Dear friends,“Will you respect the dignity of every human being?”
I will, with God’s help.
Those words from our Baptismal Covenant were in my mind all day yesterday as I sat glued to the television watching the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and all the festivities surrounding it. Treating people with dignity, respect, and decency has been something we have not seen from the White House in the last four years. Donald Trump began his 2016 campaign by denigrating our neighbors to the south, and continued it with mocking or insulting people with disabilities, women, Blacks, Muslims, immigrants, and anyone who disagreed with him. A simple glance at his now-banned Twitter feed showed that dignity, respect, and decency are not part of his makeup.
So it soothes my soul to have a new president who does, indeed, strive to respect the dignity of every human being. It was there in the respect he showed Tuesday night at the memorial service for the 400,000 who have died from Covid 19. It was there in the words of his inaugural address, and in the people who participated in the festivities, a reflection of America’s diversity. It was there in the executive orders he signed, taking measures to combat the pandemic and address the economic disaster it has caused, and rescinding the odious Muslim travel ban.
And if anyone did not get the message that dignity and respect are back in the White House, Biden spelled it out when he swore in more than 1,000 of his political appointees in agencies throughout the government.
“I’m not joking when I say this,” Biden told them. “If you’re ever working with me, and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot. On the spot. No ifs, ands, or buts. Everybody, everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity. That’s been missing in a big way the last four years.”
Biden did not speak in religious terms, but as a person of faith I’m sure his insistence on treating people with decency and dignity is grounded in the teaching that all people are created in the image of God.
I noticed another religious theme to the day that was not talked about in religious language — the idea of being a servant. For Biden, the presidency is about being a public servant, not about serving his own ego. That, too, is a belief that is grounded in scripture. “I am among you as one who serves,” Jesus tells the disciples. “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant…just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” Being called to be a servant leader is a strong part of Biden’s faith.
Having a president who cares about dignity, respect, and service does not mean Biden will be a perfect president. The problems he inherits are overwhelming. He will make mistakes. There will be times when we disagree with his policies or actions. But here is what I wrote inauguration night:
I truly believe that Joe Biden is the president for this moment. A man of decency and integrity, truth and empathy, humility and strength. A man who seeks office to serve, not be served. A man of grace who truly cares about all Americans. A man of deep faith in a God who cares for the poor and the oppressed, and always seeks justice. If anyone can bring us together while holding us accountable, it is him. He will make mistakes and missteps, but he will always have our best interests at heart. May God bless him and Vice President Harris, give them wisdom and strength, and keep them safe.