As we draw closer to the 2016 election, tensions seem to escalate. I am told that here in Greene County, Missouri there will be armed security at every polling place this year, the first time this has happened. Police officers and Sheriff’s deputies will be present at the schools, churches, and other locations where we will vote, just in case.
Just in case … what, exactly? Just in case what? What country do we live in, again?
There surely have been some elections in our history that were this antagonistic, this bitter, this confrontational. Maybe 1968. But I sure don’t remember them in my lifetime. Good, honest disagreement - yes. Rigorous debate - yes. But this? This is scary.
But here’s the thing. I don’t believe our nation is divided; I think it is polarized.
To me, “divided” implies a split between two groups, in which every member of each group shares a common perspective.
To me, the term “polarized” implies a convergence of energy at two extremes, with a large diverse group in between.
I think we are polarized. The loudest voices are on the far edges, and they are getting all the attention. The poles of our society have been empowered in this season, and they are flexing. Hateful language, vilification of political opponents, physically violent confrontations, willful ignorance, an attitude of invincibility - all coming from the poles.
Meanwhile, most of us in the middle majority are able to see nuance and subtlety, to be “conservative” in some areas and “liberal” in others, to hold multiple ideas in our minds simultaneously. The middle majority sees shades of gray rather than a black or white dichotomy. But the middle majority doesn’t get a lot of press. We aren’t newsworthy.
In this election season there aren’t very many candidates at any level who come from this middle majority. Thanks in part to dramatic redistricting in the last few years, politicians often do not have to worry about representing an ideologically diverse group of people. They can shift to the poles without fear, and they have.
The question is then, How can the Church best embody the Gospel in this polarized environment? In many ways the polarization of our society has infiltrated the church itself. We are, after all, people. The church is just the people who are a part of the society, and prone to the same social forces that impact the greater whole.
A truly counter-cultural way of being would be to drain energy from the poles and into the center. That means each of us being okay with the idea that others may not see the world the same way you do.
This means rising above the rhetoric that vilifies a candidate, even a candidate with whom you do not see eye-to-eye on anything.
This means naming and resisting corruption, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves, including the systemic injustices embedded in our systems and structures, without attacking people on a personal level.
This means speaking up for all those whose voices have been lost in the cacophony of the 2016 campaign.
This means disagreeing without hating, arguing without yelling, debating without belittling.
If we might model this way of being, Church, things might end up being okay after all. And I’m afraid that if the Church can’t do it, then no one can. The Church is uniquely structured to be just what our polarized world needs at such a time as this. Now if we can only figure out how to actually be what we’re supposed to be!