Writing this on the eve of Election Day at the end of the home stretch of the most contentious and bizarre election season in my memory feels a bit like one of Jesus’ first followers trying to write a gospel on Thursday of passion week.
While most observers seem to point to a fair probability of the outcome of the presidential race, enough uncertainty is fed into the current to keep the contest alive and attended to by the spectator/participants.
Fewer people watch to the end of the game if the outcome is reasonably certain by the end of the third quarter.
There will be a flood of commentaries on the outcome, whatever it is; we will benefit from many of them as they will explore the implications of our experience and sow the seeds of perspectives for dealing with it.
At the risk of adding to an overcrowded menu of thoughts and words as we transition from pre- to post-election life, I have found myself thinking that the pressing ethical question is no longer “Who wins?” but “What do we do now?”
And this thought has led to an observation that for me has characterized the uniqueness of what we have experienced.
It seems that the past year and a half of our political life has been more an “upheaval” than a “crisis.”
A crisis can be anything from a flat tire on the way to an important appointment to a home invasion or a terrorist attack. It can be petty or catastrophic. A crisis calls for a response, immediate and specific, and focused directly toward its cause and consequences.
An upheaval is more the result of accumulated pressure, like that of a volcanic eruption.
Something has built up beneath the surface, perhaps unnoticed or at least unattended to, and it finally erupts and spreads its destructive power over an entire landscape, damaging or destroying any kind of normality in its path.
What we have witnessed in the recent months of this campaign season has been a buildup of pressure from a residue of unconscious or unacknowledged fear, resentment of circumstances that have been frustrating to economic well-being, anger at the perception of being ignored by people with power, racism and other-phobias.
This pressure has been intensified by manufactured narratives that have plugged into the emotion beneath the surface and brought it into the open.
The result has been an upheaval of hostility that has changed the entire political process from one of reasonable deliberation and commitment in seeking the collaborative goal of common good to a fierce rhetorical war where truth and accuracy of information have mattered less than efforts to gain political points.
Whatever the outcome of the election, the lava from this eruption will most likely continue to flow over our political landscape, with significant impact on the structures and systems by which we have attempted to govern ourselves.
Some will no doubt attempt to direct its flow onto opposing points of view in an effort to eliminate their possible effect on anything. Others will attempt to flee its path and head to higher ground to escape its damage.
People of faith have another option, and perhaps another responsibility.
Like the disciples in John 9 who asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” – we may need to be directed to a different question.
We should not be asking, “Whose sin caused this fix we’re in?” but rather, “What can we, with the promise and help of God’s presence in our life, do now in response to it?”
It is abundantly clear that people of faith have been on both sides of our current partisan divide.
It is also pretty clear that we are now called to respond to a new question and to embrace the possibility of a community that values the common life we all share more than we value the words and ideas that have been “weaponized” in the long campaign.
The infections in our culture that the upheaval has exposed need a faith response that has been transformed from partisan loyalty to inclusive redemptiveness.
A counselor friend observes that in relational counseling a key objective is to try to get the parties involved to value the relationship more than they value the “rightness” of their particular perceptions and attitudes that brought them to seek help.
Maybe an application of that thought will find its way into our collective life at all levels as we transition to this next stage of our national journey. Let’s hope.
Colin Harris is professor emeritus of religious studies at Mercer University and a member of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia.