Advice for Electiontide
Sara Miles, director of ministry and pastoral care at St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, sent this letter to parishioners this week.
It's no secret that there's a lot of time, energy, and money going into stirring up passions around this election. You've read the attacks on Barack Obama and his supporters, on Sarah Palin and John McCain. You've received or sent angry, rumor-filled emails. You've heard or told snarky, hostile jokes about the evils of the other side--whoever "the other side" is for you. You've sat there fuming reading the news or watching TV, and you may even have despaired about the general level of dishonesty, vitriol and division generated by campaigns and their supporters.
I want to ask you to pause and consider how our words and actions during this campaign are going to play out in the years to come. Anger-- especially anger that feels "righteous," when we're raging against injustice and the bad guys-- is addictive. It's hard to let go of. As someone who's lived in wars, during bitter political struggles, and also in post-conflict societies, I can tell you that anger flung around recklessly during a conflict poisons the water of civil society for a long time. And I see how carrying around rage and resentment hurts individuals personally. And as someone who considers herself a part of what we call the Body of Christ, I can tell you that it's impossible to hate a part of that Body without damaging the whole.
So I want to ask you, first, to take a deep breath and pray for your enemies.
Please notice that I'm not asking you to pray that your enemies will repent and see the error of their ways, or that they'll start doing what you think they should do, or that they'll be punished for their wrongdoings. I'm asking you to simply pray for them.
And then I want to ask you, if you feel that the stakes in this election are simply so high that you must do something, to, for God's sake, do something. And by that I don't mean watch more TV, or compulsively follow your favorite political blog. I don't mean forward a nasty email to your friends, or tell a hateful story about the other side to people who agree with you politically.
I mean act. Having a well-developed political opinion is very different than engaging in political action. I urge you to avoid the trap of "right thinking" and ideological purity, and instead to leave your home and your circle of like-minded friends. To get out there and work for your candidate or your cause, going door to door and talking with real live human beings, some of whom will be on the other side politically.
It's always easier to hate the other side when you only talk to people who agree with you. It's harder to demonize people when you have to look them in the face.
And looking people in the face, and honestly listening to what they say--even if you can't stand it---and working as hard as you can for what you believe is right, while praying for your enemies, is really the only way I can see out of the mess our country's in now. I know it's the only way I can escape my own bitterness and self-righteousness.
God willing, I'll be acting this fall. And each morning around eight, during Morning Prayer, I will be praying for all the candidates, and for the people of our country. Please join me.
Amen, and Amen.
(Hat tip to Episcopal Cafe)