Being the Church after a Presidential Election
By Bishop Ann Svennungsen
What happens after an election — especially one as divisive as this? What is the role of the church? The synod? The congregation?
As in all elections, there are winners and losers. Most of us learned as children about the appropriate responses to such events. After losing the state basketball championship or winning the student council election, we were told, “Don’t gloat, be humble and gracious, show respect for the opponent, and learn from the experience.”
These attributes may be most needed — and most difficult to achieve — after an election like this. The counties included in the Minneapolis Area Synod exemplify the competitiveness of the presidential race:
- Anoka County voted 50.7% Trump and 41% Clinton
- Carver County voted 52.7% Trump and 39% Clinton
- Hennepin County voted 28.5% Trump and 63.8% Clinton
- Isanti County voted 65.3% Trump and 27.1% Clinton
- Scott County voted 53.7% Trump and 38.3% Clinton
- Sherburne County voted 64.8% Trump and 27.7% Clinton
- Wright County voted 62.6% Trump and 29.4% Clinton
Perhaps, Lutherans in our synod’s counties could play a leadership role in modeling grace and humility and working to rebuild relationships. What if members of 10 congregations in Anoka County met with members of 10 congregations in Hennepin County to reflect on how their Christian faith informed their vote? The Minneapolis Area Synod has a unique opportunity (and perhaps a calling) — as one whose counties were equally divided in the voting — to model and learn from respectful conversations.
Still, even before such conversations might happen, there is much we each can do. Whether it’s an election year or not, we are constantly asking ourselves how to live as faithful disciples. During these days, I invite you to enter deeply into God’s gifts to the church:
- Read a Gospel in one sitting.
- Read the Small Catechism (seriously, I re-read it last night in 30 minutes).
- Review the social statements approved by the ELCA in churchwide assemblies.
- Though our social statements do not have the same authority as Scripture or the Confessions (they can never be used as litmus tests for ELCA membership and they can always be amended at a future assembly); still they are statements approved by at least 2/3s of the ELCA voting members.
- Read about Luther’s thought on the role of government. In an article by George Forell (which will take longer than 30 minutes to read), Forell argues that at least four of Luther’s teachings speak as clearly and accurately to our time as they did to sixteenth-century Saxony:
- The proper concern of government is the earthly welfare of all.
- Christians as Christian citizens are called to support the government in its proper work, the promotion of the earthly welfare of all, to the best of their ability. The Lord will hold us no less responsible for our failure to use our political opportunities to serve the neighbor than for our failures to serve Christ in the neighbor in the more obvious forms of service mentioned in Matthew 25: “I was hungry and you gave me food…” This description covers practically every constructive political activity in which we might engage. It implies concern with education, health, immigration, and prison-reform.
- The government needs competent and well-educated people. Luther insisted that Christians ought to see to it that their children receive the education which will qualify them for competent government service. It is not enough to know how to complain about the failures of government; one must learn how to help. Luther said, “If you find that you are qualified, you should offer your services…that the essential governmental authority may not be despised and become enfeebled or perish. For the world cannot and dare not dispense with it.”
- Luther claimed that every criticism of our government should be understood as an implicit criticism of ourselves. This should teach us to begin the critical national self-examination with ourselves and work our way up, rather than to start with our leaders and never critically examine ourselves. Once we have understood this, a great deal more realism will enter our political thinking. Here, too, Luther is still a helpful guide.
We are in different places following the election. Some are ecstatic, while others feel great loss. The apostle Paul calls us to “weep with those who weep.” I hope we will be attentive to one another in this time. Remember, Paul does not call us to “fix those who weep” or “explain things to those who weep” or “point out all the good things to those who weep.” There will come a time for hope and joy, but the person weeping gets to set the pace and timing — not those of us who accompany them. It is in honesty and patience that healing comes.
If you like the idea of organizing conversations with ELCA congregations across the counties of our region and/or would like to help with that, please let us know. And please join me in prayer for each other, for our elected leaders, and for the welfare of all God’s creation.