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October 22, 2004

The River Runs In Both Directions

Derek Shackelford

As this nation heads toward the Presidential Election of 2004, I have to agree with most honest political pundits on the divisiveness in America. It is obvious there are two different visions for this country. The voters can decide on which particular vision is best.

The problem remains that the respective campaigns are dictating to voters what the agendas should be. If we are going to elect a President on one agenda and that being terrorism, we have been highly fooled, hoodwinked and in the word of filmmaker Spike Lee, Bamboozled.

I will admit that terrorism is an issue and that is something not to be taken lightly after 9/11. The question that remains: Is it the only issue?

The reason I ask this question is that it appears voters will cast their ballot for president out of fear – fear in terms of whether or not we are dealing with terrorism correctly or incorrectly.

First of all, we are all guilty of playing into this notion of fear that has been designated as the war on terror. Terrorism is an act and it can be really fought from a war mentality.

In this country, we have had the War on Poverty, the War on Crime, and the War on Drugs, etc. We have had so many “wars” in the last few decades, that we must ask: “How are we doing in these respective wars? Are we making any headway? Is poverty going up or down? Is crime being eliminated? Are drugs under control in our various communities?”

These are questions that are asked to determine how seriously we are in addressing these issues. I submit and declare there are more issues within this country than simply terrorism. This is certainly not meant to diminish those service men and women who are currently in harm’s way or putting their lives on the line elsewhere

I have yet to hear of any candidate, be it President George W. Bush or Senator John Kerry, address an urban agenda – cities facing major budget deficits, schools are crumbling, and health care costs are rising. Neither candidate has addressed a serious methodology to revitalize our cities.

There has been no real serious mention to lift up black, brown, or white poor people. For the most part the agenda has been dictated to the expected voters, and we have not really demanded that the public discourse be elevated. This election will be decided not on who the best candidate is, but who is the lesser of two evils. American politics have been reduced to a low plateau and we, who had the power, have become powerless.

There has been recent focus on the faith of the two major candidates and how their faith plays a major role in their quest for the presidency.

Recently the New York Times Magazine published an article on the religious faith of President Bush and how much it has factored into decision making during his presidency. Senator John Kerry in recent interviews has injected how much his religious faith has been a major role in his thought process.

Both men have even quoted scriptures along the campaign trail. Even nationally known preachers have been instrumental in campaigning for the respective candidates. The Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have hit the trail for Senator Kerry and Reverends Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell have openly endorsed President Bush.

I sincerely believe that there is nothing wrong with clergy being involved in politics, but the problem that seems to evolve is that both camps have supposedly heard directly from God.

One side claims that God has anointed President Bush and he is on divine assignment. The flip side of that argument has God wanting to change the current administration.

This is not meant to question one’s personal faith by any means and it is great that we can have a theological debate on what God wants.

The problem that arises from this notion is claims that God is speaking to them. If everyone has heard from God, then who side is God really on?

As a minister myself, I believe that preachers should speak out against wrong and injustices. Also, it cannot be claimed that a preacher, more than anybody else, is in anybody’s hip pocket. Preachers have to call a wrong a wrong, and a right a right no matter whether we agree or disagree with who’s in office currently.

It was the Prophet Nathan who told David of his wrong. It was Daniel declaring to Nebuchadnezzar that the kingdom weighed in the balance, and it was Jeremiah who told Israel that it was heading in the wrong direction.

There should certainly be no problem with President Bush or Senator Kerry expressing their respective religious faiths. But they shouldn’t be using scripture for personal gain. It should be used to challenge.

A good start for both candidates would be in the book of Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream.”

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