Many people are in mourning; others are dancing in the streets. This election has strained relations in communities across the nation. Our political discourse hit rock bottom before the first votes were cast.Every election, a dangerous forgetfulness descends upon the nation like a cloud, as if somehow this election will decide the fate of America for the next 1,000 years.But what happens now?
Now that the election is over, as pollsters take a four-year break and news networks move on to other breaking stories, Americans have to do one of the hardest jobs of the election cycle: once again look one another in the eyes. Months of division and slander across the aisles (and pews) have caused family members, friends, and coworkers to say and do things that are acceptable during an election but unheard of during “ordinary time.”
But let’s not pretend that this is an aberration in our history, as if prior to this election we were lockstep about what it means to be American. This election has simply exposed our differences while vilifying different groups, pitting them against one another in a miniature clash of civilizations. Nor can we simply blame politicians, who are as diverse in their motivations for holding office as the electorate is for placing them there.
Christians can begin healing the partisan divide that this election has brought. We are called to love others, regardless of political opinion or vote cast. Now, at the height of election fatigue, Christians must find ways to be good citizens in our communities where we live and work. Not only will this help heal our divisions, but it may also keep us from making the same mistakes come Election 2020.
One of the greatest sins that we have committed during this season is the failure to listen to one another. And it is a sin—a refusal to listen to our brothers and sisters’ grievances is a refusal to love. Rather than reach across the divide to try to understand what the other is saying, we’ve placed ourselves into cliques on Facebook and Twitter, sharing dishonest memes intended to distort the truth.Growing up in south central Kentucky, my parents were both blue-collar workers who weren’t particularly interested in education. William Faulkner’s depiction of the Compson family in The Sound and the Fury is an uncanny portrait of families like mine, where familial bonds and Southern honor surpass all other virtues. I would go on to be one of the few Motleys in my family to graduate college and then seminary.
Given my background, I understood the populist and nativist sentiment that arose during the election, even while fundamentally disagreeing with it. However, many of my college-educated friends and coworkers could not fathom why people would vote the way they did. Didn’t they know that building walls and alienating our allies was wrong? Couldn’t they understand that free trade was ultimately a boon and not a burden?
Perhaps; they may have understood this. But I also knew the stories of my hometown from my childhood, when the biggest factory in town shut down and moved to Mexico, leaving many, including my mom, without a job, without benefits, and without answers. Husbands and wives who worked at that factory for twenty years were suddenly jobless. Homes were foreclosed on. Families picked up and moved on to other opportunities. The loss of one of the largest provider of jobs in the county disrupted the social fabric of our little community. Thankfully, Mom found work in the next town over within a few months. Many others weren’t so lucky.
Those on both sides of the political divide have failed to consider people like my mom, who, as a white, blue-collar worker, is a reflection of the vast majority of Americans. But we’ve also ignored the stories of minorities—individuals far different from my mom—and treated their experiences as inconveniences for our political narratives. If Christians want to make a real difference in the lives of all Americans, we must prayerfully listen to them. We won’t always agree with whom we’re speaking, and we won’t always change hearts and minds (we know that only the Holy Spirit can do this). But Jesus promised that the peacemakers would be blessed (Matthew 5:9). James says that the wisdom that comes from above is peaceable (James 3:17). Real change in our country is going to start at home with us, with Christians who are willing to endure awkward conversations and love on people who don’t look or talk like we do. Sure it’s hard (read Mark 10:24). But the conquering Lamb has come to show us that he can turn our weakness into chain-shattering, mountain-moving change. A little thing like a presidential election isn’t going to stop power like that.
We’ve seen in this race the dangers of Christians aligning their faith completely with their political party. Hitching our wagons to strong leaders is something of a trait in Christianity. Russell Moore has done an excellent job reminding us that evangelicals who unite themselves to political power are always in danger of becoming the very thing they have warned against. Political parties are simply tools to be used and, if necessary, to be cast off—they are very poor substitutes for our communities and especially our churches.Every election, a dangerous forgetfulness descends upon the nation like a cloud, as if somehow this election will decide the fate of America for the next 1,000 years. Christians should know better. Not only have we survived numerous failed empires and nation-states, we’ve also outlasted countless emperors, kings, governors, presidents, and tyrants. We’ve survived Roman persecution, communist regimes, distracting nationalism, and the scorn of cultured despisers. Christianity has more to offer America than aiding partisan groups wrestling for control of a divided nation.
Instead, we should point to our churches and proclaim a better way that is possible in the gospel. We need to show how our churches are united in love for one another—how our communities have been affected by the witness of their churches. Without the holy habit of love permeating our lives, we will be doomed to repeat the mistakes of this election cycle in 2020.
At the very least, we’ve made it. The election has come to a close. Donald Trump will begin moving into the White House soon, while Hillary Clinton will be remembered as the first female nominee of a major political party to run for the office of President. The rest of the country now has to work through the problems that emerged during the campaign. Thankfully, we’ve been given a message that transcends political partisanship and a Person who promises “come to me, all you are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Let’s bank on that better promise for the next four years.
Image via Flickr: Daniel X. O’Neil
Hear more from Daniel Motley in this episode of The CAPC Digest with hosts Tyler Burns and Drew Dixon: