"Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, the command to love one’s enemies is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies."
THE REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
Anxious. Worried. Afraid, even. On the day after.
That’s how I feel about the 2016 presidential election, the outcome of which is finally, finally determined. The votes are in after a never-ending campaign of more than 600 days, a race more closely examined, critiqued, and handicapped than ever before in history, courtesy of our voracious 24/7 news cycle and our social media addiction. The ballots are counted. One candidate won. The other candidate went down in defeat.
Thank God, that it’s the day after.
Though I wish I could feel more relieved somehow, able to breathe more deeply somehow, now that the days, weeks and months of being on edge about the election are over. Never before in my life as a voter, citizen and person of faith have I witnessed or experienced higher levels of angst and fear in myself and my neighbors, than in this campaign. Never before have I seen America so sharply divided, one from another: by race, class, religion, education, political party, family status, and geography. The quaint notion of “the loyal opposition,” whereby folks on opposite sides of a political fight agree to honor basic levels of civility and respect: that was utterly destroyed in this election.
In 2016, a clear majority of both Democrats and Republicans: each sees the other as “the enemy.” There’s no other way to put it, or sugarcoat this reality. A June 2016 Pew Research Center study, based upon a poll of 4,385 adults, reports that “majorities in both parties express not just unfavorable but very unfavorable views of the other party. … 70 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Republicans say they are afraid of the other party. Seventy percent of Democrats say that Republicans are more closed-minded than other Americans. [Republicans] say Democrats are more immoral (47 percent), lazier (46 percent) and more dishonest (45 percent).”
So if we thought the days before Nov. 8 were hard, think again. Now the real civic and communal work begins: the challenge of somehow uniting our country on Nov. 9, and in the days ahead. The art of campaigning and the art of governing are polar opposites. We’ve had our partisan “fun” at tearing down the people on the other side of the political divide. On this day, amidst piles of red, white and blue confetti and deflated balloons, collated ballots and discarded lawn signs: now comes the most difficult of tasks.
To begin to rebuild community on the day after.
And yes I’m crazy enough to actually believe that this is still possible, because the alternative, of chronically labeling “the other” as wrongheaded or ill informed or backward or just un-American: it’s too depressing to face. Too scary. As Benjamin Franklin once said about the fractured state of his United States of America, in his time, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
For “day after” wisdom I turn to the teachings of the one who founded my faith tradition, whose work on earth 2,000 years ago absolutely evoked a lot of anger and hostility from many of those he encountered, “the enemy.” His teaching was clear and courageous. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you … Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Radical? Yes. Pollyannaish, naive, impossible? No.
To love the “the enemy” begins when we are able to see “them” as a fellow human being and American, to admit that “they” are much more like us than we might conclude. Like us, they wrestle to tame their fears and they struggle to hope for a better tomorrow for themselves and their loved ones. To love the other requires that we actively engage with “them”: talk with them, listen to them, and seek to understand just what it is that makes them tick. Call it holy empathy, having the moral imagination to envision what life is really like for someone else. To love our adversary demands wide open and generous grace: civility, manners, politeness, and kindness. To love our opponent we need to let go of self-righteousness, the smug conviction that we are absolutely right and that they are absolutely wrong.
The day after is today.
May God help us all as citizens and neighbors begin the task of reconciliation and heed Reverend King’s prophetic warning. If we are to survive as a people and a nation, the command to love “the enemy” is an absolute necessity.
Let’s get to work.
The Rev. John F. Hudson is senior pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn. He can be reached at email@example.com.