dread overtook the anticipation and excitement many Americans felt earlier in the day. Around 1:30 am(CST)/6:30 am GMT, after it was clear a win was unattainable, I went to bed. I was feeling utterly devastated along with at least 63 million other Americans and countless across the globe. Hillary Clinton would not be the 45th President of the United States, and our worst nightmare had begun. 

This nightmare has included children being taken from their parents at the Mexican border, a Muslim travel ban executive order, impeachment, withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, and an America First agenda. Unimaginable damage to American democratic fabric has occurred. Trump has been the catalyst which not only brought the pervasive structural racism and white supremacy in American society to the forefront, but also legitimised outright brutality and violence perpetrated upon people who were African Americans, immigrants, children, Muslims, LGBTQ, Asians, reporters, to name a few. 

The unmitigated racism, on which America was founded and built, has flourished under this administration. The horror of watching African Americans literally being murdered, lynched, before our very eyes by those called to protect or armed young men … there are no polite words for this utter depravity.  Instead of bringing people together, he has spent four years golfing, tweeting, and sowing hate and discord in a divided country.  

His intentional dismantling of the American governmental social and educational programs and structures is deeply concerning as the impact will be felt for generations. As a child born into poverty, such programs provided early education opportunities, essential food support, medical care and financial assistance to families like mine. In 1965, I was a member of the first Head Start class held in my hometown. Head Start provided a safe environment where a curious 5-year-old could begin to thrive intellectually. Education is the golden ticket, in conjunction with social support, they are crucial to the development of a just and peaceful society. 

America is at a critical stage of societal development.  America is like an unruly 244-year-old adolescent, relatively speaking, nation struggling to develop a healthy identity, post-Cold War. Addressing the brutal history of genocide and slavery will be crucial in efforts to shift from a racially bias culture to a bias free society. 

After four years of divisive political leadership, President Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris are faced with a monumental task particularly as the catastrophic Covid crisis rages out of control.  Their challenge is to develop a new inclusive leadership approach beyond typical party politics. It is encouraging that a core value of their transition team is a diversity of ideology.

I am cautiously optimistic.  Joe Biden is the right person for this challenge.  He is centre-left with considerable experience and a rich history of bringing diverse perspectives together. He is a team player who surrounds himself with bright people who are often much smarter than he is. His selection of Kamala Harris was wise and bold. Joe Biden is a good man guided by a strong faith, an openness to learning, and an inclusive understanding of justice. Two of my friends worked on his staff whilst he was Vice President, so their experiences have also informed my perspective.  

Returning to religion and politics, often a hesitancy exists regarding a religious voice in the public forum because it’s perceived as political. Had several religious leaders spoke out when Trump belittled or said awful things about a person, ethnic groups etc, would it have made a difference? I hope so. At least, those people might have felt like they mattered. What are the social justice issues in the UK? As Christian leaders, we can share the Gospel message by addressing social justice issues in the public forum and advocating for those affected by those issues. If we don’t, who will? 

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