The results are in. Obama 50%. Romney 48%. While we all give thanks that we won’t have to listen to another negative political ad for a while, it is worthwhile taking stock. What can learn from this latest slugfest? Some pundits says the answer is obvious. We are a divided nation and we don’t know how to discuss our differences without anger, derision, and occasionally rage. But I want to suggest a spiritual perspective with a different message.
- We are more united than we think. In “One Nation, After All,” Alan Wolfe tells us that the culture war divide is overstated. As he suggests, the polls which dominate debate divide us along the lines of “modernists” and “traditionalists.” The assumption is that these two groups have nothing in common. But that is a mistake. The truth, says Wolfe, is that most people are “traditional modernists” or “modern traditionalists.” They are a mixed bag. On one issue a person may be conservative, on another issue moderate, and on still another progressive. Yet the rhetoric and ads confuse us into thinking that we are “culture warriors” are one side or another of a line.
- We need each other more than we think. St. Paul’s image of the Body of Christ in I Corinthians 12 is familiar but often forgotten. We are one body and each part of the body needs the other parts. Some of the best conversations about politics I had over the past several months came from people with different perspectives. We are less, not more, when we fail to listen and learn from one another. I try not to have too many absolute rules, but I have one when it comes to communication: never trust a person’s argument who isn’t willing to consider fairly and generously alternative points of view.
- Achieving our Separate Visions of Justice Can’t Be Done without Concern for those who Disagree. In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He then follows that up with a second commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We often separate out these two commandments. Jesus puts them together. To “love God” by fighting for your image of a just world is a good thing. But waging that battle becomes a bad thing when it is done in a way which fails to love the neighbor who disagrees. After all, Jesus doesn’t just ask us to love neighbors. He encourages us to love our enemies.
When red and blue states are, respectively, licking wounds or rejoicing, these three lessons are worth remembering. We are not as divided as we think. We actually need one another to discern the truth; and achieving our vision of the good society has to include attending not only to justice as God would have it but also to reconciliation. As the famous South African theologian John De Grucy said, justice has to point toward reconciliation. We can’t get God’s way (often really an effort to get our way) without connecting to others in compassion, empathy, and friendship.
I’m not perfect. I often fail to follow the words I have just written. But this way is a better way. May we choose to follow it.