For some people, elections bring joy or relief; for others, they bring grief and loss. A strong faith in Christ’s promises helped me to offer pastoring as grief counseling in the aftermath of the election.
When the sabbath was over…they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” ~ Mark 16:1-3
There was an election this week in the United States of America. You may have liked the outcome, or not. Regardless, citizens of our country are entitled to our opinions, and, hopefully, our votes. At the end of it all, though, everyone will be affected by an election’s outcome. On the evening of the election (or early the next morning, actually). I pondered the outcome, went to bed, prayed for our nation, woke up the next morning, and went to Yale Divinity School for classes. I was strangely at peace as I went to school, feeling very much in God’s hands.
The aftermath of lost hope
When I got to school, though, I could see immediately why God may have prepared me for this day with peace in my heart. YDS is a highly diverse school – which means, people from all faiths, races, and identities, from all over the nation and far beyond our nation, with a wide range of faith outlooks. Almost to a person, these people were in deep shock, grief, and mourning.
I have not witnessed personally such an immediate and heart-rending public reaction to a major event in many, many years. My mind went to the Easter morning scene in Mark’s gospel, when the women who followed Jesus wondered how they would roll away the stone of his grave. They had no sense that God could overcome the grief that they bore from Jesus’ crucifixion.
People were holding one another in tears everywhere, or sitting quietly and trying to talk out their grief. Classes were somber, and very difficult for almost all of the students present, as well as the faculty, but we all pushed forward. The daily worship service in Marquand Chapel was a prayer service, focused on the struggle of indigenous Americans to resist an oil pipeline through the Standing Rock reservation on the Missouri River in the Dakotas. People participating in the service sat cross-legged as we offered up our prayers and songs, and tried to center themselves on God’s greater plan for humanity in creation.
Election grief counseling
Before and after chapel, I found myself consoling and counseling many people. I was in a place of deep compassion, of peace, and, to a certain degree, detachment from their losses, because I felt that I had found something strong in the middle of this major event, and I was able to offer that strength to them.
By turning to Christ in my prayers, I found that it was Christ who was present for them, and that whatever wisdom or comfort I could offer them was from the other side of resurrection light. A refrain from one of my favorite hymns kept rolling through my head, and so I posted it on my Facebook stream: “On Christ the solid rock I stand/All other ground is sinking sand/all other ground is sinking sand.”
My words of consolation and counseling were generally fairly similar: “There is hope.” “It’s going to be OK.” And, sometimes, reminders of the elections that I have lived through that didn’t turn out the way that I thought that they would or should, and that the nation found a way forward. Occasionally, I would also share stories of my ancestors from Alabama who fought for economic rights and voting rights. “Change is hard, it takes time, it takes patience.” That was not what some people wanted to hear, but it is perhaps what they needed to hear, with a large dose of love and understanding.
The dangers of politics in faith
I think that part of what allowed me to take this important pastoral role at this time was my attitude towards the combination of politics and faith. In short, I think that my hymn’s refain says it all – if your heart is not set first and foremost on salvation in Jesus Christ, it is far too easy for some people to get their hopes set on the politics of this world as the main vehicle for realizing the kingdom of heaven on earth. If I think back to some of the movements of the 20th century that involved clergy, from a kingdom perspective they seemed to work most powerfully when they were faith movements first and foremost. When they became political movements endorsed by faith leaders, then things did not work out as well.
This is not to say that our churches should not take sanctified stances on the issues of the day, or that I do not have my own political beliefs. But to me, I see history as proof that those who rely on a pure faith in Christ first and foremost, can approach this world’s politics with a much more pure and serene heart. Who we are in Christ must come first and foremost: who we are as Democrats, Republicans, Independents, people of a certain race, social class or gender orientation – if we make any of these our primary identity, then we make ourselves untrue to God. Either we want first and foremost to be children of God, or we don’t. For the person who we think threatens our identity the most may just turn out to be the one who helps us to find it in Christ. It is in being Christ-like that we find our true identity, our true uniqueness.
The dangers of politics without faith
On the other hand, if we think that we should never bring our faith into our public politics, we are not true to our faith. Jesus confronted the authorities with the truth of God’s kingdom, even to death on a cross. He did it with love, and his only identity that he put forward was Son of God. We cannot cloak our causes in the flag of Christ, nor can we cloak our churches in the flags of our pet causes. Faith is not about the church making us right, it is about bringing God’s righteousness that has consumed us into the world.
How we do this makes all the difference. We must be willing to be nothing more than a child of God in our public appearance as Christians. We must be willing to lose our worldly identity in politics in order that the world might be saved just a little bit more through Christ. That doesn’t mean “Jesus plus nothing” or other corruptions of what Christian obedience means in the public realm. It means bringing our deepest faith in the truth and the life of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ into every choice that we make in politics. Is there compromise required in politics? Of course. But how we provide the name of Christ in revealing our faith in the outcome of those compromises, no matter what, matters greatly.
Pray for those who need healing – no matter who they are
So to my dear friends at school who are still grieving, I pray that you will be consoled and healed fully by the love of God available to all people who seek salvation through our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. I pray that you will surround yourself with people who will help you to find that healing. I pray that you will look into your hearts, find where God is wanting to touch it, and to do everything you can to allow that to happen, even, and, perhaps, especially, confessing to God where your false expectations may have led you astray. And most especially, I pray that in God’s time, you will find it in your heart to pray for people who had a different opinion of what should have happened in this election. They, too, are children of God in need of grace, and they, too, may come to be people who help you and others to help our nation to move forward in healing and hope to a better future – perhaps even a future that God has in mind to be our way of life. Let is hope and pray that this shall be so.