Well, here we are – I am north of the border, in Canada, but we are still and nonetheless – wrapped up in the tension and confusion of the US election. About 24 hours after the last poll closed we still don’t know who the next President will be. We don’t really know if the voters will decide, or if the courts will.
The language I have heard in this election has been stark, on both sides (and it appears there are really only two, very sharply defined, sides). It’s a fight for the soul of American democracy – freedom or fascism. And others say “I don’t see how any educated Christian could vote for anyone but Trump.”
I find myself clearly on one side of this divide. I think Donald Trump IS, in fact, dismantling democracy – effectively, if not single-handedly. He has brought a level of carelessness and corruption to the presidency that is staggering, he lies constantly, incites division and hate, and where he has a coherent platform it takes the US and the world in what I believe to be a disastrous direction. The many ways I have seen Donald Trump compared to Hitler are both disturbing and not a little convincing.
About half of the US electorate voted for Donald Trump. I don’t understand why. I have heard what I think of as crazy-talk, from those who support Trump – but I can’t swallow the notion that one half of the American electorate is crazy, determinedly racist, corrupt, deluded, Fascist, or stupid. And I know that there are plenty on the other side of the divide that probably think I am crazy, deluded, Communist, elitist, and want to destroy America.
I don’t apologize for where I stand, politically. But neither do I want to demonize the voters who don’t agree with me. That, it seems, is part of the problem. On both sides.
We have a similar political divide here in Alberta, though we are not (yet?) quite as polarized. Still, the divide is significant enough that our political parties seem to be using hate as a political tool. Undermining, discrediting, destroying the reputation of one’s political opponents seems as important a task as leading the province in a particular direction, or arguing for a particular set of policies. And that, I think, is damaging to society and ultimately counter-productive, no matter if the political strategists say (even correctly) that this is the way to win elections.
While we call each other names and flood social media with one version or another of “gotcha,” our economy hangs in the balance. We are in the midst of a pandemic that requires society-wide cooperation and care. Looming in the background are the challenges of climate change and mass extinction, either and both of which are global tidal waves that build gradually and then suddenly explode into disaster. Our political in-fighting locks us into short-term thinking, when our survival as a species depends on long-term thinking.
I’ve heard it lots: don’t talk about politics in church. Don’t preach about climate change, about the oil industry, about political corruption or integrity, don’t talk about health care or poverty or taxes or racism or policing. Don’t talk about sexism or about indigenous rights or reparations. Well… why not? Why should we not talk about the stuff of life, about the direction of society, about the things that make or break us? If political decisions shape our society, what better place to talk about them than in a church dedicated to praying and acting such that God’s will is done, on earth as in heaven? What better place to fight about politics, than a church in which we are called to love one another, even our enemies, as Christ has loved us? Maybe, maybe, church can be a place where we can listen to each other, listen to the fears and pain that drives us, listen to the values that move us, and perhaps even be vulnerable enough to find common ground.
Yes – we need to be careful. Using the power of the pulpit to spread propaganda is not what I have in mind. But if real life – real political life, real emotional and psychological life, real family life, real work life… — is not what we engage in church, well – why bother?
And if we can learn to engage constructively with one another, even across the political divides, then maybe our society can, too. And our political leaders will have to follow.