Wednesday, November 16, 2016

So You Want to be a Peacemaker?

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 
-Matthew 5:9 (NIV)

So the election is over. Your candidate won, or your candidate lost, or maybe you didn't care one way or the other. Whatever the case, you’ve probably noticed that while the election is over, the fear, anger, resentment, and division in our country is most certainly not over. There are demonstrations, protests, and violence in the name of one candidate or the other, or in objection to one candidate or the other. There is fear and misunderstanding provoked by President-Elect Trump’s harsher language and more controversial promises during the campaign. But bring that up, and his supporters are quick to bring up Clinton’s email scandal, or Benghazi, or her foundation. But you’re a Christian, and whether your candidate won or lost, or you just don’t care, you want to do something to help heal the division. But you aren’t sure what to do.
     What follows are some suggestions as to how Christians can be a peacemaking influence in a divisive time in our nation.
     First, remember to distinguish between voter and candidate. That friend you’ve loved for twenty years who voted for Clinton? He isn’t dishonest and unethical and greedy, as she’s been painted as being. Even if she’s as bad as some people say she is, your friend isn't her, and hasn’t suddenly become her by virtue of voting for her. That person you’ve worked with and grown to care for, and who voted for Trump? She didn’t vote that way because she’s suddenly become racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and misogynistic. Even if Trump is what some of his words and actions indicate he might be,  your colleague isn't him. People vote the way they vote for all sorts of reasons, and few agree with everything a candidate stands for. Try understanding the reasons that people you know voted the way they voted. Try hearing them and having conversations instead of vilifying and villainizing. You may not come to agree with them, but that’s OK. By listening to their reasons and trying to sympathize, you may be able to make peace with their choice. Or, at least, make peace with them.
     Second, remember to win and lose like grownups. Children can strut around pounding their chests when they win and throw tantrums when they lose. Adults don’t get that privilege. Every election, there are winners and losers — and both must learn to show grace and magnanimity. Trump supporters — take the win with class. There’s no reason to rub it in the faces of those who said he didn’t have a chance. There’s certainly no reason to give our children reason to treat others with disrespect. Your candidate now has to get into the difficulties of governing, and making the divide in our country wider with incendiary words and actions won’t make it easier for him.
     Clinton supporters, same goes for you: take the loss with dignity. Saying #notmypresident may feel a little better, but you have to know that, yes, he is. You don’t have to like it, and you should hold him accountable for what he says and does while in office. But he is the President of all Americans, and, trust me, we want him to be successful at that. 

     That does not mean, though, that the demonstrations and protests have to stop. We have to remember that many people are afraid and angry right now. And not for no reason. Our President-elect has made some reprehensible statements. (He has, that’s not debatable.) Immigrants, women, minorities, and other segments of society that he has hurt and offended and disrespected are feeling understandably scared, insecure, and lost. Some are having to reassure their children that they won’t be deported in the middle of the night (while dealing with their own fears that they may be). Some are having to explain to their daughters what their next President meant when he said this or that, and why it isn’t OK. Demonstration and protest is an American right, at least as important as the rights to a free press or gun ownership or freedom of religion. It makes those in power nervous, of course — but it’s supposed to. Understanding the hurt and fury that many people are feeling right now, and choosing to respond with grace and love, will go a long way toward healing and reconciliation. Dismissing those who have legitimate fears and questions as “crybabies” will not. Choose to act with love, in person and on social media.   
     Of course, both sides of the divide must remember that there is no excuse for violence. Those of us who follow the One who didn’t lift a hand in resistance when he was falsely accused, beaten, and unjustly executed should never commit, approve or encourage violence. We must not allow those who do to go unchallenged. We must demand that our leaders speak unequivocally against it, and that their actions speak just as unequivocally and unambiguously. We respond to evil with love, to insult with grace, to aggression with gentleness. 
     We must remember that there are brothers and sisters in Christ who voted for the other candidate. In most every church, yours included, there are those who voted the other way from you. They were not less your family in the Lord on November 9th than they were on November 7th. The Holy Spirit creates unity in the church, but it’s up to us to make every effort to maintain it by continually making peace. Go hug that brother or sister you know (or suspect) may have voted differently. Tell them you love them. Give them the respect and honor of listening to them, caring about their burdens, and praying for them, whether you agree with their political stance or not. Remember, God has strong feelings about those who destroy his church with selfishness and a party spirit.
     Frank, the guy who runs the pizza place in our neighborhood we order from pretty often, said something pretty profound the other night. “Everybody’s talking about this election,” he said, hands covered with flour, spreading pepperoni and cheese over a pie. “I keep saying, whoever wins, I’m-a still gonna be makin’ pizzas.” Thanks, Frank. Good to remember. 
     However you feel about the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election, if you’re a believer in Jesus your job is still the same. You’re gonna be makin’ peace: peace between people, and peace between people and God. You’re gonna be proclaiming in word and action God’s love for the world, and his desire to reconcile us to himself in Jesus. And you’re gonna be working for reconciliation in our world between people who are estranged, between tyrant and tyrannized, haves and have-nots, alien and citizen, white and minority. 
     May we be daughters and sons of our peace-making God.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Not From This World

    Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here. (John 18:36, NRSV)

And just like that, the revolution began. No one imagined it. When he first appeared on the scene, no one believed he could overturn the status quo. No one would have thought that he was the one to make right what was wrong. He was an outsider, unfamiliar with political power and dismissive of those who wield it. 
     So they didn’t pay much attention to him. When he spoke, the educated scoffed. Until people started listening to him and started talking about putting him in power. Then they tried to refute him, tried to trap him with questions, even tried to shout him down. Many of his countrymen turned their backs on him. Those in power used his words to try to make him out to be a threat to the privileged and powerful. 
     And then they crucified him.
     Wait — who did you think I was talking about?
     Oh, that. Yes, there was an election last night. And yes, it was one of the most divisive in recent memory. (By the way, aren’t they always “one of the most divisive in recent history”? Does that suggest that, in between elections, those we elect might be doing something wrong?) At last count, 59,600,000 and some odd Americans are somewhere on the continuum from disappointed to suicidal, while 59,400,000 and some odd are somewhere between pleased and ecstatic. This is because we tend to think our politicians are going to solve all our problems. Especially our Presidents — we blame them for all our woes, and we anoint their successors with the oil of all our expectations.
     And, OK, that’s fine. Except if you believe in Jesus, you believe in a different government. That’s, like, all Jesus talked about — the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom he talked about, God poured out his grace and healing. The first would be last, and the last, first. The meek would inherit the earth. Those who grieve would be comforted, those who hunger for righteousness would be filled. This kingdom would not be for those who paid lip service to empty religion while snuggling in the laps of the powers-that-be. It would be for those who truly put their faith in God by putting their lives in his hands. 
     Here’s what we American Christians forget, every election season: on that Friday when Jesus hung bleeding from a rough beam of wood, anyone would have said that he had lost the political battle. 
     God, of course, said otherwise on Sunday morning.
     We American Christians forget that in our worries and squabbling over political power and who has it. Our behavior turns toward the gutter whenever we feel threatened. We post on Facebook and Twitter and question the character and motives and even the faith of those with whom we disagree. And in doing so, we bear witness to the fact that we believe in the gospel of America more than we believe in the gospel of Jesus. 

     Please listen to me: historically, nothing has been more fatal to the church than political power. Persecution hasn’t hurt us. Neither has marginalization. We have not been overcome by the proximity of rival religions or the encroachment of secularism. We’ve shaken off sexual revolutions and the teaching of evolution in our schools and the legalizing of marijuana and gay marriage. What has proven, if not fatal, then at least irrecoverably debilitating, is the accumulation of political power.
     That’s because power has changed us. Remember, Jesus died. And he didn’t ask his followers to defend him, or avenge him, or fight those we perceive to be his enemies. He told us to die, too.
     When you get power, though, it won’t let you die. It won’t let you give yourself in service to your neighbors, or give you room to love those who hate you, or care for the oppressed, or feed the hungry, or heal the sick, or love the lost. It demands all your attention to keep it once you have it. And this makes the church into something it never was supposed to be. Instead of dying, we kill. Instead of returning love for hate, we turn up the vitriol. Instead of forgiving, we avenge. Instead of proclaiming and living out the values of God’s kingdom, we end up perpetually shoring up our own.
     Here’s the problem, I think: too many of us believe that the most important work we can do is fight for our vision of America. So we look desperately for candidates who we think might, however remotely, share our vision. And we pull back the covers and hop into bed with them. 
      In our country, this even has the effect of dividing the church along party lines. 
     Making America — anything — is not the church’s job. Our job is to give the world an alternative: to conquer death through long-suffering love; to overcome evil with good; to feed our enemies when they are hungry; to enjoy sex rightly ordered for the goods of human intimacy and the bearing of children within committed monogamous relationships; to share our money and our stuff and our time generously; to let our yes be yes and our no be no; to care for the widows, orphans, and foreigners; to practice hospitality; and so on.
     America was never a “Christian nation.” There is no state of perfection to which we can return her. To suggest otherwise understands neither American history nor orthodox Christianity. America has, in some ways, been better than other empires. In some ways we’ve been much worse. If Jesus died instead of fighting to make things turn out “right,” then you can bet we’re called to do the same. Not to win, or to scorch the earth in losing, but to give ourselves as he did.
     So, whether your candidate won or lost — well, he or she wasn’t really your candidate, anyway. Not if your faith is in the kingdom that Jesus announced and for which he died. Your job hasn’t changed. Go and care for the unborn through adoption, foster care, and support for single moms. Deal with immigration by befriending an immigrant, or visiting an ICE deportation facility. Care for the poor by sharing what you have. Address health care by looking out for the sick. In all things, proclaim that your hope, and the energy to do what you do, come from the Kingdom of God which has come in Jesus, and is coming in power.
     That’ll work in every election, win or lose. Just don’t play the game. Vote, if think you should or must, but don’t imagine that salvation hinges on electing the right candidate. 
     Whether you’re discouraged or excited today, you should know better than that.