This post also appears as the lead article in The View, the parish newsletter from St. John's Episcopal Church in Decatur, Alabama. To read the rest of the newsletter and learn about what God is doing with the people of our parish, click here.
One week from now, the polls will be open. Next Tuesday, the people of this nation will come together to cast their votes for president as well as many other offices and issues. At last, all of the arguing and cajoling and pandering and bickering that we have endured will come to a head. Later that night, barring an unforeseen delay, the results will come in, and we will know who our next president will be. And then what?
Every election contains a mixture of clashing ideologies and shared objectives. Every candidate loves our country and wants to work for its success, but what that work involves and what that success looks like differs among them. Elections are about sorting through those differences, so the scrutiny naturally falls upon what divides the candidates and their parties rather than what unites them, but beneath those considerable differences lies a common commitment to work for the good of this nation and its people. Even in this highly contentious election cycle, if we were to strip away all of the acrimony, we would discover two individuals who are proud to be Americans and who are willing to execute the Office of the President faithfully by doing their best to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
In this particular election, however, we have allowed the issues that divide us to set the people of this nation on a fatalistic collision course that prevents us from seeing the good in one another. The discord that fills our ears and minds and hearts has made it nearly impossible to acknowledge that there is anything decent about the other side. Where will that leave us after November 8? What will happen to our nation after the election? What will happen to our church? What will happen to each one of us?
I know that our divisions will persist, but I wonder whether they will continue to define us. Some of you are Republicans, and some of you are Democrats. I see your posts on social media about the evil that the other candidate represents. I read your comments about how this election will decide the fate of our nation for good or for ill. I hear what you say about the other party when you do not think that I am listening. And I hear what you say directly to me about how no rational person could vote for that candidate or how no faithful Christian could vote for the other. But do you realize that we come together each week to worship the same God and follow the same Lord as the one, united, knit-together, mystical Body of Christ?
When you come to receive Communion, I see diehard conservative kneeling next to diehard liberal. You have not said it to each other, but, behind a very thin veil, you have objectified your brother or sister in Christ, turning him or her into the political disagreement that separates you. You have asked in your heart how anyone who believes in God and calls him or herself a Christian could think that particular thing, say that particular thing, and vote that particular way, yet you literally rub elbows and shoulders at God’s table with the very person with whom you cannot imagine sharing a faith. I am guilty of the same offense. We are all guilty of letting the forces which seek to divide us keep us from seeing the deeper truth—that we are all one in Christ Jesus.
How can this be? How can we come together every Sunday to pray and worship and commune with God yet not understand what it means to be the people of God in a way that transcends our differences? Isn’t our experience of unity stronger than our experience of dissention? Isn’t our shared faith and hope in God and God’s ultimate plan for the world bigger than the political divisions of the day? Just because the voices of disagreement and destruction are louder and more prevalent than the voice that calls us to unite does not mean that the voice of unity is not stronger. As people of faith, we believe and know that unity will always win.
The prayer for All Saints’ Day seems particularly important this year. It articulates our vision for unity in the Body of Christ. It reminds us that God’s work is to hold us together so that, together, we may obtain the joyful, abundant, blessed life that God has in store for us. I do not know about you, but lately I have had a hard time seeing that joyful, common life. Although the election is only a week away, I recognize that the bitterness that has infected our hearts will not disappear overnight. Still, I look for that day when we are all truly one, and I look for it in those small moments of fellowship when we gather together as the diverse, at times discordant Body of Christ.
May God enable us to see how the bond that knits us together is stronger than the forces which seek to pull us apart.
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.