Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Our Great Divide
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. We are deeply divided over this election in particular and politics in general. I was hoping that this election season could propel us to strive to pursue unity even while acknowledged our differences. I had hoped that the world might see that despite our political convictions God’s people enjoyed a bond that went far deeper than our politics. I had hoped that we could show the culture that the unity of the Spirit was strong enough to run across the growing (and rapidly calcifying) political divide gripping this country. I had hoped that at the very least God’s people could demonstrate the virtue of peacemaking in a time when respecting those who differ from you appears to be the second casualty of each presidential election cycle.
I realize that many of issues weigh heavily on the minds and hearts of most of God’s people during this and any election season. And I think I understand why those committed to voting for Senator McCain believe that this is perhaps the most crucial election in our lifetime with respect to the issue of abortion. Along with that, I’m aware of why those committed to voting for Senator Obama believe it’s so important for him to win this election. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that either side has the ability to come to the table, speak forthrightly about their cares and concerns and leave with our desire for continued unity, fellowship and dialogue intact.
The election will take place today and shortly thereafter we will have a president-elect. One side will be positively elated while the other will experience a profound sense of deflation. However, I’m still hoping that the people of God can find a way to be a witness of God’s gospel and the kingdom of Jesus Christ to a country that regardless of who wins will be deeply, deeply divided.
How can we begin the dialogue? Allow me to lead with a couple of comparisons which I hope will provide some needed perspective. The first is aimed at those of my brothers and sisters who intend to vote for Senator Obama. My hope is to give some insight into why our brothers and sisters who intend to vote for Senator McCain have reacted so strongly against Senator Obama.
Imagine it’s 1964 and you and your family are African-Americans living in the deep south. You’ve lived through multiple decades of Jim Crow with all of its enforced segregation, pain, stress and powerlessness. (you can read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.s Letter from a Birmingham Jail to get a better idea of what it was like living in the South at that time) After decades of struggle the Civil Rights Movement finally caps a protracted season of advocacy culminating in the passage of Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is also a presidential election year. From your perspective one candidate (Lyndon B. Johnson) puts his as well as his parties political future on the line by working for the passage of this legislation. The candidate from the other party (Senator Barry Goldwater) votes against the bill. In your mind and the minds of most of those you know a vote for Senator Goldwater is a vote to continue your existence as a second class citizen. With that in mind you simply cannot fathom why anyone from your family, community and church would ever entertain voting for him. Others bring up the fact that the country faces many other important issues (the Vietnam War, economy, Cold War among them) and that these issues should be weighed equally alongside the Civil Rights issue. For you however civil rights is the issue. And it’s this issue that makes you a single issue supporter of President Johnson even if you disagree with him regarding the economy and the war. For you the alternative is simply not acceptable period.
Before we go on it’s important to remember the point of this comparison. The aim of this post isn’t to detail the dynamics involving the Democratic and Republican parties, why African-Americans for the most part sided with Democrats in subsequent elections and why LBJ was right in saying that he lost the South for a generation. My hope is to get my brothers and sisters who intend to vote for Senator Obama to understand how those voting for Senator McCain might feel about this election and why they can’t bring themselves to vote for Senator Obama.
The next comparison is directed toward my brothers and sisters who intend to vote for Senator McCain. My hope is to give some insight into how our brothers and sisters who intend to vote for Senator Obama feel about him and this election.
Imagine it’s 1980 and you’re among a growing group of evangelicals who believe that now is the time to play a more active role in the political life of this country. For the past several years you’ve sense that the country is going in the wrong direction and that furthermore those in government just don’t seem to consider the concerns of people like you. There are several issues that matter to you and though you voted with the party in 76 you didn’t do so with a great deal of hope or enthusiasm. But now your excited by the candidacy of Gov. Ronald Reagan. Reagan gave an electrifying speech at the 76 convention leaving you and many of your fellow conservatives wishing that he’d been the parties nominee instead of Gerald Ford whom some considered to be a more moderate Republican.
From your perspective Ronald Reagan embodies exactly what you want in a president. Gov. Reagan is the one candidate who gives you real hope that this country can get back on track and move forward out of the malaise it’s been in for the last eight or so years. And words just can’t describe the connection Gov. Reagan has with you and your fellow evangelicals. To put it succinctly Gov. Ronald Reagan is perhaps as close to a dream candidate as you and those who attend church with you could imagine. Not only do you intend to vote for him, but along with many of your friends eagerly volunteer for his campaign. Gov. Ronald Reagan embodies all your hopes for what a president should be and could possibly do once he becomes the leader of this country. While you mean no disrespect to President Carter you simply cannot imagine why anyone would consider casting a vote for him.
Please remember that this is not a comparison between President Ronald Reagan and Senator Barack Obama. My aim is to highlight the similar feelings each man generated among their most fervent supporters. I hope in this way to get those of my brothers and sisters who intend to vote for Senator McCain to at least understand how some of their brothers and sisters feel about Senator Obama.
The aim of this long post is not to tell why you should vote for one candidate or another. My prayer is that we can begin the dialogue that will eventually lead to bridging our very real divide. We have spent this election cycle blogging, commenting and email at each other. My inbox and observations of those blogs tell me that the vast majority of them were intended to persuade or encourage believers to vote one way or another. Well now is the time to step away from the blogs and emails and actually talk to and not at each other.
I pray that you take the time to cast your vote today. But I’d also like you to consider doing something else. Consider contacting a friend whom you know did not vote as you did and make an appointment to have a leisurely Friday night dinner or Saturday afternoon lunch. Take that time to speak to him or her about their choice, what motivated it and why it was so important to them. And then with patience and humility explain why you voted in the opposite direction. Following that discuss some ways in which those believers who voted for Senator McCain and those believers who voted for Senator Obama can begin working together on all of the issues important to us.
Finally, commit to praying for whomever will serve this country as president for the next four years. Beyond that however pray for the Body of Christ that we will serve our Lord by remembering that our main mission is the promotion of His gospel and the extension of His kingdom. Pray that our Lord will heal the divide within us and that together we will show our culture the value of belonging to a more lasting kingdom than the country of America. And pray this as if our witness might depend on it because it very well might.
In the end brothers and sisters it does matter who wins this election. But our continued witness to this country may matter more. Because if we, the people of God cannot love each other through this election than no matter who wins, we’ve already lost.
To Him Who Loves Us…