Life Together After the Election

Last Wednesday, “the day after,” as it will be called for decades to come (probably not), I overheard someone say, “Did your candidate win?” “Yes,” the person responded. “But I hope I don’t regret it.” Then a couple of hours later I picked up some lunch and the woman asked me the same question: “Did your candidate win?” I was sort of taken aback-- literally the same question, word for word. “No she did not,” I said. “I’m sorry,” the woman said. “I felt sorry for her.” I didn’t ask if her candidate had won, but I appreciated her sentiment.

Unlike many of my colleagues in the ministry, I didn’t have any comforting, unifying words to offer on Facebook Wednesday. I needed some space to process my own feelings, always being aware that as a pastor I have to love and care for people with varied opinions, and that I represent all of you. That being said, I’ve never been afraid to address spiritual issues in the broader society in sermons. It’s clear to me that our reactions to the election have profound spiritual implications and are worthy of being addressed in worship. I appreciate, and take very seriously, the trust you give me every week to share with you that message I believe God confers to me. Thank you.

I haven’t watched The Simpsons in years, but I’ll always remember a random sign outside of Grandpa’s nursery home that said, “Thank you for not discussing the outside world.” Unfortunately, when it comes to politics, our churches have the same attitude. Many of us believe there is a barrier at the doors to the church, separating those inside from those outside. In here it’s ok to discuss missions, whether the pastor should wear a robe or not, or whether we should sing songs written after the Civil War-- but leave your politics at home. It’s just not a realistic way to live. if we really are to live in to those core values we have hanging all over the building, we’ll have to acknowledge that many of us have differing opinions about the world, and it is ok.

(By the way, if you’re wondering what those core values are:
  • Living as a family of believers
  • Missions
  • Loving Acceptance
  • Spiritual Growth
  • Authenticity
We’ll explore them more in a sermon series next January.)

The last five days have been very difficult for our country, much as the last two years have been. We endured the longest presidential election in history, only to see it come down to the wire: Donald Trump won via the Electoral College, but Hillary Clinton received more votes nationwide. As President-elect Trump met with President Obama in the Oval Office, protests were staged in cities across the country. I heard a survey on the radio yesterday that about a quarter of people said they unfriended someone on social media due to their vote, and 7% said they lost an actual friendship after the election. I’ve seen people from all over the political spectrum take to social media to express their joy or outrage or fear or hope. And many people felt they must defend their votes, while ridiculing those who voted for the opposite candidate.

One person in my Twitter feed said, “If you promised to move to Canada if Trump won, buh-bye. You won’t be missed.” Others have said, “I am a Republican, but I am not a racist.” From the left, some said to their conservative counterparts, “Hey, you’re condemning ‘Not My President’ protestors, but you didn’t condemn the KKK marching and celebrating a Trump victory.” And so many people are saying from both sides, in one way or another: I had no good choice. Something like 39% of people who voted for Trump think he is worthy of their vote. It’s where we are as a people. And before I offer some insights on the messages I believe this week’s scriptures have for us, I’d like to offer a could of general recommendations for our common life:

  1. If your candidate won, don’t run up the score.
  2. If your candidate lost, accept the result and regroup for the midterms in 2018. And you know the presidential race for 2020 began last Wednesday.
  3. If you are a Democrat, don’t assume every Republican shares every view of the President-elect.
  4. If you are a Republican, join the voices of your liberal friends in condemning overtly racist, homophobic, misogynistic, anti-Islamic, or anti-immigrant actions. There have been several incidents reported since the election. It’s unacceptable. People are genuinely afraid.
  5. Don’t assume you know the full story, or any of the story, of those reacting differently than you. Instead of rushing to judgment and tweeting your reactions, actually have a conversation with someone. Or keep your thoughts to yourself. We’re all exhausted.

Beyond those general admonitions, here are some words for people of faith as it pertains to living out what we believe. I came across this scripture in my devotional last night:

“Then once more you shall see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves God and the one who does not serve him” (Malachi 3:18).

What is the difference between someone who serves God and someone who does not? For me, it comes down to attitude. The Gospel text is set in a time of great upheaval, when the Temple will be torn down and believers will be brought before religious authorities because of their faith in Jesus. In the midst of such calamity, Jesus promises his followers: “I will give you words [literally in Greek ‘I will give you a mouth’] and a wisdom no one will be able to contradict.” No literal religious structures are being torn down, and Christians are not oppressed in the USA-- but metaphorically all kinds of chaos is happening. What words and wisdom is Jesus offering his disciples today? Hint: it’s probably not “Get over it.” Have you seen the post it notes in the New York subway? Random people have left hundreds of bright colored notes of encouragement on the walls. A simple gift to people who are struggling. How may your words offer grace and hope instead of hurt?

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 challenges the Christians to be faithful and steadfast in what they believe. It rejects idleness:  “You yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you.” The warnings about Christian idleness reminded me of John Wesley’s historic admonitions to preachers:

Will you observe the following directions? a) Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary. b) Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time. And do not mend our rules, but keep them; not for wrath, but for conscience’ sake.
(no clergy, including me, has ever answered, ‘no’.)

These admonitions against idle time made me wonder: what exactly are we to do with our time? Is it not to bless and serve those around us? Isn’t a form of idleness not doing the work we’ve been called out to do? The lesson ends with: “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” If there are more appropriate words for the week following such a divisive election, I’d like to hear them!

So we’ve heard about our words: they will be given by Jesus with his wisdom. And our actions: do not be weary in doing good. Now Isaiah brings everything home with vision.

Isaiah 65:17-25 is a text about hope. In the midst of losing everything, God promises the hurting Israelites that they will be restored. And their future will be better than they could ever imagine. Even God will join in the celebration: “I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and I will delight in my people” (verse 19). Animals that are normally enemies will be friends. People who are desperate will be provided for. Everyone will live long, full lives. “Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating,” God says. Our brokenness, our pain, our desperation are never the end. Christians are people of hope. We endure. We witness to what we believe. We share a loving, unashamed faith that the future belongs to God.

I love that the window above the door as we leave our church has the words of Micah 6:8 etched on it. I put bright neon signs there today that says, “Read this!" and ”Look up!" In a divided nation, may everyone see the followers of Jesus Christ, especially those here at Grace UMC, as those who do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.