Saturday, November 19, 2016

Responding to the election in love

America is deeply divided, as the results of the presidential election show. In the week after the election I witnessed many responses to the Trump victory, ranging from ecstasy to anger. Loud protests are occurring all over the country and even in other countries.

As readers will know, my disdain for Trump is widely shared in Canada, but I did not like Clinton either, even if she was, for me and many others, the "lesser of two evils." Americans throughout the long campaign had strong feelings for one one or the other of the two candidates, so much so that families and churches were sorely divided and friendships disrupted.

Each side found it difficult to understand why other had opted for their own candidate. "How stupid can you get!" was probably one of the milder epithets they hurled at each other. But such reproaches miss the point. Each side can provide very good reasons for why they voted the way they did.

The two sides hardly listened to each other during the campaign. Each was living in their own universe where Fox or MSNBC were the preferred channels to watch. This divide goes back a long way, long before the current election campaign. But it has grown exponentially, and now even threatens the integrity of the country, as I suggested in my previous post.

Trump won the election in the only way that really matters, through the electoral college. Clinton indeed won the popular vote, but that doesn't get her the presidency, at least not until the system is changed. If Americans want to gripe about her losing the election, then they must change the system. Protesting at this point will not change the results. Only a constitutional change can prevent that happening again.

I too have my concerns about Trump as president. Yet nothing that ordinary people like you and me do is going to change him. He is unpredictable, as everyone agrees. Thus the only thing we  know for sure is that the world is in for is a tumultuous four years (at least). Some Americans are already losing sleep over this.

Other Americans might have been equally concerned if Clinton had won. They claimed they couldn't trust her, and thus they were worried about her as president. These worries were real in their eyes, just as those who voted for Clinton were worried about Trump.

Although we cannot change the election result, we can change our attitude to those who voted for the other candidate. They had legitimate reasons, at least in their own eyes, for doing so. Thus we may not blame them. The reasons for Trump's victory should not be laid at their feet.

We may disagree with them, but we must not blame them for the way they voted.. We must respect them. They are our neighbors, fellow church members, or even family and friends, And therefore we should not demonize them. As people of faith we are not allowed to do that.

A friend of mine has written an excellent editorial in which tells us to remember several things in the aftermath of one of the most divisive presidential elections in the US in recent memory. He is writing specifically to Christians who are as divided as everyone in the country is, He calls on Christians to remember several things which I will summarize and then add my own comments.

First, he want us to remember that our struggle is ultimately a struggle against spiritual forces. They may seem strange to many Western people, but in the rest of the world the realty of spirits, also evil spirits, is an integral part of their worldview. In fact, the spirit world is more real than this tangible one.

Evil is all pervasive. Good and evil can be discovered in all of us. We all need to be aware that evil is not just outside in the larger world but that it also resides within each one of us. He writes,
Our struggle is against the spiritual forces of evil that infect each and every one of us. Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being” (The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956). That line runs through every Republican and every Democrat. It runs through Christians and non-Christians. It runs through every race, gender, or class.
If evil resides in every heart, then no one is innocent. None of us is entirely good or evil, although evil, in my opinion, can sometimes take an extreme, personal form, witness monsters like Hitler and Stalin. And there are many currents examples of that as well. Yet neither Trump nor Clinton deserves to be labelled as entirely evil as happened during the campaign and continues to happen even now,

Evil can also take structural forms, as happens in the growing inequality in the world. Inequality is perhaps the main reason for the massive support for Trump. It also underlies the growing popularism that politicians elsewhere in the world are capitalizing on.

All of us must be careful not to be caught up in the nets of these politicians with their specious appeals. Inequality is very real,but their proposed solutions, as beautiful as they may sound are not always effective. Many people who supported Clinton are equally concerned about inequality. Trump supporters are not the only victims of inequality, all of us are affected and all of us should oppose it.

Just because they voted for Trump doesn't allow us to demonize them. Many had a valid reason for voting the way they did. We must respect their right to do that. If their vote was motivated by hatred that is another matter entirely.

