Providing pastoral care often overlaps moral, spiritual and mental health issues even in one session. In such situations, it takes a careful and sometimes delicate conversation with a congregant who seeks support and guidance from their clergy.
The last few weeks have been filled with these kinds of conversations in the wake of the recent presidential elections. There are folks who are jubilant about the results. Others are despondent and depressed. I recently attended a regional conclave in Greensboro, N.C., and led a session on coping with the stresses of the election. Our religious institutions are supposed to be neutral when it comes to partisan politics, but the presidential election has spilled over into all of the realms of human emotions including moral, spiritual and psychological reactions.
I have been doing quite a bit of listening to my congregants. I recognize full well that we are in a different kind of recovery mode than the one we faced with Hurricane Matthew. We have watched cable news reports of protest marches in the big cities of our nation. On the other side, we have heard the calls for unity - that we as a nation need to respect the results of the election and move forward. Maybe time will heal the wounds and give us the strength to support our new president and Congress and work together for the common good. The truth is that the election left many Americans with completely different visions, many of which are diametrically opposed to each other in terms of the direction of our nation in the political arena.
Can religion play a role in charting a course that brings us closer together rather than dividing us?
A few weeks ago, our high school education class held a session with two congregants representing both sides of the election. The pair gave presentations about their respective parties and candidates. The point of the program was for students to learn about the forthcoming election and the positions of the candidates and their parties.
There was, however, another aspect of the program that was just as important. From a religious standpoint, we did not advocate one candidate or party in this program. What we wanted to emphasize was that even though we have the same faith tradition, we have members who share different visions regarding the country and the policies of each party.
When it comes to the inner life of the religion, there comes a point when even those who disagree regarding politics must put their views aside when the time for communal worship arrives or in our communal activities that focus on our religion and culture. We can argue and debate the issues of the day, but we can sit down in the pews and pray that despite our political differences, religious values and our relationship to God must hold us together.
We must hold to our values, stay united as a congregational community and not let politics intrude on and diminish our relationships within the congregation. Then we are all winners in this election. I have always believed that a house of worship is neutral ground when it comes to politics. We need to set a good example for our youth in how we handle our different opinions on politics and still remain devoted to our faith traditions.
In responding to a question in the forum I led last week, I offered my view that we must respect everyone’s right to cheer or protest, no matter what the level of the office. The issue is that each of us should strive to develop coping mechanisms for these emotions when we participate in congregational life. If we do not respect those boundaries, we risk spreading a virus of hatred and animosity that can and will create even deeper dissension in the congregation. There must be an intrinsic respect for each other as co-religionists even if we have profound differences in our political viewpoints.
Unity does not mean we all agree or that we forget our faith values and principles just to keep quiet inside our sanctuaries. The way we interpret the Scriptures may lead us to different conclusions about politics and the nation’s legislative debates. Unity simply means we keep in mind the moral imperative that preserving this nation as people of faith calls on us to hold fast to the belief that no matter our political views, we are created in the image of God. We must also remember that as faith communities, we have to take the moral high ground to keep the peace for all of us. The house of worship is a symbol of America’s moral compass, a place to take stands on moral issues without getting immersed in the partisan aspect of political debates.
The balance of power in our nation’s politics plays out in the three branches of government.
The balance of stability in our religious communities will serve at times as an inspiration to social action and justice activities. At other times, it becomes a call to stand above the fray.
Whether it is the moral dimension, the spiritual one or the effects of these issues on our mental health, this is a time to pray for the courage and strength to see the big picture for the well being of our nation and to encourage prayer for the strength to keep shalom in our midst.