The most viscerally divisive election of my lifetime (I turned 42 years-old today) is over. Regardless of the Electoral College result, the reaction this morning would have been the same. The country is divided. We’ve known that instinctively for a long time and now we have the data to back it up.
This morning the same expert political pundits who told us that Bernie couldn’t challenge Hillary, that Trump couldn’t get the GOP nomination, and that Trump had no chance at winning the general election, are writing columns and filling airtime telling us why this happened and what it means moving forward.
I’m neither political expert nor pundit. I’m a pastor. I’ll leave the political analysis to those better equipped to handle it than I am.
However, what matters most today is not “Political Insider” analysis, stock market futures, celebrity reactions, the dissection of acceptance/concession speeches, or social media trending topics.
What matters most today (and, by the way, every other day too!) is how ordinary people interact with one another as they go about their ordinary lives. What do I do today? What should the two hundred people in our largely unknown church plant in Charleston, SC do today? How should we be thinking about the future? How should we be talking to our friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors?
Matthew 22:35-40 is a well-known passage about Jesus that I think gives us the answer to that question. It goes like this:
“And one of them, a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
As a pastor, I know that sometimes the simple answers are easy to point out, but hard to live out. Love God with all my heart, soul and mind? I don’t think I have lived up to that simple standard on even a single day of my life! Simple isn’t always easy.
With that in mind, here are four practical ways that you can “love your neighbor (e.g. family, friends, coworkers, classmates, literal neighbors, etc…) as yourself” in the wake of the election results:
1. Listen to people more.
There is a very good chance that your neighbors feel personally marginalized, politically disillusioned, socially betrayed, and nervous, if not outright scared, about the future regardless of whom they voted for. That is a problem.
People you know and love felt/feel like:
- They always/finally had a voice and then/now it was/is gone.
- No one in power truly cares about their future.
- The country they care for so deeply doesn’t reflect their values.
- The rights they always had/finally have may be taken from them unless something changes.
- The America of their expectation is turning out to be different than the America of their reality.
You may agree or disagree with their perspective of the problem(s). You may agree or disagree with their perceived solution(s) to the same. What I plead with you not to do is dismiss them or tell them that they shouldn’t feel the way they feel.
Loving your neighbor as yourself means acknowledging the concerns that led them to vote are just as real and as valid as yours. It means asking why they are hopeful/fearful today, rather than telling them not to be. It means listening to their American experience, rather than assuming your reality is, or should be, normative.
You can learn a lot more by listening than by talking. So, rather than teeing off on the next person who views this election differently than you… love them enough to slow down and learn why they feel as they do.
Love your neighbors by listening to them more.
2. Listen to more people.
How is it possible that literally every poll got this election wrong? Millions of dollars were spent, hundreds of polls were taken, months of programming on TV went by…and yet it was not until the early evening of Tuesday’s election returns that the possibility of Donald Trump actually winning the election began to make its way into the mainstream conversation.
How does that happen? Pollsters made the same mistake professionally that so many of us make personally: they needed to listen to more people.
Technology allows us to customize our lives to such a degree that we rarely have to listen to anyone or anything unless we choose to do so. But, sometimes that means we simply don’t listen to enough people, or we simply don’t listen to enough different people.
Here’s a helpful question to ask yourself, “How often do I intentionally listen to people who are different than me?” To be more specific:
- Do your social media feeds include the voices of people whose race, gender, ethnicity, religion, politics, etc… are different than yours?
- How many news sources do you listen to?
- How often do you consume long-form information rather than sound bites?
- When was the last time you had an actual conversation, in-person, with someone you disagreed with, that did not result in an argument?
- When was the last time you changed your mind…about anything?
Loving your neighbor as yourself sometimes just means listening to more of them.
For example, let’s say you find out that you share a common religious worldview with a diverse group of people, but you have a significantly different perspective on social justice issues. I don’t know about you, but I want to explore why that is. Not merely from a place of intellectual curiosity, but also because I believe that listening and learning widely is a practical way to love people. But here’s the thing – you have to listen before you can learn.
Love your neighbors by listening to more of them.
3. Pray for their leaders.
If you are a Christian, God commands you to pray for those in power (1 Timothy 2:1-4). What is interesting is that in context, that command is given not to benefit the leaders but for the benefit of “all people.”
One of the ways you can love your neighbors well is to pray that those in power would lead in such a way that your neighbors’ lives improve. Financial flourishing, social stability, the rule of law, fair and impartial justice, civic prosperity, international peace, educational opportunities, domestic tranquility…these are not partisan issues. These are not the domain of only one socio-economic class or one ethnicity. These are not to be enjoyed only by one political party, gender, or race.
God’s common grace is intended to bless all. When you pray for those in power, or those who will be in power in the future, pray in such a way that your neighbors would experience God’s common grace—even if/when it is mediated through government—to a greater degree.
Love your neighbors by praying for their leaders.
4. Point them to a greater hope.
I don’t write this because of what I do, I write this because I believe it with every fiber of my being: our hope for a better future is not found in politicians or government, it’s found in King Jesus.
The reality is that humans are flawed, broken, sinful beings. We are. I am, you are, everyone who has ever lived. Oh, sure, we uncover people’s flaws more easily these days with the prevalence of social media and camera phones, but people have always been flawed. To put your hope in flawed, broken, sinful people whom you expect will perform as if they are perfect is a tragic mistake that will only lead you to despair and disillusionment.
There is, however, someone who had no flaws and who never sinned. There is someone who was a perfect servant-leader. There is someone who was willing to enter into this world of brokenness and offer hope for eternal healing. There is one whose plans will be precisely carried out, whose kingdom is unending, and whose justice is perfectly balanced by his mercy.
The joy/angst your neighbors feel over this election speaks to the object of their hope. Christian, you have a wide open door to discuss a Greater Hope, do so with love.
Love your neighbors by pointing them to a greater hope.
Loving your neighbors as yourself requires much more intentionality than loving your neighbors who are already like yourself. Hopefully this helps to start you thinking about these, and other, practical ways to love your neighbors in the weeks and months ahead.