Truth, consequences and being a democracy

This last week has been quite intense and historic. As a world-wide pandemic continues to rage the President of the United States has been impeached for the second time. It’s almost hard to believe. What’s also hard to believe is how much various “truths” are being contested and debated right now. Despite any real evidence, the President continues to maintain that the election was stolen from him as a result of corrupt voting precincts in major cities with high minority populations. It does not matter that election officials from both major parties have insisted that there is no evidence or that his Attorney General and Senior Election Security Advisor have both declared the election was fair, accurate and well-managed. They were both pushed out.

Truth has consequences. It always has and alway will. Our faith traditions have a lot to say about the importance of truth and seeing clearly. Mohandas Gandhi espoused the importance of Satyagraha or “truth force” as he formulated his philosophy based on ancient Hindu teachings about truth and compassion. The ancient Jews declared the importance of telling the truth (or not lying) in the Ten Commandments. And Jesus declared that “ye shall know the truth and it shall set you free.”  For this reason, our own Covenant here at First Parish Church begins with the line “In the Love of Truth…”

The Yale Historian Timothy Snyder has in an incisive essay in a recent Sunday NY Times Magazine. He comments on the importance of telling and acknowledging the truth in any democratic society. He warns starkly that “post-truth is pre-fascism.” When our leaders stop telling the truth, we risk our potential downfall as a people and society.

No one person – or party – has a monopoly on the truth or what is real. In some ways this points all the more to the value of a system of checks and balances of the sort that was set up by the Founders of this country. It also suggests that we need to actively cultivate those habits and practices that allow us to listen humbly to others, to be in dialogue, to compromise and find common ground, and to adhere to a basic standard of decency and respect for our neighbors – the sort of behaviors people have practiced in this very congregation for centuries. As I noted last week, none of this should be particularly controversial to write and yet I know it is right now.

This Sunday we will be celebrating and holding up in word and song the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We will be joined by local pianist Steve Sussman playing a few pieces of Gospel music.

See you in church.