The election is over and the other side won. Now what?
This has been a contentious election cycle. Not as contentious as the duels fought over politics in the early 1800s or the beating that Representative Preston Brooks gave Senator Charles Sumner in the Senate chamber in 1856, but it hasn't been an easy year. I'm a political scientist and as the election neared I could feel myself getting irritable and losing perspective. It seemed critical that everyone understand why voting my way would be best for the country.
But perspective is important, and now that the race is over I have my head back on straight. Even if your presidential candidate didn’t win, here are three things that can encourage you to move on as a Christian citizen.
First, Christ is King. The ecumenical group sponsoring the Election Day Communion campaign challenges us to remember that the real power in the world, “the power to save, to transform, to change - ultimately rests not in political parties or presidents or protests but in the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus.” Over 600 Christian communities around the country gathered on Election Day to pray for government and to encourage unity in Christ despite political difference. Our loyalty must be to Christ, not to a political candidate. Christ will heal the world.
Second, citizenship is in part about voting and political office, but it is more deeply related to how we live together despite our differences. We can be faithful citizens in a variety of ways, no matter who is in office. The everyday actions that we take related to where and how we shop, whom we employ and how we treat those who work for us can have a cumulative dramatic impact on the lives of others. When we are attentive to how we invest our money, what kind of neighbors we are and how we use resources, we then make a difference in the lives of those who struggle.
Third, there is beauty in the political system designed by James Madison and others. It is true that one candidate may seem to us to be more on the side of angels than another, but our system was designed not for efficiency but for gridlock. The very structure of our government makes it extremely difficult for any candidate or political party to achieve goals. In the 1780s, Madison, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton wrote the Federalist Papers, a collection of 85 essays designed to persuade people to ratify the United States Constitution. They explained that their system of checks and balances was necessary because “men are not angels” and “enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”
There is significant debate about whether the framers of the Constitution were Christians, but whatever one’s perspective on this issue, their view of what it means to be human is reflective of a number of Christian traditions, including the Calvinist one. The framers argued that the structure of government had to disperse power; otherwise, concentrated power would allow majorities to dominate smaller groups. Separation of powers, federalism and representation were all ways in which power was broken up, making it harder for public policy to be achieved. Because power was broken up, groups had to compromise in order to get things done.
Much has been made about the divisiveness of our current political culture, but emphasizing the divisiveness obscures compromise that actually has occurred. Bipartisanship can be tricky to calculate, but even in the last several months Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate were able to work together on significant legislation. No single party has the ability to achieve great change without the other. All voices in Congress, the executive branch and the judicial branch are needed as we talk together about the rules that bind us. Moreover, state and local politics can have an even greater impact on the lives of those around us.
Several of my candidates lost in the 2012 elections, but I cannot be cynical or even sad about our political environment. I think that citizenship and political life give us great room to express our faithfulness to God in a wide variety of ways. Now that the election is over, let’s recommit ourselves to thinking through how God requires us to act for justice in a broken but redeemed world.