Bearing Each Other Up
Reflections Upon the 2016 Election
EDITORS’ NOTE: Adam Copeland was our scheduled contributor for this week, but as we moved late into the night of the presidential election, it was clear that the outcome many of us had hoped for, and perhaps even expected, was not to happen. We began to wonder whether it might be too much to ask a single writer, a single voice, to carry the weight of that experience and reflect upon its significance. While Adam’s post dealt with the topics of elections and how people of faith might pursue justice and political change, it had been written without knowledge of this particular election’s outcome. By Wednesday morning, all three of us agreed that a different type of piece was needed.
It occurred to us that the best way we could help bear each other up in the aftermath of a confounding, disheartening election season—it was painful for many, on all sides of the political spectrum—might be to do what the children of God do perhaps better than anything else during times of distress: gather our voices together.
So we asked our contributors, as they were able, to share thoughts on what the election might mean for the church, for people of faith, and for their communities. We weren’t looking for any kind of silver lining or angling for some sort of enforcement of hope and reconciliation. We didn’t call for a plan of action or a venting of anger and disappointment. Instead, we asked for one simple thing: For the people whose voices and perspectives we have trusted over the last three years of Bearings to stand together and give us a word or two to carry into the days ahead. We hope they offer compassion, insight, solace, and a morsel of what you may need to walk faithfully into a changing America. (If you would like to explore additional pieces by a specific author, click on his or her name, which is highlighted in red.)
From Adam Copeland
President Obama often uses the phrase, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Delivered in the heightened air of Presidential oration, the line is meant to inspire continued progress. The emphasis is the second half of the phrase, always highlighting change and justice. Sometimes, though, it’s good to remember the first half of the phrase. The arc is, indeed, very long. It bends ever so incrementally. Sometimes even backwards.
As the reality of the election results sets in, I’m particularly aware of our tendency, in our public narrative, to slice and dice the electorate into bits and pieces—white men, black women, millennials, and more. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he exhorted that community to focus on unity amidst diversity: “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another” (Romans 12:6).
This week, it’s very hard for me to feel much oneness. I’m tired, scared, and sad. And yet, my faith pushes me back to our God who is bigger than any election, political party, or country. God’s love is for all. God’s justice is for all. And, as Paul reminds me again, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:38-39). Nothing. Not even a backwards-bending arc toward justice.
From Mark Collins
Before we begin, spoiler alert: my candidate lost.
My faith is being tested … and I mean that literally. Ever have that dream where you’re taking a test and you haven’t studied? On election night I felt like I was dreaming while awake, taking a test in genetics consisting of word problems written entirely in Sanskrit. (Again, spoiler alert: I’ve taken neither genetics nor Sanskrit.)
In my confused, dream-like state, I wondered whether I was in the right room. I had expected a lesson in civics, offered in a language I understood. Yet there I was, facing a genetics test written entirely in Sanskrit. I began to panic as questions flooded my brain. Is Sanskrit read right to left? And even if I do manage to decipher it, how will I know the odds of mutations—those unexpected shocks to the system? Scarier yet, how will I respond if I’m asked to explain the strange dance of how a new life begins?
What in the world am I doing here? Should I just leave?
A day later, I’m sitting here staring at the white space in front of me, wondering what I’m going to say next. And the very fact that I am sitting here means that I am staying, trying to sort out complex problems and a mysterious language. I must be curious enough—committed enough—to think less about how we, as a nation, got into this unfamiliar room and more about the problems that lie in front of us. I know little about genetics, but I truly believe we are wired to solve problems, to live—however uncomfortably—with one another, and to see things through.
And speaking of uncomfortable: now that this test is over and I have to do a lot of make-up work, I realize I need to get to know the other people in the class—the people who experienced themselves as being in the correct room on election night. I don’t know them at all, but I may as well say “Hey,” because we share the same genetic code, and—together—we are going to learn a new grammar and lexicon and the strange dance of a new life.
I hope I can learn enough Sanskrit to help solve some problems. And in the meantime, I know enough about genetics to realize that mutations are rare, and sometimes beneficial … and when they aren’t, we can adjust. We have to.
I’ll put my faith in that.
From Danny Cortez
Evangelical theology, when put to the test, elected Donald Trump. The fact that 81 percent of evangelicals put “Herod” on the throne shows us that the vine that we are abiding in is not Christ. May the church, and all of us in it, have the courage to re-examine our faith and our beliefs.
From Janet Dorman
I can speak only from a Christian perspective, but here are my thoughts: I wonder if our national divide would be so deep and rancorous if people truly believed that they—all people, together with all of creation—were created in the image and likeness of God and loved beyond measure. In the wake of the election, and also moving ahead, the ministry of the church needs to focus less on the doctrines that divide us and more on the core beliefs in human dignity and universal worth that unite us.
From Elizabeth Drescher
I’ve had periods of no words and of too many words in the short time since the election. Mainly, I’ve tried to balance my own heartbreak and concrete fear with a commitment to stand with others who feel (and are) at risk in a new era of American politics—one fueled, the polling data makes clear, by Evangelical Christianity in perhaps its darkest, and most subversive, forms. I’ve tried, especially, to stand with the young adults I teach, beginning by not pushing them away from their lament, their anger, their heartbreak, and their fears and toward vague notions of hope that we cannot yet promise will materialize in any concrete form.
I do not, that is, feel called to gestures of reconciliation even as I will not poison myself with hate. I do not feel called to “give the new regime a chance.” As New York Times columnist (and, for my money, prophet) Charles Blow put it in a post-election op-ed aptly titled “America Elects a Bigot”: “I respect the presidency; I do not respect this president-elect. I cannot. Count me among the resistance.”
