Loving Thy Neighbor in an Election Year: An Impossible Task? – Grace Landrum

Tomorrow is the United States Presidential election. I am sure you already knew that, though. It’s hard to miss with the constant barrage of advertisements, the slew of social media posts, and lots of yard signage. I know for me personally, I feel a great sense of anxiety regarding tomorrow’s election results. Regardless of what side of the aisle you are on, I am sure you feel anxious too.

I have found myself reflecting on the intersection of politics and religion in the United States over the past few months. These are typically portrayed as some of the most polarizing topics to bring up in a casual conversation. I suppose that is because we are so often entrenched in our views and cannot possibly imagine finding common ground with individuals who have different views than our own.

I can say with confidence that my experience with the CRGC fellowship thus far has proven that there is much common ground to be found among different religious groups. Politics, however, I am not so sure about. In a country that is increasingly polarized with political party values so diametrically opposed, I find myself truly unable to understand the views of the party which I am not a member of.

In the Christian faith, Jesus says “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. From our CRGC fellowship meetings, it has become apparent that the “Golden Rule” is a part of many religious traditions, not just Christianity. Yet, this year it feels much harder to practice loving others in this way. I still believe that all individuals are deserving of dignity, but are they deserving of our love? How do we learn to love others even when we disagree with them? And what do we do when they are hateful?

Twentieth century Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr had some thoughts on this matter. In his book Love and Justice, he argues that there truly is no way to practice the kind of love that we are called to in the Gospels. As a part of the Neo-Orthodoxy movement, he stood firm in his belief that, “the saints are tempted to continue to see that grace may abound, while sinners toil and sweat to make human relations a little more tolerable and slightly more just”. Maybe our religious optimism and fervent belief in the “Golden Rule” are unsuited for the modern era. Possibly our focus on loving everyone leads us to tolerate too much and neglect the pursuit of justice.

But there’s more. In Matthew 5 (part of the Christian New Testament) we are told directly by Jesus to love our enemies – “you have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. However, loving your enemies is so very difficult. Maybe the past several years have made me a cynic because I must admit I find Niebuhr’s ideas appealing. His views feel like an “out” of sorts. They feel like justification for my inability to love those who I cannot agree with. But if I cannot love others and forgive them for their hatred, how am I any better than them?

Then we ask, with the struggle for social justice we see represented in tomorrow’s election, can we still love others regardless of how they choose to vote? Does your religion call upon you to “love thy neighbor”? If so, do you think this is possible?

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