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A Post-Election Path for American Christians

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As part of our ongoing conversation on faith, decency, and the election, Barry Corey--President of Biola University--shares his thoughts on how the path forward for Christians after the election must include pursuing empathy and relationships with those who think differently. Barry is one of my favorite college presidents in the nation, and this is an inspiring article reflects his leadership at his great institution. I hope you enjoy this. -Michael P.S. You can view the other posts in this series at https://www.onfaith.co/member/mwear Where do we go from here? \--- On Nov. 9, after an exhaustingly long, divisive election that has at times felt apocalyptic, America will have a new president-elect. But while there will be resolution to the long contested question of who will occupy the White House come February, the problems that gave rise to (and were exacerbated by) this horrific election will not be gone from America. We are a nation divided. And the wedges were driven deeper by the vitriol of this campaign. We state our intractable views on everything from race to religion to class to sexuality to culture to Colin Kaepernick. Facebook used to be a place where friends shared updates and photos. Now it’s a forum for overheated ranting among strangers. Sadly, Christian communities have been complicit in this culture of divisiveness. Whether the topic is Trump, transgenderism or refugees, on any given day the Christian Twitterverse is barely distinguishable from any other angry subculture. American Christians, like all Americans, are being conditioned by the rhetoric of division. It’s the air we breathe on 24-hour cable news, on social media and in the click-bait articles that favor unnuanced and polarizing headlines. How can a 20-minute Sunday sermon on charity and forbearance compete with 20 hours a week of cable news fear mongering and its polarizing spin? It’s clear that many of our hearts have been formed more by the liturgies of radio talk show hosts than the lessons of Jesus. For Christians in America, this election should be a wake up call that we may be losing our salt-and-light calling to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Many of us are instead demonizing our enemies and picketing those who persecute us. Venturing into the way of reaching across the aisle will be hard. It’s countercultural. It’s risky. It’s sometimes unwelcome and awkward. It’s admitting our own messiness and imperfections. Instead of embodying a kingdom of hope and reconciliation, we’ve blended in with the culture’s pervasive despair and disunity. Instead of demonstrating power in weakness via the cross, we’ve become weakened by a lust for power via the crown. But I believe there is a better way, and I pray the election can be a reset moment for us in the American church. As president of Biola University, a Protestant Christian university in Southern California, I know from experience that polarization in American culture is not going away anytime soon. Many of the tensions and divisions of the broader society (race, religious liberty, immigration, foreign policy, LGBT rights) are present on our campus. The question is, how do we respond to these tensions with civility, disagreeing peacefully and focusing on common ground for the common good? We must begin on the local level, in the proximate communities that define our day-to-day lives. We must focus on real, tangible relationships with our neighbors, our classmates, our coworkers, but not just the ones who look and believe like we do. We should prioritize social relationships over social media. Too many of today’s highly charged debates happen in disembodied digital space, divorced from real relationship. Among other things, the Internet allows us to surround ourselves with voices that feed our biases and intensify our sense of aggrievement. But what we desperately need in America are more real, in-person relationships with people who are different from us. It’s easier than ever to retreat into communities of sameness, and it’s certainly more comfortable. But healing will only begin when we rediscover the beauty and importance of relationships with people who challenge us, people who we rub shoulders with in our day-to-day lives whose ideas might rub us the wrong way. Rather than reading another article from Salon or Townhall about how awful “those people” are, what if we actually talked to the person two cubicles down from us whose politics are different than our own? Instead of going back and forth in the Facebook comments section with a friend of a friend of a thrice-removed cousin who said something stupid, what if we closed our laptops and shared a coffee with a person whose background is very different than our own? If we did this as Christians, what countercultural models we would be! Today’s world needs models of humility and empathy and listening and kindness, Christian virtues that so many Christians have stopped modeling. Of course we need to stand up for our convictions that are under attack, but more often combative and defensive posturing ought to give way to listening and civility, even with those we see as ideological opponents. This is one of the reasons I published a book this year about kindness, calling Christians to prioritize Jesus-shaped compassion alongside conviction. It’s why this month at Biola we held a forum on race and diversity, inviting students and alumni to share stories about pain and prejudice. It’s why this month an LGBT Caucus California State Assembly Member (one of the strongest backers of recent legislation that sought to change the religious liberty of Christian colleges) came to spend time on Biola’s campus, dialoguing with students and staff about how we can better understand and respect one another. As I say in my book, “Reach-across-the-aisle kindness is not meant to affirm each other’s choices, but it does mean we listen to each other’s voices.” If we as Christians, the followers of a man who could have pursued power but instead pursued a cross, cannot humbly reach across the aisle and listen empathetically to those who disagree with us, what hope is there for the rest of the world? Barry H. Corey is the eighth president of Biola University, in La Mirada, Calif. He is the author of the recently released “Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue” (Tyndale, 2016).