“Far from being the pious injunction of an utopian dreamer, the command to love one’s enemies is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies.” –The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.
Anxious. Worried. Afraid, even. On this “day after.”
That’s how I feel about the 2016 Presidential election, the outcome of which is finally, finally clear. The votes are in after a never ending campaign of more than 600 days, a race more closely examined than any other in American history, courtesy of our voracious 24/7 news cycle and our social media addiction.
The ballots are counted. One candidate won. The other candidate went down in defeat.
I thank God that it’s the day after.
Though I wish I could feel more relieved somehow, able to breathe more deeply somehow, now that the days, weeks and months of being on edge about the election are over. Never before in my life as a voter, citizen, and person of faith have I witnessed or experienced higher levels of anxiety and fear in myself and my neighbors, than in this campaign. Never before have I seen America so sharply divided, one from another: by race, class, religion, education, political party, family status, and geography. The quaint notion of “the loyal opposition”– whereby folks on opposite sides of a political fight agree to honor basic levels of civility and respect– was destroyed in this election.
Instead, in 2016, a clear majority of both Democrats and Republicans each sees the other as “the enemy.” There’s no way to sugarcoat this reality. A June 2016 Pew Research Center study, based upon a poll of 4,385 adults, reports that “majorities in both parties express not just unfavorable but very unfavorable views of the other party. …70% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans say they are afraid of the other party. Seventy percent of Democrats say that Republicans are more closed-minded than other Americans. [Republicans] say Democrats are more immoral (47%), lazier (46%) and more dishonest (45%).”
So if we thought the days before November 8th were hard, think again. Now the real civic and communal work begins: the challenge of somehow beginning to put our country back together again, today on November 9th, and in the days ahead. The art of campaigning and the art of governing are polar opposites. We’ve had our partisan season of tearing down the people on the other side of the political divide. On this day after, amidst piles of red, white and blue confetti and deflated balloons, collated ballots, and discarded lawn signs: the question which vexes me the most as a Christian, as a citizen is…how do we come together?
A secular cynic might answer that nothing can change; that the body politic of the U.S. has been so irreparably damaged, shattered by the ugly rhetorical violence and language of the campaign, that any hope for reconciliation is doomed. Hunker down and expect the worst. A political partisan might respond by re-arming, preparing for the coming cultural and political wars which lie ahead for our divided nation: over health care reform, immigration, and trade, to name but a few of those future flashpoints. Reassemble the troops and pass the ammunition.
But for people of faith, clergy, and laity alike: what is our job on the day after? Beyond advocacy and protest? Beyond the temptation to pound a partisan pulpit, or merely regroup into cliché religious camps: progressive/liberal, conservative/family values? I am tired of the stale confines of such ideological and religious categories when it comes to politics. I resent being expected by my more politically passionate Christian brothers and sisters on the left and the right, to get on board for their narrow political agendas, within which they seem ever ready to name the “enemy.”
There must be another way, a different path to bringing our faith to bear upon the divisions which haunt both our congregations and our country. The poet British Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote, “A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of many others…the great instrument of moral good is the imagination.” In this way, moral good stems from moral imagination: the ability to imagine what life is really like for a neighbor, a stranger, an adversary, and yes, even “the enemy.”
So on this day after, as a person of privilege, my faith compels me to imagine what life is like for the poor, those who struggle each day for the basics of life: food, shelter, work. Since I am male and white, my faith pushes me to imagine what life is like for women and minorities in the world. Since I am white collar and well educated, my faith challenges me to imagine the life of a coal miner in West Virginia, or an unemployed factory worker in Ohio, or a high school educated single Mom in Wisconsin. A Christian, my faith inspires me to ask: what’s life really like in the United States for a Muslim, a Jew, an atheist, a Buddhist? A liberal, my faith dares me to imagine what life is like for my conservative parishioner.
Moral imagination: that’s what I am praying for in these post election times, on this day after. For more “thee” and “we” and less “me” and “mine.” I pray that God would soften our hearts and opinions, make us more curious and compassionate towards those on the other side of the political divide. I pray that God would give me the courage to just share a cup of coffee with a supporter of the “other” candidate and then listen, really listen to them, close my mouth and open my mind.
The day after: it is here. Now the real work of faith begins.