In war the enemy needs to be demonized before they can be killed. In elections the voters are not the enemy, and thus they should not be demonized. To demonize means to disregard their humanity and to treat them as less than human. Christians and Jews cannot do this because they believe every human being is created in the image of God. Thus the commandment not to kill. Other religions have similar prohibitions.

Instead, God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Republicans and Democrats are our neighbors, and.thus we must love each other. Jesus, in fact, commanded his followers to also love their enemies. We must not treat people who voted for other candidates as enemies, but we must love them. Always. That is the only way to heal the wounds caused by the election in families, churches, and among friends.

That love must extend even to those like Trump and Clinton whom we strongly dislike. Like and love are not identical. We must all learn to love certain people that we don not like. We must even love those who spout hatred out of their mouths. There are many political candidates and their supporters who do that regularly. Yet the only appropriate response to hate is love.

Second, my friend suggests that his readers must remember that their political and social visions, whether Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, are not synonymous with what God is doing. God is building a kingdom. but his kingdom cannot be reduced to only erasing racism and poverty nor can it be reduced to ending abortion and protecting religious liberty.

If people voted for Clinton or Trump for these reasons alone, then the scope of God's kingdom is severely restricted. Instead of encompassing the entire universe, people have limited the sphere of God's reign to mundane matters, even if they are important. That is one factor in the current "culture war."

He observes, correctly, that the so-called “culture war” is not identical to the spiritual war. The line dividing good and evil cuts through both sides of the culture war divide. No camp has a monopoly on good or evil, just as no individual is entirely good or evil. Thus we must refrain from making such judgments about others. We must demonstrate love instead of hate.

Jesus Christ alone is Lord. Christians are not allowed to put their faith in ordinary human beings. In the early history of the church, Christians were often compelled to make the prescribed offering to Caesar, but most of them refused to do that. Similarly, today Christian must refuse to grant their allegiance to anyone except Christ. To do otherwise would be to deny Christi's lordship and ultimately to limit the universal scope of his kingdom.

My son-in-law posted this on FB the other day. His thoughts are similar, and thus I want to share them:
In church today we heard "How you voted doesn't change how Jesus thinks of you". This, to me, seems inherently true. If that is the case, then we as The Church should act the same way. How others in our faith community voted shouldn't change the way we think of them...we are still seeking the Kingdom of Heaven in this world together, serving together, etc just like we were before the election...lord, give us courage to treat people as people and give us strength to extend this to all our our and outside of church.
Would that many more people would treat others with respect and love! Then the US and the entire world may still experience four very turbulent years, but  Americans will be able to live together again in peace and harmony. That is my prayer.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Trump, The Disunited States of America, and God

America is more divided than ever before in living memory, so much so that it should be called the Disunited States of America as the results of  the November 8 election illustrate, One half of the country is wondering how the other half could have voted for Donald Trump. The rest of the world can only look on in dismay as I did. Now, after a few days I am able to channel my dismay and offer a few remarks.

All of us had better get used to saying, "President Trump." The unimaginable has happened! And as a result, we also need to get used to talking about "The Disunited States of America." The USA is no more, it seems, except on paper.

On November 8, 2016, a new country called the Disunited States of America was born. It is not official yet, but is already a reality. This new country has had a long gestation period. Election Day 2016 was the delivery date. The birth of  the Disunited States of America was inevitable after what has happened in the last few decades but even more the last few years with Trump's victory. He will be the first president of that new country.

Several questions might be asked, however: How long this new country will survive? Is it possible to bring back the old? Unfortunately, these questions are too big to answer now. At the moment, I merely want to look at what we can learn from the aftermath of November 8 about the disunity that exists in America,.

"Disunite" is in the dictionary. When used transitively, it means to cause disagreement or alienation among or within, or to separate, sever, or split; used intransitively. it means to disintegrate;or to come apart. Both uses are possible in this case.

