The election of 1800 was as ugly, and rancorous as the one we are experiencing this year. It was the election James Callender accused John Adams of being a senile hermaphrodite. It was the election Aaron Burr nearly stole from Thomas Jefferson. In 1800 electors did not specify on their ballots whom they were choosing as President and Vice President. Thus Jefferson and Burr both ended up with 73 electoral votes. Burr, who was supposed to be Vice President, would not yield and tried to steal the election. The election was thrown into the House of Representatives. It was the Federalists, and particularly Alexander Hamilton who decided the election by moving their support to Jefferson.
Hamilton, in a series of brief letters to Federalist members of the House, offered two reasons for supporting Jefferson. The first was that although the Federalists disagreed with Jefferson politically, they could admit that Jefferson was seeking the greater good, whereas Burr was only seeking power for Burr. The second reason Hamilton gave was that he was convinced Jefferson, would “venture less” than Burr.* To Hamilton, Jefferson would do the least harm.
If I do vote for a candidate on the ballot this November (instead of writing in a name), this will be my criteria – which will “venture less.” Thinking back, I find this has been my criteria in 6 of 9 elections in which I have had the privilege to vote. This is a bit discouraging. The institutional decay in our nation seems to require bold action.
We are constantly reminded of the vast gulf between the leadership we need and the leadership we get - by rising crime rates, crumbling infrastructure, lead poisoned tap-water, increasing income disparity, domestic terrorism, and racial unrest. More than anything else, mass shootings remind us how ill prepared we are to face evil.
The mass shooting in Orlando last weekend produced 100 casualties and 49 dead. It is hard to imagine such carnage being carried out by 1 shooter. The Sandy Hook shooting still haunts me, because that shooting took place in an elementary school and most of the victims were children. How can we protect our children? How does one explain any of this to a child?
In a brilliant piece Fred Rodgers did in the wake of 9-11, he encouraged kids to “look for the helpers” whenever something bad has happened. There are helpers around doing all the good they can when tragedy strikes. Taking his advice, we should be heartened by the hundreds in Orlando who lined up to give blood. Lines stretched for blocks, as people patiently waited to do something good.
It is a great evidence of the good in us, of God in us, that when evil strikes a mighty blow our impulse is to find a way to assert goodness. We feel the need to do something good now, as an act of defiance – as a way of shaking a fist in Satan’s face.
Jesus teaches us that goodness needs to be an action, not merely a reaction.
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets. Matthew 7.12
The “golden” rule demands action. It is about what we do. It makes each of us responsible for asserting goodness daily – not just making a token response when evil seems to have triumphed. Jesus is telling us to “venture more,” to do the good we know to do as soon as we know to do it. James says plainly, “So whoever knows the right thing to do, and fails to do it – for him it is sin,” (James 4.17).
There are no verses in the New Testament that encourage us to confront evil with an angry rant (or tweet, or posting, or mass-email).
The New Testament tells us we must assert goodness every day. We must meet every challenge to goodness with a response characterized by “gentleness and reverence” (I Peter 3.15). We must not be numbered among those who say and share hateful things, only to be surprised when others act on those same hateful impulses.
We assert goodness. We venture more.
*The Founders on the Founders, edited by John P. Kominski, University of Virginia Press, 2008, pp.86-88.