In this post-election time, the media find it easy to claim that this election "was decided on moral grounds" and that progressives just need to frame their issues in moral truths to win over voters. Quite frankly, I wish it were true. Rather, my analysis is that the so-called moral issues of gay marriage, abortion and stem cell research were issues that did not personally ask for change on the part of those who based their vote on these issues. Rather it allowed these voters to feel that they were on the side of truth without having to pay any personal price.
This is not the case for the social moral issues that are the bedrock of the social teachings of the church. In our affluent country, every social doctrine calls into question the basics of our lifestyle. We struggle for just wages, human dignity, support for families, the end of economic exploitation, health care for everyone, affordable housing, global fair trade and peace. To engage even one of these issues requires that we each be willing to examine our part of the problem and that I make necessary changes in my own life. This surely is not a comfortable message that will draw huge crowds and reverse the dynamic of polarization in our country. There is no easy fix. So where do we go?
I believe that we are called to reflect more deeply on the Gospel. Jesus is our model for listening to those who were different from him. He asked questions of and listened to the woman at the well, Matthew the tax collector, the centurion whose servant was ill, and many more. Perhaps what we are being called to is not a simple reframing of our message in moral terms, but rather a radical step into relationship that will bridge the polarization within our society.
This seems to be the spiritual task of opening ourselves to the other. Perhaps I need to allow myself to be less certain, to converse with people of different political perspectives. Perhaps I need to drop my desire to convert them, but rather seek understanding of alternative ways. I know that I fear the consequences of such a bold move. I fear that I will lose my sense of the social Gospel and become something I dislike. I fear the unknown consequences of a relationship with the politically different. I hold more tightly to my point of view in the face of a different certitude; but we have to start the change somewhere.
I am challenging myself and inviting you to join me in the process of engagement: let us talk with people who think differently. Let us ask how they see the social Gospel. How do they see the needs of people living in poverty? How do they see the role of government? Let us ask how they see our nation's obsession with security with Jesus' admonition to "consider the lilies of the field." Let us risk engaged conversation and see if something new emerges. I find the risk scary : guess it wouldn't be a risk otherwise : but I find the status quo deadly. Let us grope in the dark together, trusting the Spirit will give the necessary light.