09 November 2016

The Gospel Call to Make Neighbors of "the Other": A Post-Election Reflection and Prayer

As we move into this new period with President-Elect Trump I have to say I am surprised, even stunned by the results of this election. Throughout Trump's campaign I watched people being turned on by rhetoric which appealed to and perhaps exploited the very worst impulses and motives dwelling within the very darkest recesses of our hearts and minds. They are the very worst and darkest impulses of the world we occupy as well.

One of these, and one of the most fundamental, is the impulse to reject "the other", to be frightened by those who do not think or believe or look like we do, to resent and denigrate and isolate them and ourselves. Donald Trump quite clearly and carefully tapped into that fear. He demonized folks who, for instance (just one scenario), those living in the city may meet regularly (and may or may not have genuinely accepted), but who those in the rural areas may never have met face to face, much less sat down next to in a restaurant or dined with at their own table. Trump touched into our often poorly-hidden fear, anger, insecurity and even hatred and captured the minds and hearts of those who felt entirely disenfranchised by the "other" of many different stripes. In these ways Trump capitalized on some of the motives and emotions that can and do drive us as human beings to choose that which is unworthy us --- unworthy of authentic humanity --- and it propelled him to a win in this election. And this stuns me.

And yet, the NT tells me I should not be so surprised; there is nothing particularly new or surprising in all of this. After all, the Christian mission to proclaim the Gospel to the world is also a mandate to make neighbors of "the other." That stance and charge is only meaningful in a world marked and marred by the kinds of attitudes and divisions Donald Trump expressed and exploited in his campaign. Jesus' mission was a countercultural way to approach reality in the first century and it remains a countercultural reality whose very antithesis has apparently assumed an almost institutional validity in the United States presidential election. But for Christians this task to make neighbors of the other, to call one another "Friend" in the performative , reality-making way such words of love change reality, to love as we have been loved by a God who excludes no one and who offers us citizenship in a Kingdom greater than anything we can conceive of --- this task has become a very much more critical and difficult mission. And yet, to act towards "the other" as Jesus and his Father have called us remains the mission of Jesus Christ and the heart of a ministry of reconciliation rooted in unconditional and unmerited love offered freely to and through us. "Love one another as I have loved you" is quintessentially a call to make neighbors, fellow citizens, and friends of those who were "the other" and had no legitimate place --- whether that means in God's own life or in the world we who have been made God's own inhabit.

I am frightened right now even though I know that faith casts out fear. I am concerned, even worried though the Scriptures tell me not to be anxious. I am struggling to remain hopeful for the coming of the Kingdom --- a new heaven and a new Earth where justice is realized ---- though the reasons for hoping in the goodness and generosity of many Americans has been eroded and this new President seems to promise a "scorched earth" policy and an ethics of vengeance to anyone he deems an "other" because they don't think, speak, act or believe as he does. I am chastened because I believe in radical conversion of heart and mind even as I look at our new president elect and I think, "God forgive me, but he has shown himself to be a pathetic and unprincipled human being throughout his life and this campaign; I don't believe he will change now."

But the larger truth is that my faith does not rest on the outcome of this election, nor is my hope for a new heaven and a new earth doomed or even critically threatened by it. So yes, the task to make neighbors and friends of "the other" and to support others who have given their lives to apostolic work given over to this is made a little more challenging --- and also more urgent. And in spite of my fear I accept that challenge and know MANY others who will do the same. My commitment to a Love that does justice is also made more challenging and more urgent. And in spite of my anxiety, that too is a challenge I accept and a commitment I renew today. My share in the proclamation of a Gospel that reminds us we are all outsiders, all aliens who have been brought into the very life of God through the death and resurrection of a convicted criminal (this election campaign is not the only time we have heard a crowd of fanatics shout for the execution of someone they did not actually know or were bent on vilifying!) and a baptism we neither earned nor merited --- that proclamation has become infinitely more critical I think. I sincerely hope and pray, therefore, that I will be seeing many blogs, homilies, essays, and talks from other religious and religious leaders who remind all of us who call ourselves "Christian" of the Gospel we proclaim --- the good news of a God who makes outsiders and their world his very own despite the sacrifice this entailed.

Again, "Love one another as I have loved you" is quintessentially a call to make neighbors, fellow citizens, and friends of those who are aliens, those who are the "other" and have no legitimate place or claim --- whether that means in God's own life or in the world we who have been made God's own inhabit. May our God help us to embrace this call at a time when our country and world has perhaps never needed us to do so with greater urgency.