For me, that includes resisting a Christian rhetoric of accommodation that neither makes real peace nor brings about justice. It merely silences those in too much pain to speak or act on their own. It is their peace that calls out to me. It is their peace I seek to nurture with my compassion, my love, and, whatever privilege I can spend.
A line from Lamentations (1:20) keeps running through my head: “See, O Lord, how distressed I am; my stomach churns, my heart is wrung within me.”
But the truth is that this boomer has found personal comfort for the present moment, too—along with a call to action for imminent future advocacy—in listening to some of the oldies on my exercise playlist, like “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Stand By Me.” These songs from my youth have provided profoundly simple sources for restoration and reorientation for me. There is a singer who promises “I will lay me down” as a promise to me. And I am invited to join in, to sing that same promise to others: to those who are weary, those who are down and out on the streets, those with tears in their eyes, those for whom pain is all around, those who need a friend. I will lay me down. I will stand by them.
From Mihee Kim-Kort
This is a time for the church to make some clear, honest choices. Will we choose to respond to the election by hunkering down in our own enclaves as we put forth easy sentiments like “God is in control” or “God is sovereign,” or “God calls us to unity”? Or will we choose to model ourselves after the undeniable example of Jesus and live into the hard, messy call to be in solidarity with those who are the most marginalized—those who fear for their very lives now? The beautiful promise of the struggle that lies ahead is that we don’t have to go at it alone. We can create communities around our churches that reflect God’s kingdom—but only if we enter into that work with energy and will.
From Alyssa Lodewick
Last weekend, I went to an excellent anti-racist training that was sponsored by my denomination. I walked away from the gathering with many new insights, but over the course of the last week, I’ve frequently thought about one in particular. My mind has been wrestling with the following sentences: “Intent doesn’t matter. Impact does.” I may not mean to be racist, or I may have the purest of intentions when I utter a comment that proves hurtful. But ultimately, my state of mind is less important than the fact that I have caused real pain to another human being.
On Wednesday, that lesson came back to me as I considered the election results and what they mean for the church. The 2016 election showed me—showed all of us, I suppose—that the United States of America is filled with scared, angry, disheartened people. (This week, I’ve counted myself among them.) Political rhetoric stoked and then capitalized upon all of that fear and frustration. As a result, Donald Trump will be the nation’s next president. When I think about the men and women who elected him, I try my best to have compassion. I try to remember that many of them voted for the man not because they intended to be racist, or nativist, or homophobic, but because they were scared and angry. Ultimately, though, their intent (or lack thereof) is less significant to me than the impact of their votes. They have elected a man who—through his rhetoric and actions—has bullied, hurt, and endangered women, people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, Muslims, and members of my own LGBTQIA community. So please, God, forgive and help me, because at this very moment, I am having a difficult time opening a softened heart to examinations of intent. Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and their rhetoric have imperiled—and, in all likelihood, will continue to imperil—millions of people across the nation and the world. They have caused real people irreparable harm.
As individual justice seekers and as church, we are called to compassion. At all times, we must try to understand others … even those who (inadvertently?) hurt us and the people we love. That said, the call to compassion does not grant us permission to avert our eyes and look away when we witness harmful behavior, even if we understand from whence it came. Together, we must covenant to call out unacceptable conduct, hold our elected officials accountable, and address the pains of our nation and the world—always remembering that the eyes of our children are upon us.
From Jordan Shaw
For many people I speak with on a daily basis, Donald Trump’s election poses a significant threat to life as they know it. The Trump/Pence campaign’s hostile words about people of color, combined with other campaign rhetoric—about instituting conversion therapy for members of the LGBTQ community, about the deportation of immigrants—have left people in the little town I call home (which hosts Maine’s public liberal arts university) terrified and stunned.
As I sit with people’s fear and confusion in the aftermath of the election, I am reminded of the Gospel writers’ invitation to be people of peace. Jesus went to the margins to hold people’s pain. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we, too, need to be willing to risk everything to go to the margins, to make space where people can feel safe, and to challenge hate-filled rhetoric.
It’s hard to believe, in the midst of so much divisiveness and hate speech, that we will celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace in a few weeks. When Jesus’ mother found out she was pregnant with him, she sang, “My soul magnifies the Lord!” Therefore, as the church moves into a time of celebration, if our president-elect yells hateful rhetoric, let us magnify the God of Joy. If Trump insists on victimizing women, let us magnify the God of Hope. If he attempts to spread fear, through scare tactics and misinformation, let us magnify the God of Love. We cannot simply commiserate with one another about the threat to life as we know it. Instead, we must live out our faith boldly in the face of hate-speech and dangerous rhetoric.
From Pamela Shellberg
The election, together with the campaigns preceding it, shows that while billions of words have been written and spoken over the past two years, we ultimately are failing each other when it comes to deep, careful, active listening.
I have staggered and buckled under the onslaught of mainstream and social media. I am not sure what the election means for the church, but it certainly has implications for the ministry to which each and every one of us is called. Perhaps we should disconnect from media outlets, which try to tell us about each other, and instead focus upon connecting with individuals, who can tell us about themselves. Maybe we should set aside time to tend to just one person whom we have othered, privileging their own truth as they speak it rather than some analysis we’ve read about them.
More divided than we knew, ripped apart, I can only think to recommit to the effort to listen and to pay attention. Not to movements or party lines, not to large-scale analyses, not to categories, stereotypes, or caricatures—but to some individual, even just one, in whose face I have not seen the image of God because they have been lost to me in some crowd.