What is the End Game?

From the day Vladimir Putin told his military to invade Ukraine, the world has been asking what is Mr. Putin’s end game. Is it to claim a couple of regions? Is it to make Ukraine a vassal state? Or is the end game much larger: all of Ukraine? Russia realigns the world through its use of tactical nuclear weapons?

When a particular news/opinion station or podcaster spits out venom and conspiracy theories closely aligned with the “replacement theory” beliefs of the man who massacred people shopping for groceries in Buffalo, what is the end game being played with their use of “free speech”?

When similar fear-stoked theories of white replacement are employed by candidates for elected offices to outmaneuver the already-conservative elected official to the right, what is the end game?

In Oklahoma we’ve made it very difficult to raise taxes. Quality of life indicators are nearly all in the bottom fifth of all states, numerous tax cuts have not created more prosperity then surrounding states, public education has been given far more lip service then support, and our governor is paying more public attention to birth certificates than to health care. What is the end game?

The nation’s immigration policy and practices have been a mess through every administration since at least 1980. But with one party claiming the other is for open borders, that the other party wants more immigrants who will vote them into office, and making immigrants from Central and South America and the Caribbean sound more like an invading disease than desperate human beings, what is the end game? (Ironically, neither party claims the favor of those immigrants who care more about basic safety and economic opportunity than about how progressives and conservatives parse the English language.)

The people who tried to kidnap Michigan’s governor or who assaulted the Capitol Police in the name of law and order, or all the elected officials who flipped from declaring that the leaders of the violence—including among their ranks—need to be held accountable to insisting “get over it:” what is the end game?

Within some Christian churches and in the Christian Right media machines, talk about civil war is growing. That talk is louder and more public than before January 6, 2021. What, in God’s name, is the end game?

Estimates on the number of guns held by the public in the U.S. range from 300 million to 400 million. Mass shootings were in the news several times just over the weekend. On cue, public officials express outrage, offer thoughts and prayers. Some demand better laws—and no matter how many persons of every age die from gunfire, no massacre of any scope will be sufficient to change the minds of the power and principalities that hold the nation hostage to an insane interpretation of the right to self-defense with killing machines. What is the end game of a public owning more guns than there are people dedicated to sacred violence?

We know that pesticides enter our bodies hitching a ride on food. Microplastics are everywhere in the ocean and in our guts, lungs, and bloodstream. Sometime in the next several years—at least once—the average temperature of the earth will exceed the threshold of the mass disaster danger zone. Since we, the American people as a people, seem to lack the will and the discipline to change our habits, what is our end game?

Screaming at each other on social media. Labeling and dismissing. Shaming. Ganging up on someone who has acted in a way the group believes deserves punishment. And the algorithms are designed to keep us scrolling for more and paying attention to the posts written with inflaming words. What is the end game?

What is the end game? Not a multicultural, shared-power democracy. Not the Beloved Community. Not depolarization in service of pragmatic compromise to get things done. Not clean air, clean water, and healthy soil.

The endgame is: More hate. More fear. More guns. More de-humanization. Lower quality of life for more people. Shrinking markers of democracy. Less freedom for all but the group that imposes order on the others. More violence as a means of control.

And a Christianity that looks a lot more like the Roman Empire patronage/vassal/peasant/terrorize to keep order existence than the leaven of love and justice that Jesus embodied.

Please pay attention to the end game.

Dr. Gary Peluso-Verdend is president emeritus at Phillips Theological Seminary and is the executive director of the seminary’s Center for Religion in Public Life. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. Learn more about the Center’s work here and about Gary here.

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