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But one phrase that seems apposite is contained in Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella, Heart of Darkness: ‘The horror! The horror.’
These words are whispered by Mr Kurtz, a trader in ivory in Africa. Kurtz is on his deathbed as he expresses his final judgement, both on his own life and actions, and on humanity and imperialism.
What are we to make of events in America? Certainly, we should recoil in horror: at the actions of a sitting President who incited insurrection; at the racism exposed through the action or inaction of the authorities (compare this with the response to the Black Lives Matter protests); and at the blasphemy of those who carried a banner displaying an American flag and the words ‘Jesus is my Saviour’ and ‘Trump is my President’.
We should express horror, although it’s easy for us to watch events unfold in the States, passing judgement at a distance. We must not be complacent about the state of our own nation. And neither should we ignore what these events reveal about our humanity. Along with Mr Kurtz, our horror should be directed partly at ourselves.
Because in a democracy, we get the leaders we deserve. If we’re concerned about the quality of our politics and political leaders, we should get involved and change them. ‘Decisions,’ as President Bartlett in The West Wing reminds us, ‘are made by those who show up.’ If we oppose racism and double standards, we should redouble our efforts to put into practice the theology we profess, that all human beings are created equally in the image of God. And if we object to the way Christianity is being co-opted by one group, we should avoid the temptation of co-opting it into another. We should be rigorous in critiquing, theologically, our own political assumptions and commitments, and invite others to do the same.
Jesus calls us to live our lives as he would live them if he were us, right here, right now, on our frontline. The kingdom of God is less about getting us into heaven, than getting heaven into us, and into the world. This requires us not only to express horror at wrong, but address those wrongs and become the change we seek.