In the past few weeks, I have noted more than ever that America is made up of people who care for it deeply. Some of those people voted for Donald Trump last Tuesday. Some of them voted for Hillary Clinton. Some voted for a third party candidate; some did not vote at all. But it is all of us, together, who face the outcome of the election and the myriad of reactions to it.
There has been much debate about what exactly changed from the morning of November 8, 2016 to the morning of November 9, 2016. We’ve read about the rise in reported hate crimes and the many protests, but for a good deal of people, the sun still shines and I-26 West is still a disaster by at least 5 p.m.
Christians, however, have never been called to solely enjoy their own sunshine and struggles. Christ opted to expand His gaze and care beyond to the people that felt unseen. Right now, over 60 million Americans have indicated that they wanted in office an individual who will become the next president of the United States. Even more Americans didn’t vote at all. Even if the phrase “President-Elect Trump” has a nice ring to you, or fills you with hope, you have millions of fellow Americans, fellow human beings, and likely, fellow members of the body of Christ who are at best somewhat disappointed and perhaps devastated.
There are a few things I have been considering as our divided country roots more deeply into opposing sides. I believe it is important to voice opinions and have difficult discussions, but I fear we have skipped a few steps in doing so.
First, to judge not.
This phrase has sometimes become a placeholder for “let me do whatever I want and leave me alone about it.” I don’t begin with this to disregard what can be an important system of checks, balances, and accountability. However, when we judge too quickly, we miss an opportunity to gather information that we have just assumed.
If you have thought to yourself “These liberals/conservatives/crybabies/millennials/Baby Boomers/losers/etc. are doing X,” we’ll start there. Our brain is really helpful in categorizing a lot of things, but we also create a number of categories and assumptions that get in our way. We are never actually talking about a disagreeable mass of beings that feels perfectly uniformly. Maybe some of those college students hanging out with therapy dogs are there because they’re more easily overwhelmed than students in previous generations. But with over 20% of college students reporting experiencing depression and/or anxiety, schools have increasingly offered comparable support at stressful time like finals. Some of these students may be making a great move in taking advantage of a coping source at a time when, in addition to a significant course load and extracurriculars, they’re in uncharted territory- voting for the first time, taking on more civic responsibility, and learning to navigate a hostile political environment. But we don’t know the story of all of the 20.5 million students at each of these schools, much less the hopes, regrets, and fears of the remainder of the country.
“First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Take a true look at yourself and your position, take a true look at this other person or other group of people and their position, and then move forward.
Second, to listen.
I sometimes feel that I have already heard out position that is different from or oppositional to my own because I’ve felt bombarded by the articles, sometimes posted on Facebook and accompanied by a sassy comment, whose headlines seem to scream against my stance. This does not count as truly listening. A few days before the election, a very dear friend shared a political video that concerned me greatly. A swell of emotional music over dramatic images and video clips seemed to wash out what I considered to be major issues with a candidate. All riled up, I hurriedly drafted a message: “I watched the video you posted and had a few thoughts that I’m interested to hear your opinion on! I think that, as with most political advertisements, it’s pretty heavily edited…I think the other bit that troubled me was…” I paused before hitting send and moved the whole thing to an email draft without her contact information. Technically, I had watched the video- I had “heard” her point of view, but I hadn’t listened to her. The more I thought about it, the more I realized: this friend was not particularly political. She doesn’t raise her voice about controversial issues unless it is something especially important.
The message that I wound up sending was much shorter: “Hi dear! I don’t usually hear much political talk from you, so I wanted to hear more about why you chose to share [the video] and what your thoughts are.”
I’m glad I made the change. We wound up talking for an hour about the things that terrified each of us and the ways we had felt hurt in areas addressed in the election debate. I didn’t ask how and whether she eventually cast her vote, but we almost certainly went in different directions. Even so, I have a better idea of what motivates her and how I can support her, and she could say the same for me.
Not all listening conversations will be quite this ideal. I have listened to friends and grown more infuriated as they made arguments that seemed nonsensical or hurtful. On top of everything else, my listening to them did not necessarily equate to their listening to me. But isn’t this the nature of humility? You are worth respecting regardless of who you are and regardless of who I am. You are worth loving.
So, yes, love. Love as Christ did. Love as Christ does.
Love in listening and praying and voting and speaking. Love in what you choose to see as the most important thing about someone else. Love in the day to day.
We can avoid all the judging and do all the listening we want; we are still going to have differences. We are still going to be broken and have broken relationships. Nothing in politics is going to be entirely correct. Even supposing we cherry-picked ideas from each of many sides and created a dream candidate for the Perfection Party, they will still have flaws and still make mistakes. It might be what we want or what we think is best; it will never be perfect. We shouldn’t act as though that is true, particularly at the expense of opportunities to show the sacrificial love that should identify us.
Verses from Philippians 2 have been on my mind frequently:
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
In turn, Christians, we have the great joy of pursuing the likeness of Christ. What does that look like for you in this post-election period?