The presidential election is over and Joe Biden has won. Donald Trump will mount numerous lawsuits but they will fail.
But the most important take away from this election is not that Biden won. It is that this country is deeply, dangerously, divided. Donald Trump won more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016! The Democrats lost seats in the House. And they failed to take the Senate (it is extremely unlikely that the Democrats can win both Senate seats in the Georgia runoff on January 6).
Our country desperately needs people who can listen to and negotiate respectfully with people who disagree deeply with their politics. The extremists in both parties do not offer a way forward. We need honest careful listening and negotiation that will lead to wise compromise.
I have been reading Harvard sociologist Robert D. Putnam’s superb new book, THE UPSWING. And I think it suggests a way forward.
Putnam describes an amazing improvement and then reversal in a wide range of areas in American life from the late 19th century to the present. In the 1890s, the culture embraced a radical individualism with little concern for the common good. Political partisanship was severe. The wealth/income gap between the rich and the rest was huge. The marriage rate and church attendance were relatively low.
Then from about 1900 to 1970, things slowly changed. There was much greater concern for the common good. “We” increasingly replaced “I” in public discourse. Political cooperation across the parties became much greater. Economic inequality dropped dramatically and the lower economic levels of society received a larger share of the growing economy than did the top. More people were married and church attendance increased greatly. And African Americans enjoyed major socio-economic improvement.
Then about 1970, all the trends started to reverse. A radical individualism grew stronger. Economic inequality increased dramatically. Bitter political partisanship returned. African-Americans stopped experiencing significant socio-economic progress. Marriage collapsed and church attendance declined as the “nones” slowly, and then more rapidly, increased. We are back to a situation similar to 1890 in many ways.
But I take heart from Putnam’s analysis. (I highly recommend the book.) This nation moved beyond a bitterly divided, self-centered period 125 years ago and we can do it again. What we need is religious and political leadership that calls us to embrace community rather than radical individualism; economic well-being for everyone, not just growing wealth for the top 10%; and wise, respectful political compromise.
Politically, for me, that means I will try to do several things in the next few months and years. I will work hard with the Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden which I helped organize to urge the Democrats to say that as they continue to believe that abortion should be legal and safe, they will also want abortion to be rare and will embrace policies that promote that. I will urge Democrats and Republicans to support national legislation that both guarantees LGBTQ civil rights and also protects the religious freedom of faith-based organizations that continue to hold the historic view of marriage. I will also urge Republicans (especially evangelical Republicans) to demand health insurance for everyone; to insist on an economy that benefits everyone, especially the bottom 50%; and to reject racist rhetoric and demand that we finally put an end to structural racism.
But I am even more worried about the huge divisions in the church – – especially among evangelicals. Theologically, the black church is just as evangelical as the white church that calls itself evangelical. But the behavior of white evangelicals for centuries and especially recently has led black Christians not just to reject the label “evangelical” but also to despair of any cooperation with, or even respect for, white evangelicals. Furthermore, just this year, white evangelicals have said awful things about each other. Too often, we have not lived the theological truth that our oneness in Christ’s one body is far more important than any political differences.
I still believe the basic message of the book I edited, THE SPIRITUAL DANGER OF DONALD TRUMP. But if there are things in that book that are untrue or unfair to white evangelicals who voted for Trump, I apologize. I hope and pray that pro-Trump and not-Trump evangelicals can somehow – – in God’s grace – – find ways to listen to each other. I hope we can explain to each other why, on biblical grounds, we reach divergent political conclusions. I hope we can pray together. I hope I will listen so carefully that I will change my political views wherever our Lord wants me to do that. At the very least, I hope and pray that we can listen to each other well enough to stop distorting each other’s positions. Jesus weeps over the way we have talked about each other. I don’t want to make my Lord continue to weep.
Please do not misunderstand me. I have not abandoned the political positions I promoted this year. But I want to be ready to change wherever my Lord calls me to change. And I want to listen to and understand brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with my politics even when the respectful conversation does not change my conclusions about the right political direction.
This society will descend into chaos, and perhaps even widespread violence, unless we can develop a new respectful dialogue across our political differences. Is it too much to hope that those Americans who confess Jesus Christ as their Lord will model a new kind of respectful dialogue that provides a model for the larger society?
Please God make it happen.
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