This weekend, I was at a meeting of a body of Episcopal lay and ordained leaders of the Diocese. As there were several new members, we had just spent some time talking about group norms and the need to speak up and say “ouch” when someone in the group says something that we find hurtful. The group leader had then begun discussing the pastoral needs of those who are upset over the results of the recent election.
A member of the group raised his hand and said, “I need to say ouch.” The leader yielded, and the council member went on. He said that the rector of his parish had sent out a pastoral letter to the entire congregation the morning after the election, offering comfort to those who were distraught and hope that we would get through the difficult days ahead. The council member said, “I have been in the church a long time, through a lot of elections, and I don’t ever recall my pastor feeling the need to publicly comfort those who were traumatized because their candidate had lost.” He acknowledged that his rector had certainly been acting out of good intentions, but that it was hurtful to this man, who had voted for Mr. Trump, to have the election results treated as a national tragedy requiring public grief-counseling. And hurtful for the rector to assume that every member of the congregation felt the same way.
It is treated as a truism that our nation is deeply polarized, although I believe it is an open question whether we are more polarized than at other times in our history, or even whether sharp differences in worldview are necessarily a bad thing for society. Polarization does mean, however, that we tend to sort ourselves into groups that seem to believe as we do, and even restrict our sources of news and knowledge to those that seem to reinforce our own worldview. We move more and more into bubbles and echo chambers, and convince ourselves that our bubbles and echo chambers represent the whole world. Or the whole church.
The fact is, our congregations are far more diverse politically than we like to pretend, and this is a very good thing. The Episcopal Church may be a “progressive” denomination, and our parishes may be “liberal” congregations, but that does not mean that we all think the same way or vote the same way. Of course, we wouldn’t really want to march in lockstep, but it does mean that we are called to live as brothers and sisters with people whose votes cancel ours out, or who support a man or a woman or a policy that we find appalling and unredeemable.
We know this when we are thinking about it, but it is very easy when we are in a group of people who are “like us” to assume that we all think and vote the same way. To assume that everyone who is “like us” rejoices and grieves over the same results that we do. To assume that our own conscience is the norm and the benchmark of right-thinking people, and that those who disagree with us must not be intelligent enough to understand the question, or must be motivated by greed or racism or elitism or jealousy. We are thrown off-balance by the idea that someone whom we think is just like us might look out at the same world and see something entirely different than what we see, because it means that our way is not the only way of seeing.
God did not create political parties, and does not bless one side of an election more than the other. God created human beings in vast variety, and then exposed us to a huge variety of experience, so that we each come to important decisions with different eyes and ears and stories. I believe that God hopes for us to listen and see that variety, to marvel at the ways that others are unlike us and yet still children of God. God does not create us to live in bubbles.