by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
A crucial aspect and growing concern related to this election season has to do with the violence which has already shown itself and threatens to increase exponentially whatever the outcome of the vote. There is no need here to go into detail about what may happen whomever is elected president and if the result is rejected. We have been seeing clear evidence of radical groups demonstrating their willingness to resort to violent actions in furtherance of their extremist views. The startling plan to kidnap and do harm to the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, last month is the most vivid example to date of this situation.
For Pax Christi these possibilities present an urgent and immediate challenge. It is most encouraging to be part of the initiative generated by our Executive Director, Johnny Zokovitch. He has gathered signatures from several of us “Pax Christi priests” calling on our clerical brothers in the two weeks before November 3rd “to incorporate messages in our homilies, the prayer of the faithful and during announcements at Mass that inspire our communities … to resist rhetoric that seeks to sow division and confusion…” And as you know, Pax Christi USA continues to publicize these types of pro-actions as we near the elections.
In addition, many other groups have been reflecting and working on alternatives to the nastiness of the moment and the ominous consequences it represents for our country. In fact, it seems that these initiatives have become a sort of nonviolent movement. Let me here cite some of them as examples:
No doubt there are many more groups like these, each worthy of investigating as we move toward what is now being called the end of the Election Season. Their stated objectives offer insights into the kind of actions being implemented or planned. For example: “Unarmed Civilian Protection and Accompaniment” or “Bystander Intervention and Nonviolent Communication.” These are actions in which most of us can engage.
With regard to all of our faith-based nonviolent activities at this time, consider a principal underlying cause for this present danger—fear. So much rhetoric of fear has been spewed forth during this electoral season, all of it aimed at frightening citizens into voting for or against particular candidates. And from all appearances this warped tactic has its effects. How many of our fellow citizens will vote on the basis of overheated and unsubstantiated threats to our safety and “way of life?” And how many fringe groups will act violently out of the same emotion?
This is so wrong and unfortunate. Fear is a normal reaction to danger but if allowed to take over our minds and hearts it can cause any of us to do what our better judgement would urge us to avoid. It can paralyze people and in the present context force many of them to give in to the very people who are using scare tactics to win elections.
One particularly vital message then as we combat the specter of approaching violence has to be the need to control fear. That is Christ’s message. Often the Lord urged his followers to overcome their fears, real as they might have been. In John’s Gospel, 6:21, the story of Jesus’s appearance during a storm on the sea of Gennesaret, has the Lord saying, “It is I, fear not.” In some translations Mark’s Gospel quotes Jesus insisting, “Fear is useless…” (Mk 5:36). Matthew’s Gospel cites Jesus on the day of his Resurrection encouraging the astounded faithful women “do not be afraid” (Mt. 28:10). The theme runs through the entire public life of the Lord.
Our consistent attitude and message, for personal and shared peace of mind in the face of possible violence must be the sentiment in the prayer we continually hear at the Eucharist: “graciously grant peace in our days, that by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress…”
If ever, this is the time for our Peace Movement, together with so many other people of good will, to confront violence in all its deadening forms and choose Nonviolence as our only hope as a country. The alternatives are too horrible to contemplate. Refusing to be overtaken by fear is a vital part of that objective.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.