The first of three scheduled presidential debates took place last night at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
Chris Wallace of Fox News moderated the event, which took place over ninety minutes in six fifteen-minute blocks. President Trump and Vice President Biden were asked about their records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, race and violence in our cities, and the integrity of the election.
The debate was contentious from the beginning, with each candidate contradicting the other repeatedly throughout. Fox News is calling the debate “fiery”; CNN describes it as “rancorous and chaotic.” According to USA Today, it was “one of the most chaotic, insult-laden presidential debates in modern history.”
How Richard Nixon’s suit affected the 1960 election
Before last night, more than 70 percent of Americans said the debate wouldn’t matter much to them. Fewer people than at any time since 2000 consider debates important to deciding how they will vote.
However, televised presidential debates have been changing history since 1960, when Richard Nixon’s light gray suit blended into the background on black-and-white television and his opponent, Sen. John Kennedy, began the ascendancy that led to his eventual victory.
Ronald Reagan’s memorable response in 1984 to a question about his age (“I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience”) led to his easy reelection. President Ford’s insistence that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe” may have contributed to his loss in 1976; Ronald Reagan’s clear dominance of his debate with President Carter in 1980 likely contributed to his landslide victory.
The contentious nature of last night’s debate reflects the contentious nature of our culture. Our politics are locked in a zero-sum game: abortion is legal or it is not; LGBTQ rights and sexual liberty take precedence over religious liberty or they do not. More than ever before, Republicans and Democrats both consider the other side to be “brainwashed,” “hateful,” and “racist.”
Why these are good days for compassion and love
In the midst of such political animosity, let’s gain a larger perspective.
The world passed one million confirmed coronavirus deaths on Monday, losing 3,819 lives per day since the start of the year (by comparison: 2,977 people were killed on 9/11). It has been estimated that the US has lost two million “years of life” from early deaths due to the pandemic. Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning Americans to prepare for a second wave of COVID-19 this fall.
In other news, one of the largest medical cyberattacks in US history occurred last weekend. Multiple people died during a hostage situation in Oregon on Monday. A priest in China was reportedly abducted and tortured for refusing to join the government-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
And a Texas pastor and his wife were killed when a driver crossed into their lane and struck their vehicle head-on. Their three small children survived.
I took you through these stories to make two related points.
One: Every day’s news reminds us that ours is a broken world. Many people are suffering in ways that far transcend political divisions. And such divisiveness is nothing new in America. We are fallen people living in a fallen culture.
Two: Tragedy and hatred are opportunities for compassion and love. The more acrimonious our country becomes, the more urgent and powerful our ministry becomes.
Let’s close by focusing on this fact.
“What is the invitation of God in your fear?”
Not in my lifetime have I seen an election this intense, with supporters on each side convinced that our nation’s future depends on their candidate’s victory. We can and must vote, pray, and speak biblical truth to the issues of the day.
But it is vital to remember that God measures success not by outcomes in our world but by obedience to his word.
When Jeremiah warned his people not to flee to Egypt (Jeremiah 42), they “did not obey the voice of the Lord” (Jeremiah 43:7) and in fact forced the prophet to go with them (v. 6). This was not the outcome he wanted, but Jeremiah’s obedience resonates still today.
In fact, fear of failure can be reframed as an opportunity for greater faith.
Writing for the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Boston, Curtis Almquist notes: “Fear is not a sign of the absence of God. In our fear we rather find the bidding presence of God. Our fear most often arises out of something that is bigger than we are, and we find that in and of ourselves, there isn’t enough—not enough energy, or patience, or hope, or encouragement, or provision. We come up short.
“Where is God in your fear? What is the invitation from God in your fear?”
How would you answer his questions today?
NOTE: Every day, I strive to write what is biblical, timely, and nonpartisan. And I can think of nothing more biblical, timely, and nonpartisan today than our need to be civil people in an uncivil time, especially in this political season. I wrote my newest book to help us answer that call. Please request your copy of Respectfully, I Disagree: How to Be a Civil Person in an Uncivil Time today—before supplies run out.