There is a lot of similarity in the moments following a major sporting event, for instance the Super Bowl, and the day after a political election. Following the game, the focus is as much on why a team lost as it is on why a team won.
That begins to happen, in the political world, on the day after the election. It’s the political postmortem that seeks to understand why a candidate lost, especially if a candidate was expected to win convincingly. In the hours after President-elect Donald Trump’s victory over Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the conversations have centered on how Clinton lost and what happens from here.
Part of the political postmortem includes an internal conversation of what went wrong and how to respond in time for the next election. It’s an important part of the response to an election that will shape the coming elections. Both the Democratic and Republican parties will participate in that.
I hope they will not be alone. I think it is important for the church in America to participate in its own evaluation of what took place during the election, our response, and how we move forward. I say this, because the church has a lot to ponder following the election. This includes both the conservative and progressive wings of the American church.
We have seen during the most recent election how the American church has fully embraced a model that ascribes faithfulness to God as commitment to a political ideology. This has been true for both of the partisan and theological branches of the church. Conservative theologians, by and large, connect faithfulness to God as looking only like the values of the Republican Party or the Tea Party movement. The same is true of progressive theologians, who have ascribed faithfulness to God as looking like the principles of the Democratic Party or the progressive moment. Our faith too often looks like our preferred political platform than what it means to seek justice and love our neighbor as God desires.
Much of this is centered on the idea of power and influence. Since the days of the Moral Majority, the church has been too willing to acquiesce to the whims of Washington than to truly speak truth to power. The church has always engaged the political process, but it seems more recently we have been willing to sacrifice our beliefs in order to score political victories. In the process we are no longer religious leaders who engage the political, but public leaders who happen to be religious.
That may not seem like a major difference, but the nuance within that sentence describes our primary focus. Public leaders who happen to be religious seek to use their faith as a backdrop to gain political influence and to pass a specific agenda. Religious leaders who engage the political are those who seek to respond to their faith by speaking truth to power and seeking justice and hope for all people.
I want to offer a caution. I believe there are religious leaders on all sides of the political persuasions that truly are religious leaders who engage the political process with a desire to love God and love others. I know them. I work with them. I see their heart in seeking God’s desires for all. The problem is there is not enough of them and there are more of those who are more interested using their faith to create partisan divisions and theological and ideological purity for among all believers.
It is that reason that we see people respond to the election or other national events distraught that people of faith could have a different opinion than the one they have. When we only build relationships with like-minded individuals and offer a perspective of faith that ascribes faithfulness as only looking like my own values then we will be shocked when people of faith disagree with us. This only builds the divisions that are already prevalent in our society.
The church should not be a place of division or separation. It should be a place where we come in recognition of our need of God’s grace with a desire to go forth to make disciples of Jesus Christ by our love and witness. A healthy church and witness of God’s love needs conservative theologians who articulate a commitment to Scripture and holiness. A healthy church and witness of God’s love also needs progressives who remind the church to be concerned for all people.
We cannot move forward in our witness in America if it is only on the terms of our political ideology. The way forward beyond the 2016 election, I believe, is for the church to reclaim its commitment to work with all people – conservatives and progressives – to be the people God calls us to be and to share that witness with others.
The day after an election is a great time to consider where we’ve been and where we are going. My hope is that moving forward the church looks a lot different than that partisan divide of the previous years.