Last week I addressed the spiritual realities that will remain unchanged by the election. Perhaps I should have said, if the election ever ends. That said, the campaign itself is over and those truths remain unchanged.
But there are also political realities that won’t change after the votes are counted:
For every person who voted one way, there is a person who voted the other way.
There will be people who believe both candidates represent legitimate concerns.The presidency will will remain too important.The Supreme Court will remain controversial.Congress will remain dysfunctional.And divisive voices will continue to dominate.
All six realities are in play, and the divisiveness – in particular – is already apparent. It is reflected in the news. It is reflected in the social media. It is reflected in the behavior of both political parties.
In another life I spent a good deal of time studying dispute resolution. That work made it clear that the prerequisite for resolving deep differences between people involves personal engagement. It involves asking questions, a genuine interest in the answers and a desire to know what motivates people, what they fear, and why they react as they do. Such knowledge is the only antidote there is to blind enmity and stereotyping.
From a theological point of view, such practices involve recognizing the image of God in others. It is from that conviction that arises a sense of the immutable and intrinsic value of others; and it is from that conviction that arises the recognition that other human beings are beloved of God.
Beyond such deeper convictions, there is very little reason right now for politicians and the media to embrace that effort. They are locked in deep dissent with one another. They are jockeying for every advantage that they can get, and they are rewarded for stoking the division that is now so common. Until that last fact changes, there will be people who continue to fuel the divide.
What any individual can do about this state of affairs is difficult to say, and that difficulty prompts many to despair of making a difference. We have lapsed into the conviction that meaningful change shifts cultures and nations. So, when the world offers up problems that defy easy resolution, we are prone to abandon the effort.
But expectations of that kind are not the stuff of Christian realism. To be sure, the gospels hold that in Christ God’s Kingdom is breaking into the world. But they are also in no doubt that the Kingdom is not here in all its fullness — that history is rife with set backs, detours and disasters — that there are those who frustrate the will of God. More importantly, they describe the life of the disciple as one who embraces the cross in the middle of those realities and lives in a fashion shaped by the One who made us.
So, in these days when the healing of divisions seems to be beyond us, let us embrace the task that is ours and always has been ours:
Let us surrender the illusion of control.Let us identify people in our circle of friends and neighbors who disagree with us.Let us ask questions and listen attentively to the answers.Let us surrender the notion that their status as God’s children is dependent upon the extent to which they agree with us.And let us choose to learn from one another.
We will not necessarily agree as a result. In fact, it is unlikely that we will. But if we offer one another the opportunity to be heard, we can and will nurture a sense of shared purpose and mutual respect; and that effort will – in turn – begin to disenfranchise the voices that are rewarded for stoking division and fear. This task is one we can all embrace on a daily basis and it matters, no matter how much or how little the climate of our public discourse changes. Conversely, if we cannot offer that opportunity, we need not hope that things will change at all.