The end result is reconciliation, but we can’t race to the end goal without going through some necessary and painful steps of our own. Waking up to find that the national narrative had changed overnight threw many people into deep grief at the loss of the America they thought they knew.
By the Rev. Elizabeth W. Tomlinson
In the wake of the presidential election, we are faced with two daunting questions. What are our responsibilities as practicing Christians living into our baptismal vows? And what are our responsibilities as patriotic Americans?
During the course of the campaign, our President-elect Donald Trump jettisoned the idea of being “politically correct.” In doing so, he removed the social constraints that encourage us to be civil to one another and to be sensitive and polite to each other. Those were the constraints that have been carefully crafted over decades to make it possible for wildly different people to live in peace with one another. The social pressure to be “politically correct” meant that all people could live and move and have their being with a certain sense of safety. On November 9, we woke to discover that we were living in an America very different from the one we had said “goodnight” to the previous evening.
The rhetoric of the President-elect legitimized hateful speech and broadcast cruelty on the national airwaves. He made it OK for people to “rough up” a protester in their midst. He made it OK for anyone to say whatever ugly thing they pleased under the rationale of “just saying what’s really on my mind” and “telling it like it is.” He made it OK to make fun of a handicapped man.
My 33-year-old son, Graham, is a handicapped man. He’s mute and autistic. It’s obvious just to look at him that he’s quite special. He can’t speak, but he is plenty smart and he has feelings. He’s seen the video clip. I’ve always taken Graham with me as often as I can and wherever I can, but I am now concerned about whether or not that is safe. I have no idea who might feel uncomfortable around him, and now it seems that constraints have been lifted to allow anyone to voice their discomfort by saying something ugly to him or to me.
The election results validated the campaign rhetoric. All bets are now off. It’s open season on any demographic that someone wants to single out, ridicule, exclude, or demean. Our President-elect has shown us that this kind of activity is acceptable. Those who voted for him might never do or say any of these things themselves, but none of these things were deal-breakers for them. However, there is a portion of our population that does endorse white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia, bigotry, cruelty and intolerance of many kinds. Because of President-elect Trump’s rhetoric, his election has legitimized their beliefs. That is a truly frightening and dangerous fact that cannot and should not be ignored. The day after the election, many of us woke up to find out that the national narrative had been changed and we are no longer living in the America we thought we were living in.
It was a jolt. It was jarring. And many of us are still reeling. The election revealed a very deep divide in our country that has gone unnoticed and unresolved for decades—perhaps centuries. We seem still to be locked in a struggle of deciding the basic values of our nation. That these deep divisions are now open and out in plain view may be a good thing. As long as they are invisible, we do not and cannot address them. The only way a wound can heal is if it is cleansed when it is open. And the national wound is now open.
Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
As Christians, we survey this wounded terrain and we are called to respond. Of course, the end result is reconciliation, but we can’t race to the end goal without first going through some necessary and painful steps of our own. Waking up to find that the national narrative had changed overnight threw many people into deep grief at the loss of the America they thought they knew. Any sudden and dramatic loss will create a deep, abiding grief.
The protests after the election had little to do with “my candidate didn’t win.” For most, they were an expression of deep pain and sense of loss of a familiar America and the passionate desire to repudiate the new American narrative. In effect, the protesters were saying, “This is not who we are!” These feelings run deep and need to be allowed to be expressed. Grief runs its own indescribable, unpredictable course and it’s a mistake to ignore or rush the grief process. It’s a mistake to push it underground. It will not go away until it’s adequately processed.
As Christians, we need to proceed intentionally and deliberately. It’s important for us to acknowledge our own sense of grief before we begin the hard work of reconciliation. It’s also important for us to listen intently to our fellow citizens who chose our new president. There are multiple reasons why someone voted the way they did. It’s a mistake to paint with a wide brush all those who put President-elect Donald Trump in the White House. But, we can’t listen with open hearts and open minds until we first attend to healing our own wounds.
For We Walk by Faith, Not by Sight
And as we move toward reconciliation, we need to keep in mind our own Baptismal Vows. As Christians, those vows are sacrosanct and take precedence over any other values we hold. We have taken vows to persevere in resisting evil and repent when we fall into sin; to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; to seek and serve Christ in all persons; to love our neighbors as ourselves; to strive for justice and peace among all people; and to respect the dignity of every human being.
As the weeks and months unfold, we will be called upon to heal the wounds that divide us and to seek unity as Americans. We will begin the long and arduous work of reconciliation. As we do so, we need to remember that as Christians, we cannot reconcile with forces that require us to abandon our baptismal vows. We must prayerfully consider what we are able to do to reconcile, and where we must draw the line in order to remain faithful to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We have been offered a powerful and unique opportunity to bear witness to Jesus and to live out our faith in the midst of competing voices. We must continue prayerfully on the course that we have begun, resting always in the sure knowledge that God is in charge, that we walk with Jesus as best we can, and that the Holy Spirit will provide the right words and wisdom.
And first, we must allow ourselves to grieve. Jesus Christ will meet us there, too.
For that, thanks be to God.
Liz Tomlinson is the priest-in-charge of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Baileys Crossroads. Before her ordination in 2014, Liz was a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who worked as a psychotherapist in private practice in Manassas, Va. and taught social work at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
Photo: White House Candlelight Vigil by Laurie Shaull. Used under terms of Creative Commons license (CC-by-SS-2.0).