As I’ve spent the last few days speaking with many of you about the events of our recent presidential election, I feel the conviction to offer some pastoral words at this moment.
I think the one thing everyone can agree on is that no one could have predicted the events that have unfolded in the last 12 months. For many of you, that is the source of great anxiety this week. The results have surprised you and caused you to question much. There is no arguing these are anxious times for many. What should our response be? Taunt? Blame? Gloat? Fear?
What should be said first is that speaking truth is absolutely necessary. Standing up for what is right is never out of place. Even for a righteous cause like unity or harmony, a bland copacetic peace is no alternative to contesting over what’s right and true. But as we speak truth about very serious matters in public life, we must remember that people are complicated creatures. The world is a complicated place. Those most self-assured about both the problems and the solutions are probably the least helpful. We’re all more alike than we’d like to admit: a little too eager to blame the other, quickly assuming that the facts line up nicely with our own perspective and quickly dismissing narratives that deviate from our preconceived notions. Under different circumstances, behaviors we condemn in an opponent we would justify for ourselves. All of us.
If you’re shocked and surprised by these turns of events, maybe part of the problem is that we haven’t bothered to really listen to people different from us. This is not to relativize the very real differences of policy, nor is it to pretend that we’re all equally right or equally wrong. What’s right and true is important, but there are better and worse ways to get there. Temperance isn’t about ignoring the problem: it’s acknowledging that the stakes are so high for some people, they don’t have the privilege to preach and moralize about politics and culture– they have to learn to live in the reality of it with prudence. There is a great temptation to become puffed up at times like these. Be careful not to let anger turn into self-righteousness. That only makes bad things worse. When you enter discussion, be prepared to engage the best version of your opponent, not the straw man. Stand on the merits of your conviction, not against your perception of the other side. Anything less is uncharitable.
I believe the gospel calls me to look inward first. Not to be silent about things that matter, but to speak out from a place of our own humble acknowledgement that there are wrong ways to pursue a righteous cause. Scripture says it better than I: take the plank out of your own eye first, speak truth in love, and be not afraid.
The Apostle Paul said the fruit of the Spirit is, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Sometimes it’s difficult to discern what’s right, but these things are never wrong.
Going forward I suggest a few things to keep in mind…
The first is to keep perspective. These are highly divisive times, but this hardly the most troubled our nation has been (ask someone who lived through the assassinations and unrest of 1968, and recall once that we killed half a million of our fellow citizens in a Civil War). Confusion leads to chaos, clarity leads to peace.
Secondly, while we have more access to news and information than ever before, we are no less “silo-ed” in our exposure to commentary and opinion. Whether you get your information from cable news or social media, in either case you are likely only getting part of the story. Seek understanding of those who are different from you. Again, this is not an endorsement of a bland relativism. Understanding does not preclude disagreement; it makes it more meaningful.
Finally, remember that the Kingdom of God means so much more than the borders we draw on our map. Your citizenship is in heaven, here on earth you are resident aliens. Love of country is good, and we should seek the peace of the city we find ourselves in, but ultimately our allegiance is to a King not a country. To be faithful followers of Christ will mean we are rarely comfortable in the politics of this world. The banner of the church is neither a donkey nor an elephant… it is the lamb.
There are many resources that can be of help for bettering our own understanding of the challenges of politics and the role our faith plays in them:
- For in-depth considerations of the gospel and public policy, see Making the Best of It by John Stackhouse, Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon, Public Faith by Miroslav Volf, and Let Justice Roll Down by John Perkins.
- Ed Stetzer’s blog over at Christianity Today has been reporting and engaging with many different Christian perspectives since early in the campaign and has a number of helpful posts this week.
- Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty commission has written much in the New York Times about this election and some of its implications for the church.
- Last spring we looked at one of the more notable instances in the gospels when Jesus speaks to the political situation of his day. My sermon on that text can be found here.
- Finally, as we pray for our nation in the coming days, months, and years; our denomination’s president offers up a thoughtful prayer that should inspire our own.
What may be most important to do is not to read another article or enter into another debate, but to simply step back and pause. Find an extra moment of quiet this week to be still, unplug, seek peace, take stock of what is important, and pray. God’s work never ceases, he is on the side of good, and will see it to completion.