In the shadow of a divisive election, a surging pandemic, and the searing video of George Floyd’s death, how are we to discern our way as a faith community? As St. Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians (4: 8-9), “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
What conclusions can be drawn from the facts? What hopes will guide and sustain us through these critical days?
- Elections are an act of faith. Over 150 million Americans voted, a record. Estimated at 66.5%, turnout as a percentage of the voting age population was the highest in 120 years. These records were set during the deadliest pandemic in a century. St. John’s played a role in getting out the vote. Brigitte Parenteau and Hillary Clayburgh led the effort to turn out our parish. Many of us also joined the 170,000 writers recruited by Vote Forward; we sent 17 million personal letters to low-propensity voters encouraging them to participate. If you believe democracy works best when more people vote, we have much to celebrate.
- Elections are clarifying, but not always in a positive way. I would not have thought 73 million people could eat the dubious dinner of the last four years and ask for seconds, but the count doesn’t lie. President Trump drew 10 million more votes than in 2016. On the other hand, 79 million of us wanted a change in the White House. Our choices didn’t translate to a change in Congress, where the government remains divided pending the outcome of two run-off Senate races in Georgia. As the maps show, deep divisions at the Federal level are matched in Minnesota’s legislature; Republicans control the state Senate, and the DFL controls the Minnesota House, both by narrow margins. Even in a city putatively governed by one party, a vote to surge police resources into Minneapolis last week split the City Council 7-6. Polls say our differences are particularly marked by whether we live in the city or the country; by our race; and by whether we place a higher priority on book learning vs. experience and work.
- This election also provoked an unprecedented attack on its legitimacy. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the President has refused to recognize the results. Trump’s toxic cloud of misinformation, which drove his voters to the polls and now pumps up their resentment and rage, will remain after he departs. In purposeful contrast, St. John’s will continue its 100 days of prayer for a peaceful transfer of power and renewal of our national life until the presidential votes are certified and electors are chosen on December 14th. Vote Forward also plans to mount an effort to boost voter turnout for the Georgia special election on January 5th, which we will be invited to join.
- Last summer, systemic racism was declared a public health crisis in the city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County, but so far there’s been little tangible follow-up from our political leaders. This Sunday, Lisa will use the Adult Forum to outline our church’s plan for pursuing racial justice during the next two years. She will discuss opportunities for education and inner transformation through a Sacred Ground Dialogue beginning December 2nd, and our continuing work for external change in our Racial Equity Ministry as we follow the effort to restructure the Minneapolis Police and to improve public safety.
If we’re to heal our divisions, we face a lot of listening and witness to people who disagree with us about social, environmental, and financial problems that won’t heal themselves. There’s work to be done, forswearing “cheap grace” while pursuing the Way of Love as a remedy for healing. Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrated that love in its active form as inspired by Jesus Christ and practiced by Gandhi (satyagraha, or “truth-force”) offers a cure. With love as medicine, we can reach out to the 73 million who voted for Trump in 2020. In his day, Dr. King was trying to reconcile how the ethics of Jesus could be applied to change the hearts of those in power and their followers, who were most decidedly not of his political persuasion. As he wrote in Stride Toward Freedom:
Prior to reading Gandhi, I had about concluded that the ethics of Jesus were only effective in individual relationships. But after reading Gandhi, I saw how utterly mistaken I was. For Gandhi, love was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for so many months. I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.
As we roll up our sleeves to root out systemic racism and nurture relationships with those for whom we lack understanding by practicing satyagraha, I take solace in the words of FDR’s First Inaugural Address:
…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.
We cannot succeed without the support of God, whom we call on in the prayer of the Reverend Kate Heichler of Christ Church, La Plata, Maryland:
O God, as we seek the healing of our nation and all its people,
we pray that you open us.
Open our eyes to see ourselves in the Other, and to see what is breaking their heart.
Open our ears, to hear the stories beneath the rhetoric and stridency, often stories of pain and loss. Help us understand the histories and backgrounds and sometimes traumas that color the way someone believes.
Open our hands, that we might engage without defensiveness.
Open our arms to embrace ones we do not understand,
even those who may hurt us.
Open our hearts to love as you love.
In your name of love we pray, Amen.
The opinions expressed are the author’s alone. They do not reflect the positions of St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church.