It’s been quite a week for peacemakers!
Sunday, Nov. 1, was All Saints’ Day, and the assigned gospel reading was the version of the Beatitudes in the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Including this (which isn’t in Luke’s version): “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Scarcely three days later came Tuesday’s election, followed by a tense period through the rest of the week — it seemed much, much longer — while the votes were counted.
Adding to the tension were reports of armed Trump supporters outside vote-counting centers and angry tweets from President Trump himself alleging “election fraud.” But the anticipated disruption failed to materialize; the election returns kept coming in steadily; and, as the weekend arrived, the angry president went golfing.
And at 11:24 a.m. (EST) Saturday, Nov. 7, the networks called it for presidential challenger Joe Biden. The sense of relief was palpable and immediate.
Spontaneous celebrations broke out in cities across America. “These images everywhere, unprecedented for a presidential [election] call in my experience,” longtime political analyst Ronald Brownstein said on Twitter, “look like what you’d see in a country that has overthrown a dictator or won a war, which in blue America may be exactly what it feels like, given that Trump has treated it as a foreign adversary.”
That was precisely what I was feeling.
Blessed, in fact.
I’ve got to admit, though, I wasn’t feeling exactly like a peacemaker at the moment.
That came later.
In Washington, D.C., thousands gathered near the White House in Black Lives Matter plaza, renamed after BLM protesters were forcibly removed from the area earlier this year so Trump could pose with a bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church-Lafayette Square. The picture above shows Saturday’s celebration with St. John’s in the background, across the street from the AFL-CIO’s national headquarters draped with a huge “Black Lives Matter” banner.
“It’s no small statement to say that St. John’s has never been seen by so many people around the country and the world as it was yesterday,” rector (head pastor) Robert W. Fisher said in a Sunday email message to parishioners. He added:
Seeing our beautiful yellow buildings, and the bell tower (which I hope we can refurbish soon) standing above it all in such a timeless way, it was exciting to think of how God will surely continue to use us to carry this message in the days ahead.
St. John’s is a diverse community in many ways, including political viewpoints, and the way we embrace one another with civility and grace has been a deeply held value of ours for a long time. I believe this part of our nature strengthens us in our work ahead to be an agent of healing, and to call all people to their better angels
Something makes me think there’s a capital fund drive in the future at St. John’s. But I was especially struck by the parish’s mission to “be an agent of healing, and to call people to their better angels.” It echoed President-elect Biden’s victory speech Saturday night, and earlier in the week on this blog I had quoted Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address invoking the “better angels of our nature” to head off the deep divisions of his day.
In that post, I also quoted extensively from an election-day article in America, the Jesuit magazine, by Sergio Lopez, a student at Duke Divinity School. Lopez commended a “realization that doing good works is no guarantee of being free from trouble” coupled with a resolve to go ahead and do them anyway “that is, paradoxically, born out of resignation and submission before the awful and awe-inspiring power and glory of God.” Lincoln, the article suggested, may have found that resolve in the Old Testament book of Job.
It was one of several articles and opinion pieces America ran in response to the election. One, a staff editorial in September, said Trump “represents a proven threat to the constitutional order,” and added without that order and the rule of law, the “country will devolve into prolonged factional conflict—the outcome our founders feared most—which would mark the beginning of the end of a republican form of government.”
All of this was in the back of my mind Saturday morning when first CNN, then the Associated Press called the election. Self-quarantining at home, I stayed in. But on YouTube I found the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah (a lovely performance by a flash mob at a shopping mall in Canada) and blasted it out at top volume. Next I found “Hit the Road, Jack” by Ray Charles. Like I said, I wasn’t in an irenic mood just yet.
But that changed Sunday with another staff editorial on America’s website. This one was dated Saturday, and it was headlined “Joe Biden has a mandate: to heal our wounded and divided nation.” It’s worth quoting at length:
The last four years have damaged the American system. We are a wounded people, struggling to meet the twin threats of the pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis. No doubt urgent and creative measures are required. But Americans should also step back and take stock. Scripture tells us that “for everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” President-elect Biden referred to this very Scripture in the final days of his campaign. “The Bible tells us that there is a time to break down and a time to build up—and a time to heal,” he told his supporters in Warm Springs, Ga., last week. “This is that time. God and history have called us to this moment and to this mission.”
It is a time to heal.
In healing the wounds of the body politic, every citizen must play his or her part. In the aftermath of this bitterly contested election, Americans should reach out to their neighbors, not to gloat or commiserate but to recall their common humanity and shared citizenship, remembering, as the late Robert F. Kennedy said, “that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life…. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.”
Blessed are the peacemakers, in other words. Now more than ever.
Citation: “Joe Biden has a mandate: to heal our wounded and divided nation,” America, Nov. 7, 2020 https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2020/11/07/election-2020-joe-biden-president-healing-united-states.
[Published Nov. 10, 2020]