Rev. Dr. Edward L. Wheeler
December 13, 2017
December has come quickly. I do not know where the year has gone but 2017 is almost at an end. One of the traditions that comes at the end of a year is the naming of persons of note and high reputation who have died during the year. It is always surprising to hear all the names and to realize that while I remember some of them, there are many more persons that I do no remember.
The death of anyone is a loss for someone, even if that person was not well known beyond their circle of family and friends. My extended family faced several deaths this year, including my brother-in-law who was younger than me. Those deaths have been painful but one death stands out for me. I suspect this death has impacted many more people, but I cannot be sure. It is my hope that this particular death is being grieved across our nation, if not around the world. However, given what I have seen and heard in recent months, I am hesitant to make that claim. The death that I grieve so deeply is the death of decency.
The signs that decency was not doing well have been around for a while. We should have taken notice when “please” and “thank you” started to disappear from common usage. We certainly should have become concerned when the elderly became prey instead of being individuals that the community respected, revered and protected, but maybe we were just too busy to notice. After all, the sense of community I knew as a child is not common anymore.
Politics has often shown an ugly side but when a member of Congress called then President Obama a “liar” in the middle of his State of the Union Address, it should have been clear that decency was suffering from more than a simple cold. The deaths of so many innocent students and adults in school massacres was indicative of societal illness, but the fact that so many people were quick to defend current gun laws even before the funerals had stopped was a sure sign that decency was in serious danger. Few of us, however, had any idea of how dire the prognosis was.
When the Access Hollywood tape surfaced exposing a vulgar conversation about “tic tacs” and violating women because of power and money; decency wheezed. It was the dry wheeze often associated with impeding death.
Decency spit up blood when whole groups of persons were regularly described in the most despicable, degrading and deplorable terms and again when even the slightest hint of disagreement brought a vitriolic twitter response from the highest office in the land. Decency gasped for air when hate groups marched in Charlottesville and were not immediately condemned. Decency’s heart rate plunged when NFL players who knelt in protest against the killing of unarmed Black men and women were called “SOBs” by the highest elected official in the United States.
Decency tried to rally from its deathbed situation when persons who had experienced sexual abuse spoke out and men in positions of power lost their jobs. Despite the trauma of the accusations the reaction gave some hope that decency would survive, but decency’s rally was brief and in the end decency could not recover.
The final moments for decency came when those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ used the banner of Christianity to defend, without question, a man accused of inappropriate relations with girls in their teens when he was in his 30’s.
As a Black man who knows the history and legacy of lynching and false convictions of men of color for unfounded, unsubstantiated and often false claims leveled against them involving white women, I am cautious about convicting anyone without evidence. However, the candidate for the U.S. Senate espouses a form of Christianity Christ would not recognize and his abuse of power in the past might at least raise questions worthy of further investigation. However, to hold his rallies in churches was too much for decency to bear.
Decency was kind and compassionate. Decency was respectful and gracious. Decency was tolerant of the differences of others and appreciative of the gifts that people of other religions, cultures and abilities brought to the table. Decency was forgiving of other’s mistakes, because decency knew that nobody was perfect. Decency saw the ability in the disabled, the humanity in the marginalized and the potential in every child. Decency mourned the death of soldiers and the victims of senseless violence with dignity and grace that revealed true sympathy.
Decency knew how to disagree without having to demonize those with whom decency disagreed. Decency was not “puffed up,” not arrogant, not self-promoting. Decency saw the image of God in all of humanity and celebrated the beauty of diversity. I mourn the death of decency. I hate to think about what I and the world have lost this year. Decency protected all of us from the atrocities indecency has wrought throughout history. I worry about decency’s death. However as a Christian, my hope is that God will give us the courage to resurrect decency from its grave, remove the death garments and welcome decency back into our personal lives, our communities, our nation and our world. Decency deserves to be resurrected.