A Pastoral Response to the Presidential Election 2016
On Election Day at 12:00 noon, more than 30 people gathered in the Federated Church Sanctuary for a Prayer Service. The Peace Candle assumed a central focus, being placed on the Communion table which was dressed with lovely African cloth. Adjacent to the Peace Candle – a ballot box. At the conclusion of the service the Peace Candle was lit and everyone was invited to come forward and vote -- not for a candidate, but for ideals, hopes and dreams for America. It should come as no surprise that when the votes were tallied the big winners were:
Love, Peace, Respect, Unity, Kindness
William Sloane Coffin said it best. We often become “engaged in a lover’s quarrel with America.” Throughout Coffin’s ministry, and in particular in the 1980s when he passionately and publically opposed US government policies which perpetuated the nuclear arms race and fostered economic injustice and bigotry, he was accused of being unpatriotic. Far from it, he asserted. He loved his country (in World War II he served in the Army with what became the CIA), and he loved his Christian faith; but he was “engaged in a lover’s quarrel” because he believed that America could be an even better nation.
And so it was as the news was breaking late into the night on November 8 and into the early morning hours of November 9. Donald Trump had been elected the 45th President of the United States and “a lover’s quarrel with America” erupted.
For many people this election result was shocking. Indeed, reactions were instantaneous, visceral, raw. Had bigotry, misogyny, and hate won? My immediate emotions were those of shame – shame that so many people like me seemed to have rejected the values that I believe make this country great – and fear that a spirit of uncontrollable evil had been unleashed. My responses were not isolated, but were shared by millions who tumbled into anger and despair. Questions were raised: How did God let this happen? Is God no longer in control?
Why were there such emotions? Because the election result felt like a profoundly painful loss of the values to which this nation’s moral fortitude aspires – love, welcome to the stranger, freedom, equality for and affirmation of all, and the sentiments expressed in the ballot box at the Election Day Prayer Service. Like any wrenching loss, the grief poured forth – and indeed continues to do so for many - with sorrow-filled abandon.
The stages of grief are well recognized: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. It is also well acknowledged that people grieve with different intensities and with different timetables. So,
To those of you who are impatient with family and friends who are experiencing anger and fear: please be especially compassionate and understanding.
To those of you who are in the throes of these painful emotions: lean on the everlasting arms of God even more strongly and be assured that you will recover your resolve to be a love-bearer and justice-maker in this nation.
To all of us: please remember that whether you are celebrating the election or despairing it, we are all children of God together and we need, more than ever, to love one another.
Lover’s quarrels develop when communication breaks down, and when needs are ignored or dismissed. Such has been the case in this nation as fissures, which have torn the fabric on all sides of ideology, have been neglected. Many White Americans feel disenfranchised and economically-forgotten. Americans who are Black, Latino/a, Muslim, LGBT, and of all varying ethnicities and cultures, are experiencing renewed waves of frightening bigotry. It would seem that this lover’s quarrel is beyond redemption. But a lover’s quarrel does not need to lead to paralyzing strife or divorce. Quite to the contrary, a lover’s quarrel can be a fertile time of growth, understanding and renewed commitment. Regardless of our responses to the election – anger or elation -- as Christians we are being called to harness God’s love with even greater fervor and embody the teachings of Jesus even more boldly. Jesus could not have spoken more clearly: “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).
In his response to the election, the Rev. Dr. Greg Sterling – Dean of Yale Divinity School – calls on churches to become centers for honest, open, and loving conversation between persons who ardently disagree on moral and ethical questions, and yes – even on the outcome of the election. He suggests, and I agree, that restored dialogue is an essential step for re-creating and acting upon a common vision. Can we – the Federated Church of Orleans – become a haven for such transformative discourse? Thanks to the Justice Committee, this work already began when over 60 persons from our congregation and from Am HaYam gathered in the Vestry for conversation with a Muslim family.
Back to the Election Day Prayer Service ballot box: In addition to Love, Peace, Respect, Unity, Kindness, votes were also cast for:
Hope, Truth, Compromise, Swords into Plowshares, Diversity, Shared Vision, Integrity, Understanding, Empathy, God’s grace, Healing, Generosity, Patience, Forgiveness, Equality,
and “God has showed you what is good and what is required of you.”
Based on these election results, we at the Federated Church of Orleans have a mandate.
This mandate will be hard, demanding work, but we must stay course relying on God’s strength and grace. God would not have us do otherwise. I would like to conclude with words which reflect the perseverance to which God call us. These words, which have appeared in many of the faith-based letters responding to the election this week, comprise the third verse of James Weldon Johnson’s rousing hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing:”
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
thou who hast by thy might led us into the light,
keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee;
lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee;
shadowed beneath thy hand, may be forever stand,
true to our God, true to our native land.