"The Disunited States of America" is also the title of an alternative-reality novel, The country it envisions is one where the different American states never united and went to war with each other. This is not the reality we have known for so long. This name, however, strikes  me as highly appropriate.for what is currently happening. The election of Donald Trump is an expression of that disunity.

The dissolution of the United States is a possibility that many people have discussed in the past. Yet most people are frightened by that idea, The American Civil War was fought to stop such a breakup. What will happen if California secedes, as some people there are now threatening to do? But what is happening today is different from what happened a century and a half ago.

What prompts today's disunity is not expressed in the divisions that exist between the various states that were illustrated aptly on the electoral map that evening, but the divisions that exist within the entire\populace. These divisions have existed for a long time, but they have never been as visible as now. That is why, after November 8, I suggest that the United States of America be renamed the Disunited States of America.

In my admittedly limited experience, the polarization in the USA has never been greater. An entire nation, as well as many people all over the world, were stunned by the results of the presidential election. Half the nation is elated and a slightly larger number are depressed. It is important to understand that this is not normal. In any election, of course, there are winners and losers.. But what is happening before our eyes is not typical of  bare-knuckle politics. Something extraordinary is happening: something much more nefarious and dangerous.

The idea of America as politically polarized -- that there is an unbridgeable divide between right and left, red and blue states -- has become a cliché. What we must realize, however, is that the increasing polarization in recent decades has been closely accompanied by fundamental social and economic changes -- most notably, a parallel rise in income inequality. This phenomenon has been noted in many other countries as well.

As a result, in countries all over the globe and not only in the US, many political parties have moved right, away from re-distributive policies that would reduce income inequality. Economic inequality has fed directly into political polarization, and polarization in turn creates policies that further increase inequality. This has become a vicious circle. In America the result has been catastrophic.

Donald Trump capitalized on the growing inequality and won the election as a result. People who wanted change flocked to him. His racist, sexist remarks and his misogynistic behavior added to his appeal. They hate Obama because of his race and his policies, especially Obama Care.

Also, people did not want to vote for a .woman candidate. As the consummate insider, Hilary Clinton represented the powerful elite who did not want change. Above all, she was a woman and carried a lot of political baggage, not least her alleged untrustworthiness.. Clinton would not be able to bring about real change, not the spurious changes Trump trumpeted.

Bernie Sanders, even though he represents the far left in American politics, might have been a better choice for the Democrats. His program also advocated change, and thus addressed the concern of many young people in particular. I doubt, however, that he would have attracted much support from the "angry white men" who form Trump's core constituency.

America faces many serious problems: a costly and cruel healthcare system, an energy system that contributes to damaging climate change, and an incoherent immigration system. None of these problems can be solved or even significantly ameliorated under the present setup.

Trump was the advocate of change. He promised to undo Obama Care, build a wall on the border with Mexico.. He also denied the human factor in climate change and threatened to deport Muslims.. If Clinton had become president, the present setup would likely have continued unchanged, but she would not have adopted Trump's absurd policies. Those are not the changes that America needs.

Trump's vices seem to outnumber his virtues. He is a lot of things to many people., depending largely on their attitude to him. For those who oppose him, he is all the things that the media has repeatedly cited. How could this man be even considered for the presidency? He is a nightmare for many. Perhaps the world will wake up soon from this collective nightmare.

How does God enter into the picture? Some, even many, Christians (as well as other people of faith) blithely assume that God will bless America because they, as righteous people, have voted for certain politicians who agree with their supposedly biblical stance on issues, whether that be abortion, same-sex marriage, gun-control, immigration, and so on. These are all polarizing issues and have become more so since Trump appeared on the scene.

In Trump's case, what they overlooked is his un-Christian language and behavior. Trump has played the evangelical Christian card even more than his recent Republican predecessors. Holding up a Bible, as he has done on occasion, does not make him a Christian.

Not surprisingly, Trump's candidacy has served to polarize the American populace even more.  He used the popularizing issues for his own benefit. His election victory is the  result. Now the world shudders with the though of him taking office. He may be the least qualified presidential candidate of all time, as Obama has stated. His moral qualities are equally lacking.

