Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Thoughts on the 2016 Presidential Election

Bishop Doyle's Thoughts on Election Day from The Episcopal Diocese of Texas on Vimeo.


“If we who are Christians participate in the political process and in the public discourse as we are called to do — the New Testament tells us that we are to participate in the life of the polis, in the life of our society — the principle on which Christians must vote is the principle, Does this look like love of neighbor?" – Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, March 2016

Today we elect the 45th president of the United States. After a long and grueling campaign, many of us are eager for this election to be over. The past few months have been filled with anger, blame, and fear, not to mention a fair amount of hostility. Many say that this particular election has divided us more than any election in recent United States history. I suspect this interpretation of the current state of our union has things backwards. My sense is that this election has not created division. It has revealed deep divisions that have lain dormant beneath the surface of American life.

When an 18-wheeler passes over a bridge and leaves cracks in its wake, we don’t blame the truck. The truck reveals a structural unsoundness already present in the bridge. The current presidential election has been an 18-wheeler driven over the bridge of American social and political life. It has revealed deep cracks in our community, and it has exposed our deep need for healing and reconciliation at the social and political level.

As a Bishop in the church, I can only make sense of this election in light of the doctrine of reconciliation. As Christians, we believe that God has already reconciled all people, parties, and potential presidents to Himself in Jesus Christ. We understand reconciliation as a past tense event that informs present tense action as we embody a future tense hope. When viewed from eternity, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30).

Yet as we look upon the newly obvious cracks in our social and political life, we know that even as God’s work is finished that our work is not. In other words, we cannot simply talk about reconciliation. God invites us to embody now what will be in God’s Future Kingdom as we work for the common good and strive to seek and serve Christ in all persons.

Reconciliation is not just an idea or an important theological doctrine. It is something that God wants to be a felt reality on earth. This means that real racial, social, and economic reform is needed. If this election tells us anything, it is that many people feel disenfranchised, forgotten, lied to, and left behind. An “us versus them” mentality infuses our political speech and our actions. We are a polarized nation, and our desire to win is often exceeded only by a much stronger desire to see our enemies lose. We may narrate the current social divide a bit differently, but few deny that such a divide exists. In a recent op-ed piece, David Brooks puts it like this:

The crucial social divide today is between those who feel the core trends of the global, information-age economy as tailwinds at their backs and those who feel them as headwinds in their face. That is to say, the most important social divide today is between a well-educated America that is marked by economic openness, traditional family structures, high social capital and high trust in institutions, and a less-educated America that is marked by economic insecurity, anarchic family structures, fraying community bonds and a pervasive sense of betrayal and distrust. These two groups live in entirely different universes. [1]

The work of reconciliation always begins with a commitment to the truth, and the truth is that many of us are living in entirely different universes. We are not listening to one another or giving people the benefit of the doubt, nor do we feel compassion for the deep pain and grief that always gives rise to people’s anger.

We may not know who will be elected president today, but we sense that a time of healing and reconciliation will be necessary regardless of the results of this election. If healing is to happen, God’s people must be committed to the work of making peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said, “for they shall be called children of God” (Matt 5:9). Our commitment to peace must rest on the deep Biblical truth of our interconnectedness and our interdependence as we acknowledge that our common good is bound up together. To win at the expense of another is always to lose, for “when one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Cor 12:26).

As Christians, we believe in a God who has emptied himself in sacrificial love so “that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it” (Eph 2: 15-16).

My deep prayer is that the people of God act as agents of God’s reconciling peace-making in the aftermath of this election. I pray that we work for racial, social, and economic reform in such a way that engages our political process with integrity, but also in such a way that we do not rely on that same process to heal our deep wounds.

I understand that many of us are deeply invested in the results of this election. We feel that much is at stake, and if we are honest we want “our side” to win. In light of this very human desire to win, I am humbled and challenged by a Lord who talked so much about losing. I hear Jesus asking me to lose my attachments, my petty desires, my simplistic solutions, my political identity, and my very life to make peace and love my neighbor. I hear Jesus reminding me that the neighbor I am invited to love is often one I too quickly call an enemy and that the Samaritan is actually my brother. Above all, I hear Jesus remind me that reconciliation is an accomplished fact where all sides have come together under His Lordship, and I hear Him pleading with me to embody and share that same message with others.

My prayers are with you on this Election Day, and on the day after, and they are with our nation. Cast your vote with hope and integrity and humility. Above all else remember that today marks not the end of our work as a nation and a church, but the only beginning. Let us pray:

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States (or of this community) in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, Page 822)


1 comment:

Anne Shepard said...

Thank you, my Bishop, for your words on this election day. They remind me to hold to my vow and deeply-held desire to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace, and to honor the dignity of every human being. It has brought me great comfort and hope.

God bless us everyone. (Tip of the hat to Mr. Dickens)

Quotes

  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball