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Can this election be saved with shalom?

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It’s doubtful that anyone will characterize the tone of this presidential election cycle as shalom, “greeting one another with peace”. In fact, there is an unprecedented lack of mutual welfare in the debates, the media coverage, and the discourse in general. But the biblical concept of shalom must remain a guiding principal of the faith community in the public square, even when it’s hard to do. Re-introducing this gracious and generous attitude may be the best way for faith communities to have an impact on election ’16 and in the healing that must occur afterward. When the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE) gathered diverse Christian leaders to discuss the 2016 election, they were remarkably open about some of the key barriers restricting the church’s use of shalom. Gabriel Salguero, President of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, named an electorate “obsessed with the power that puts messianic expectations on political candidates in a way that abdicates our own responsibility.” When Jesus modeled “the way”, it was all about challenging injustice and making changes from the bottom up; his motivation flowed from a fierce heart full of love for people, particularly those struggling. As Christians, we must resist being fooled into electing politicians because they claim they will solve every problem and right every wrong. Too many churches do not cultivate the awareness that we have a prominent role to play in our own “saving”. Rev. Dr. Carolyn Davis, Deputy Director of the Center for Public Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary named a related barrier: “our tolerance for lying”. Jesus saw through the political spin in his day, and addressed it head on. Dr. Davis also called out the undercurrents of white supremacy in the election rhetoric. Here again, Jesus met oppression of race, ethnicity, religious standing, class or gender with equal ferocity for justice -- with gatherings, stories, parables, proclamations and organized action. Rev. Adam Russell Taylor, Chair of the Board at Sojourners, reminded us that the wise Howard Thurman said that fear, hypocrisy and hatred do not have dominion in the church. We are to be the voice of conscience and vocalize dissent when dangerous rhetoric and policies threaten what we know in our heart of hearts to be right. Another barrier is the interpretation and presentation of the gospel itself. The gospel often consists of whatever the preacher says, noted Rev. Salguero, and that can stray far from the original context and message. For Jesus and Paul, the gospel was no easy task -- pushing back on the injustices of the empire, its mistreatment of the poor and vulnerable, and the lack of dignity applied to all people who are equally made in the image of God. Lisa Sharon Harper, Chief Church Engagement Officer at Sojourners, identified another barrier as anti-structuralism: the belief that structures in our society cannot help make life better. We cannot do away with structures, but we should constantly test and improve them. Religious institutions, governments, banks, policing practices, or educational systems do not always reflect “justice for all”; but rather than call for their complete demise, it is incumbent upon us to push structures to grow and change in service for the greater good. Another barrier is our failure to lift up the voices of the citizens who live Election Day issues every day: unemployment, sickness, poverty, homelessness, illiteracy, hunger, abuse, racism and religious oppression. Keeping the discussion among church leadership, think tanks, and career intellectuals is a huge disservice to our communities, and blocks true shalom right out of the gate. The church must open direct dialogue with, and look for solutions among, those actually experiencing the problems. The church should be a place where tough questions are asked and the intersectionality of diversity and political issues is explored. That requires us to remove the self-imposed barriers that make us unwilling to engage with those different from us. We can start by remembering that the gospel of freedom, equality and justice was for everyone, and that the majority of us want the same things: opportunity, safety, respect, prosperity, fulfillment of our potential, and love. We also must realize that people who vote to preserve only themselves and their own race, gender and privilege in society are frightened and need help to move beyond the barrier of paralyzed rage. How about that for some fierce shalom? About the Author: Jennifer D. Crumpton is the author of Femmevangelical: The Modern Girl’s Guide to the Good News. Follow @JenniDCrumpton and Femmevangelical.com.