Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; we have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.
—Donald Trump’s victory speech
We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought. But I still believe in America, and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.
—Hillary Clinton’s concession speech
Like many people in the U.S., I woke up on Wednesday, November 9th in a bit of a stupor. Call it election hangover, minus the alcohol—I had dozed off listening to live election commentary and looking at a mixture of comical and alarmist reactions on Facebook.
My husband woke me, first when Trump clinched Pennsylvania, and then again when he gave an acceptance speech. I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t between my newsfeed and muddled dreams: Willy Wonka memes and Trump’s face caricatured like an Oompa Loompa, hysterical Clinton supporters, and more than one proclamation that this was indeed the apocalypse (the GIF of the electoral map on fire was memorable).
Reality set in after about 15 cups of coffee the next morning. I had a weird relationship with my phone—I was incredibly curious to see what people were saying, yet terribly frightened and sick about it at the same time.
In fact, that’s how it has been rather frequently this year, amidst protesting and rage being voiced here and around the world. I feel fascinated but paralyzed. And for the most part, I keep quiet.
And maybe that’s why we sometimes are surprised by the results of what happens in society: the election, the decisions our leaders make, the violence and the protests. Many of us keep quiet because we’re afraid. We don’t know what to say because there are vicious opponents on both sides who are going to bite our heads off. So instead of contributing to the discussion, we are the online lurkers, quietly making our decisions (or avoiding them) while mostly observing the fallout.
The political battle is over for now, but the cultural war continues to rage. Some fear for their lives and livelihood; many are resolved to keep fighting; others are wondering what the big deal is; silent masses are turning their heads or burying them in the sand. America is bleeding badly. Like the results or not, the democratic system has churned out a result.
Some Christians say, “God is sovereign,” and, “Let’s keep praying.” Okay yes, absolutely. But honestly, friends (and don’t hate me for this), we can use that as a little bit of a cop-out. Like let’s just leave it all in God’s hands and move on quietly like we’re powerless to actually do or say anything? Faithful prayer is powerful, but faith without deeds is dead (James 2:26).
God is sovereign, and sometimes there is something bigger than we know or understand going on. But don’t forget, we have free will within that sovereignty, and there are consequences to the choices we make…or avoid.
So what are we supposed to do now?
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
I don’t know where you stand on the political spectrum or on the faith spectrum. Maybe you’ve got some pretty strong opinions…and there is at least one person you know who doesn’t see eye to eye with you. So what do you do? Avoid them? Debate with them until they see the light? Are those the only two options?
Or maybe you’re pretty indifferent to all this stuff (I personally know a lot of people who didn’t vote). It stresses you out to think about it, let alone talk about it. Ignorance is bliss, right?
I think most people in America would agree on one thing: peace. Peace is the fundamental groundwork for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
And, regardless of your religious affiliation, you could probably agree with Jesus’ beatitude: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
There’s a desperate need in America for peacemakers right now. But how to be one?
Here’s a wild idea for everyone: ask more questions. Listen. Seek to understand. Help others feel heard.
One of the loudest cries we hear in the fallout of Electopocalypse 2016 is this: “WHY??? I DON’T UNDERSTAND!!!!”
But are you even trying?
I’m limited in my own understanding. I come from a place of middle class white privilege. There are some challenges and belief systems I have great difficulty grasping. But I keep trying.
To be a peacemaker, take a minute and listen to a side of an argument you don’t understand—and help your opponent feel heard. If you know someone who stands firmly in one position, ask questions for clarity—and then reaffirm your understanding. You don’t have to agree with someone to make them feel heard. Compassionate listening cools tension and leads to peace and compromise where possible. Just imagine if a whole nation tried to hear what the other side was saying on these issues…then we could really start praying for each other in earnest!
For many people, these were huge deciding factors of the election because the next president will be appointing at least one and very likely more Supreme Court justices.
For many Christian conservatives, pro-life is the ONLY ISSUE because a life is a life. They are not stupid; they are not bigots; they are passionate about saving children. If you have a hard time with this, imagine how you would feel if it was legal for people to leave their babies out in the wilderness to die from exposure (a common practice around the world until recently).
Make them feel heard: “I hear that you want to devote yourself to saving innocent lives.”
For pro-choice advocates, when a life starts is a moral gray area, and it’s inappropriate and invasive for others to decide what a woman should or shouldn’t do with her own body. These people aren’t monsters; in their view, it isn’t the government’s job to enforce morality in regards to these questions.
Make them feel heard: “I hear you are very sensitive to anyone imposing moral judgment on women faced with a very challenging personal decision.”
For Second Amendment watchdogs, owning a gun is a fundamental right that protects lives. They love their families with fierce devotion and want to be fully equipped defend them. Gun control is a slippery slope that threatens that liberty.
