Text: Matthew 5:43-44 (“love your enemies”)
Jesus says we should love our enemies. So, I suppose this means I should love the U.S. President. As you may have noticed over the last four years, I’m not a fan.
Nor is it just President Trump. More than 70 million Americans voted for his re-election last week. Is Jesus trying to tell me that I should love them too?
More people – over 75 million — voted for Joe Biden in last week’s election, which is why Biden was declared President-elect yesterday. Still, 46% of the people who voted on or before November 3 cast a ballot for a person who has horrified me for four years with words and policies that strike me as racist, sexist, ignorant, authoritarian, illegal, deadly, and often just plain crazy.
Nor is it just the United States. A recent poll found that while most Canadians did not support the re-election of the current President, 22% did support him, including 40% of the people in Alberta.
Last week, a lot of people expressed dismay at the continued popularity of President Trump despite his failings, including the world’s worst record in the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, I hope that reflecting on Trump’s popularity might help us in the difficult work of loving our enemies.
One of the President’s perceived flaws is lying. The Washington Post has recorded more than 20,000 lies he has uttered in the past four years, which makes him a strong contender for the least honest person in world history.
Nevertheless, others are drawn to the President for his authenticity and straight talk. To try and puzzle through this contradiction, I look at two social issues — the pandemic and climate change.
Trump denies the reality of both. But given the poor record of so many leaders who say they believe in science related to these two issues, I can see the appeal of a leader like Trump who doesn’t even try to handle them.
If we believe a leader is scolding us for not wearing masks to prevent COVID or not cutting down on our use of fuel to prevent climate change, we might feel resentment if we intuit they have no realistic plan to solve these issues.
I am confident that COVID-19 can be contained because so many countries have now done so, including Taiwan, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, South Korea, Niger, Chad, Rwanda, and New Zealand. But I am not confident in the approach taken by Canadian governments. Nor do I see them adopting best practices from countries in Africa, East Asia, and the South Pacific. This is not to say I will stop wearing a mask. But I can understand resentment in the Americas and Europe as a second wave of infection becomes a third wave and no realistic plan seems to be evident. Until one appears, some decide it might be better to just give up.
Something similar is evident with the more challenging issue of climate change. Until competent leadership arises, I can understand people feeling resentment when they are scolded for “too much meat consumption,” or “too many jet plane flights.” None of us want the world to become so hot as to be no longer habitable. But we also intuit the solution does not lie in individual behaviour. So, until leadership that can effect worldwide social and economic change appears, some decide it might be better to just give up.
When leaders offer more talk than action, others who urge us to give up the struggle may appear more honest or authentic.
Our so-called enemies provide a mirror into our own fears, desires, and shortcomings. The current President offers no way out, in my opinion, for the pandemic or climate change. But the resonance his “do-nothing” attitude has with many people highlights how we need leaders who don’t only talk about an issue, but actually devise and implement plans that work.
Among other things, I see voting for Trump as a racist act. But one of the things I have learned during this year of massive social protests against racism is that everyone in this broken world regardless of skin colour is prone to racist ideas and behaviors. Only by conscious and collective effort can we can learn to speak and act in anti-racist ways.
I may find it easy to love the people who voted for Biden last week. But I can also imagine doing the work to be able to love the people who voted for Trump. On both sides, people are bedeviled by issues like racism, the pandemic, and climate change. They don’t agree on what to do about them. But everyone has reasons to feel the way they do. And it will take deep listening, learning, and radical action to successfully tackle these issues together.
From the 40% of people in Alberta and the 46% in the States who support Trump and whom I might mislabel as enemies, I can gain insight into how damaged we all are by spiritual, social, and political structures that allow epidemics to become pandemics, environmental destruction to unfold decade after decade, and racial injustice to fester for hundreds of years.
From the 60% of people in Alberta and the 54% in the States who prefer Biden, I can learn how difficult it can be to come up with words, plans, and actions that might actually make a difference in areas like public health, racial justice, or environmental protection.
This has been a challenging year for most of us. So, I am encouraged by the high level of engagement evident in last week’s American elections, even as I am dismayed by the enmity, mutual misunderstanding, and gridlock also evident.
I pray that the spirit of hope and joy unleashed yesterday by the announcement that Joe Biden is the US President-elect can be channeled by governments, faith communities, and families to find the deep levels at which solutions might arise, ones that are congruent with the Way of the Crucified One who urges us to love our enemies.
On Wednesday as we remember war and sacrifice, may we also remember how the death of Jesus and the resurrection of the inner Christ reveals our connection to all people – friends and enemies alike — and to the reality that we already have everything we need to heal not only the soul of a nation, but the soul of humanity.
May it be so. Amen.