“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1 NIV)
I couldn’t sleep on the night of November 8, 2016. I had woken up that morning excited to live on the west coast, because the outcome of the presidential election would probably be known before my bedtime — never expecting that come evening, I would be mourning the results.
At the same time, I know what the other side feels like. I voted for George W. Bush in 2004, right after I moved to Washington state. I had been invited to a large election watch party, where most of the people were drinking away their sorrows by the end of the evening, while I stood by feeling quietly self-righteous.
I don’t regret my vote in either election, although the fact that I could feel so differently about the same party winning is probably an entire essay by itself. But thinking about the contrast reminded me that people’s beliefs, and Christian theology in general, are much broader and more complex than a single election or political party. As Christians, our true hope can never be in government or politics. The author of Hebrews puts it this way:
All these people [who were commended for their faith] were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. … Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. (Hebrews 11:14, 16a NIV, emphasis added)
Of course we can participate in our democracy, even participate enthusiastically! We just need to be careful to put our hope in the right place. When our side loses, we might feel like it’s the proof that the devil is running the earth (1 John 5:19). While Satan does have enough authority that he could offer the kingdoms of earth to Jesus (Matthew 4:8-9), God has greater authority still (Romans 13:1, Daniel 5:21b).
However, one of the biggest differences between previous years and this year was the level of rancor displayed by voters of all parties. This year, friends I know and like have said some terrible things (usually online) to me and other friends. What started as political discussions turned into name-calling and spouting vitriol. Brothers and sisters, that should not be.
The only way to heal the painful division in this nation is to bridge the chasm between the sides, and that can happen only if we understand and empathize with people on the other side. But I’ll warn you that it’s hard to listen. After the election, I resolved to learn more about the conservative side (since, as you may have guessed, I now lean liberal), so I added a well-respected conservative publication to the list of blogs I read regularly. It’s almost physically painful to continue exposing myself to opinions with which I disagree; it’s so much easier and more comfortable to just stay in my “bubble.” But reading opposing viewpoints has already reminded me that neither side has things exactly right.
The Church has a golden opportunity in front of us right now. There are Christians who rejoiced on November 8 as well as those who mourned, but in contrast to the general populace, Christians have a reason to listen to one another. We have something in common far greater than the outcome of one election, as important as that race might be. In the words of the apostle Paul,
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. (Philippians 2:1-2 NIV, emphasis added)
If we can use the love of Christ to overcome the difficulties of disagreeing and instead listen to, learn from, and above all love one another, then we can truly make America greater.
Abigail can be reached by email here. She is open to meeting for coffee or lunch to discuss politics, and she’s willing to let you talk first.