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  • Reverend James Squire

A Brokenness in His Soul

Updated: Feb 13, 2021

Photo by Ashley Batz

An angry Republican Senator Ben Sasse said that Donald Trump had a “brokenness in his soul” and was “addicted to division”. Let’s look at the horrific events of the insurrection at the Capitol through the lens of considerations of the soul. What were the spiritual issues at play on that day and what do those issues have to do with our daily lives?

A few years ago, I had a meeting with an Episcopalian clergyman who I had not met before. I always pay attention to the first impressions that I have of others as often, according to Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink, they tell us a great deal about an individual. Remember when a mentor or parent said that “first impressions count”. This clergyman was totally unaware of his statement’s impact on another when he said, “You know, Jim, I am an evangelical!”. That is fine to say, but in the context of a first meeting with someone, I felt that he was saying, “I am this and I know that you and I don’t share the same expression of religious belief.” We have to watch out for black and white thinking that may drive others from a relationship with us. At the Insurrection the souls of the mob included “I am right and you are wrong.”

I always tried to have a variety of speakers in our chapel services at the Episcopal Academy who represented a wide range of interpretations of faith. I had one caveat. The speaker can say what he or she believes, but they cannot say, “I am right and you must believe what I believe or else”. That statement that “I am right. You must believe as I do or else” reflects the thinking of the interior life of the mob. There were many people who stood up to this threat including most recently Michael Pence.

I had been asked by a family in our school community to have a speaker who headed a prominent religiously conservative organization address chapel. The family had given a large amount of money to our school. The speaker and I met before the service. I didn’t feel comfortable with what he wanted to say to my very religiously diverse people in chapel. He literally said, “They need to view their salvation as I do or else.” I answered by saying that I couldn’t permit him to speak. He got a smile on his face and said, “You know that family who wants me to speak has given a large amount of money to your school.” He was still smiling.

I do not do well with threats so I responded, “You can say how important your faith is to you, but if you impugn the integrity of my students and faculty with an “or else”, I will stop you in mid-sentence and remove you from the pulpit.” He stopped smiling and did exactly as I instructed him to do. After the service, the family thanked me for having him speak in chapel. He did not.

I think that this is what Michael Pence did. It was a straw to break the camel’s back after years of licking the boots of this President. Trump certainly said the “or else” to him on many occasions, both explicitly and implicitly.

It is important to know that the soul is filled with the black, white, gray, and “or else” of life. It is also important to know that life is a two-edged sword and the way to hell is paved with good or grandiose intentions.

Trump lacked a moral center. What we need to do is make sure that we have found ours. I believe that the Gospel guides my life. That is an absolute for me. “Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary. They will know that we are Christians by our love.” It is black and white. I also recognize that much of the world that I live in can be less clear and colored gray. One lesson that is critical to learn after the failed insurrection is appreciate the gray in your soul but find the absolutes by not listening to just one perspective or TV station. Make sure that the “or elses” that come into your life are supporting your faith, your values such as no violence, and is something that you would be proud to see on a front page of your local press. Almost every front page of mainstream newspapers in the nation have denounced Trump. In black and white terms Trump and his followers were wrong.

Let me offer up another Republican senator as someone who has had a whole soul of healing balancing all of those ingredients of black, white, gray, “or else”. It is retired Republican Senator from Missouri who is an Episcopal priest, John Danforth. He served as well as an attorney general and US Ambassador to the United Nations. A recent book that he wrote is The Relevance of Religion: How Faithful People Can Change Politics.

Michael Gerson, a columnist at the Washington Post, wrote the following about his book and his life. John Danforth does this country another public service after many. "His book is both a serous critique of politicized religion and a strong defense of religion’s indispensable role in our common life. He talks of faith as an antidote to egotism, as a force of reconciliation, and as a source of public virtue. His case is illustrated through autobiography, in an honest, winsome, and self-critical tone. Danforth speaks for civility, collegiality, and useful compromise – and is compelling because he has demonstrated all those commitments himself over decades.”

Danforth was a mentor to Josh Hawley, one of the Republican senators who actually asked the recount to continue after the insurrection was put in check. Danforth helped him with his political career. A few days ago when Danforth was asked about his support of Hawley, he simply said, “It is the worst mistake that I have made in my life.” That is what a whole soul sounds like to the brokenness of another soul.

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