Trump is a polarizing figure in his own right. People either love him or despise him. You cannot be neutral with regard to Trump. Those who love him were elated on November 8, while those who despised him were depressed when the evening was over.

These feelings are intense and will continue to be for a long time. The division runs so deep that I have renamed America "The Disunited States." In a previous post, I suggested that all people of faith pray for the election, praying in particular for peace and reconciliation. No doubt, many people did any way.

Thankfully, there was peace for the most part during the election itself. But the intensity of the feelings involved was evident already when many protesters in America's largest cities holding signs with the slogan, "Trump is not my president."

Since I am a Canadian, he is not my president either, but he is the president of my daughter and her family who are Americans. In my house, many of us had a sleepless night as we watched the election results. Admittedly, Clinton was a terrible candidate. This judgment has nothing to do with her being a woman. I too had hoped that the greatest glass ceiling of all in America had finally been shattered. That did not happen, not yet.

Out of 330 million Americans, surely two people could have been found to be the standard bearers for the two major parties. Would God bless America because of these two candidates. Hardly! Both are less than the best. America needs the best!

I don't want to list the shortcomings of each of them. That they already did for each other, and the media finished the hatchet job. Future presidential campaigns must never be allowed to descend to such depths again. The office of president is the most dignified one in the country, and the campaigns must demonstrate that.

What I suggest now are renewed prayers for all who were involved in this election. Special prayers are needed for Trump. Even if he himself does not fear God, we who do must pray for him, although not the way some Christians prayed that Obama would be removed from office and replaced by someone else. If we pray sincerely for the president, then we will not need to remain fearful for the next four years.

No doubt, some people may wish to go to sleep for a few years, somewhat like Rip Van Winkle did, But that is not possible. What we can and must do is pray for good leadership during the next presidential term. Then we will be able to get up every morning and great a new day. Obama promised that after a long sleepless night the sun would get up in the morning after the election, and it did.

Maybe the Disunited States of America.will become truly united again -- united in fact and not only in name. That is my earnest prayer. Please pray with me for unity. May God richly bless America!

Monday, November 7, 2016

A Call to Prayer for the Election



That is my advice as the USA stands on the eve of this momentous election.

Tomorrow is a BIG day!

Many people will be chosen for many offices all over the country.

But one office stands out -- the presidency.

My advice is unsolicited, I concede, but it comes with the best of intentions.

It is what God commands of all his children.

He invites everyone to pray,

And so do I.

I am a Canadian, thus I cannot vote in this crucial election.

What I can do is pray, as millions around the world are also doing.

People of faith everywhere are praying -- desperately praying!.

After all, what else can we do?

Most of us are helpless bystanders

What many of us say and do will not influence the results of the election.

But the results will influence every one of us.

All that most of us can do is implore God to save us.

Whether we are Americans or not, we must pray.

Americans alone can vote, but the rest of us cannot.

If you are an American, do so, but vote wisely.

Vote as God directs you.

First of all, even before you mark your ballot, pray!

And continue to pray afterwards too.

Pray also, if you have already voted.

Join millions of others around the world who are praying for this election.

Never, in my seventy-plus years, have I witnessed such an election campaign.

Nor have most people in the world.

I don't want to describe that campaign.

It has been disgusting!

I understand how difficult this election is for many Americans.

The choices seem terrible, especially for the presidency.

That is why it so important to pray.

Pray for God's guidance as you vote:

        for a peaceful election day,

       and for peace after the election.

Pray that the candidates and voters may accept the results.

Pray for healing for the country,

                           for all Americans,

                           for every person in every city, town, and village,

                           for reconciliation in marriages,

                                                        in families,

                                                       in churches

                                                       and among friends.

Pray for all those who have been elected or reelected.

Pray for peace in the world.

An, and if you can find the time, pray also for the rest of the world.

Since they are praying for you.

God bless America!