Make them feel heard: “I hear that protecting the people you care about is of utmost importance.”
Gun control advocates are sick and tired of people dying—from gunshot wounds. Someone has to protect the innocent, and there are too many guns falling into the wrong hands.
Make them feel heard: “I hear that you are vigilant about protecting innocent lives.”
For the LGBT community, which has had many recent victories, the election feels like a step backward. For them, marrying whom they love and being true to who they are without fear of persecution is a fundamental right—and the thought that the government (or anyone else) could weigh in on those decisions is dehumanizing.
Make them feel heard: I hear that you feel under attack for who you are.
Racism and bigotry
This election has been so ugly. Liberals and conservatives alike were appalled at some of the things that have come out of Donald Trump’s mouth that can’t be unsaid. If you don’t see what others are seeing, try to focus on what they perceive, regardless of how you interpret it or how it might have been spun.
Many people in minority groups are very saddened and scared. African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims—it’s concerning to them that so many Americans appear to not be disturbed by prejudiced rhetoric.
Make them feel heard: “I hear that you feel marginalized and I am so sorry you don’t feel safe in your own country.”
Many women feel outraged. To them it’s obvious that misogyny is alive and well in this country—derogative offhand comments are the symptoms of deeper beliefs and assumptions.
Make them feel heard: “I hear that you feel violated and insulted and that you’re concerned about underlying sexism in our culture.”
Many people feel that the unknown threatens their lives and livelihood—through terrorism, globalization, etc. Maybe you call it xenophobia or a lack of education, but you can’t deny the threats’ validity. You can disagree about solutions without mocking or belittling the underlying fears.
Make them feel heard: “I hear that you’re worried about your family’s safety and well-being because of the state of the world right now.”
Many families, especially in the working class but also the middle, are simply struggling. You can spout all the statistics you want about economic growth, but that doesn’t cover their bills this week, or help them save for a house, or pay for their kids’ winter coats. Something radically different is appealing right now, because nothing else seems to be working.
Make them feel heard: I hear that you are stressed about making it paycheck to paycheck to support your family and that something needs to change.
The Affordable Care Act isn’t what many people consider “affordable.” Did you know that in the week prior to the election, many people who purchased health insurance through the Healthcare Marketplace received notice of a 50%+ rate hike for their premiums in 2017? Subsidies provide some relief, but the bottom line is some families are paying more than double in premiums what they were just two years ago—for less coverage. (How do I know? Because this is our family’s reality.)
Make them feel heard: I hear that you’re really wrestling with alternatives in how to pay for your family’s healthcare costs.
Is anybody listening?
Many Americans from across the various spectrums feel underrepresented in the media, in political parties, in popular culture and in churches:
- African Americans feel like they are shouting about injustice but no one is actually doing anything about it.
- Traditional conservatives and the religiously devout feel like the liberal elite, primarily in the big cities, treat them like second-class human beings and make assumptions that they are uneducated, racist and stupid. Ideologies they don’t agree with are being forced upon them and their children in popular culture and educational institutions.
- Many people are extremely concerned about climate change and other environmental concerns, which may affect generations to come more than we realize. They are screaming about what seems obvious, yet too few are listening.
- Immigrants, whether technically legal or not, have voices—but can you name a single person who is well known to represent their causes?
- There’s a rising generation of people who are leaving organized religion in droves because all they ever felt from it was judgment and condemnation. They are latching onto grassroots activism groups instead, as these seem to be making way more of a positive contribution to society that what they see from churches.
- Current and former members of the Armed Forces and local and state police feel largely ignored, unappreciated and forgotten.
- Millions of people voted for a third party or not at all because they were disgusted by the whole election: the corruption, the rhetoric, the deception, everything.
The call for peace
Many Americans cast their ballots feeling icky about their choice; but there were really only two to pick from. Someone who was utterly ashamed of Trump’s demeanor could have still voted for him to prevent Clinton from getting into office and vice versa. So this election was hardly a mandate. It’s more complicated than that.
There isn’t one clean division in America right now; there are multiple fractures between urban and rural inhabitants, classes, genders, generations, religious beliefs, worldviews and ethnicities, to name a few. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all characterization of who voted for whom. Both political parties have been gutted.
Let’s stop hiding, be slow to speak and quick to listen. Diffuse anger. Be a peacemaker. When you think about it, we’re not all so different. Everyone pretty much wants the same things: Life. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness.
Lastly, remember that whether you keep your opinions to yourself or share them with anyone who will listen, our children are watching us. They are observing not the policy issues but our own demeanors and what we are doing (or not doing) in response to a defining moment in history.
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