Loving Thy Neighbor in an Election Year: An Impossible Task? – Grace Landrum

Tomorrow is the United States Presidential election. I am sure you already knew that, though. It’s hard to miss with the constant barrage of advertisements, the slew of social media posts, and lots of yard signage. I know for me personally, I feel a great sense of anxiety regarding tomorrow’s election results. Regardless of what side of the aisle you are on, I am sure you feel anxious too.

I have found myself reflecting on the intersection of politics and religion in the United States over the past few months. These are typically portrayed as some of the most polarizing topics to bring up in a casual conversation. I suppose that is because we are so often entrenched in our views and cannot possibly imagine finding common ground with individuals who have different views than our own.

I can say with confidence that my experience with the CRGC fellowship thus far has proven that there is much common ground to be found among different religious groups. Politics, however, I am not so sure about. In a country that is increasingly polarized with political party values so diametrically opposed, I find myself truly unable to understand the views of the party which I am not a member of.

In the Christian faith, Jesus says “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. From our CRGC fellowship meetings, it has become apparent that the “Golden Rule” is a part of many religious traditions, not just Christianity. Yet, this year it feels much harder to practice loving others in this way. I still believe that all individuals are deserving of dignity, but are they deserving of our love? How do we learn to love others even when we disagree with them? And what do we do when they are hateful?

Twentieth century Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr had some thoughts on this matter. In his book Love and Justice, he argues that there truly is no way to practice the kind of love that we are called to in the Gospels. As a part of the Neo-Orthodoxy movement, he stood firm in his belief that, “the saints are tempted to continue to see that grace may abound, while sinners toil and sweat to make human relations a little more tolerable and slightly more just”. Maybe our religious optimism and fervent belief in the “Golden Rule” are unsuited for the modern era. Possibly our focus on loving everyone leads us to tolerate too much and neglect the pursuit of justice.

But there’s more. In Matthew 5 (part of the Christian New Testament) we are told directly by Jesus to love our enemies – “you have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. However, loving your enemies is so very difficult. Maybe the past several years have made me a cynic because I must admit I find Niebuhr’s ideas appealing. His views feel like an “out” of sorts. They feel like justification for my inability to love those who I cannot agree with. But if I cannot love others and forgive them for their hatred, how am I any better than them?

Then we ask, with the struggle for social justice we see represented in tomorrow’s election, can we still love others regardless of how they choose to vote? Does your religion call upon you to “love thy neighbor”? If so, do you think this is possible?

9 thoughts on “Loving Thy Neighbor in an Election Year: An Impossible Task? – Grace Landrum”

  1. Hi Grace,

    As a fellow Christian, I have to ask how you define love. Is love really predicated on these physical needs? The bonds within Christianity are so spiritual in nature that an event as physical as an election cannot be grounds to break a bond of love. I continue to see posts on my Instagram which say things like, “break up with your racist boyfriend” or ” break up with your x if he or she supports Trump” etc. For me, these are silly messages. If you disagree with someone, the answer is not to ignore them or hurt them. “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” I do not see love as a physical thing that can be forsaken for disagreements. So, my answer is that tomorrow, my Trump-supporting friends will still be my friends regardless. My Biden supporting friends will still be my friends regardless. My friends are my friends and those bonds are not subject to the sways of issues. Love is formed from experience but also something much more intangible. To say that it is broken by policy or argument is to live in misery.

    1. Hello, Ethan! This is an interesting perspective, however, as a fellow Christian, I’m going to have to disagree. I lean much closer to Grace’s perspective on this issue. My reasoning is as such: there is no such thing as “just” politics, or “only” policy. Every single political decision and stance affects someone’s life. Some of these policies directly go against what we as Christians view as the right to a dignified human life, and love. For example, President Trump’s border policies directly contradict Jesus’s teachings to “love thy neighbor” and, for example, this quote from Matthew 25:35: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Numerous other policies enacted by Trump and his cabinet also enforce a system of hate (through racism, oppressing the poor, etc.), rather than a system of assistance and love. Am I still supposed to unconditionally love someone who supports this? I would agree with you that the answer is not to instantly reject those who support these politics. However, I would argue that it is my responsibility as a Christian, especially one who comes from a place of privilege, is to have a critical, engaging discussion with them in hopes to change their views. I cannot stand by and continue to freely, unconditionally give someone something as holy and pure as love when they themselves firmly believe in depriving others of it. Maybe, as Grace mentioned, this isn’t in line with the initial teachings of the Bible to love even one’s enemies. However, as times change and oppression becomes more systemic and pervasive than ever, putting more and more lives on the line, I do believe in following Jesus’s footsteps to radically and openly defend the poor and oppressed, even if this means making my love for some conditional. Finally, not loving someone in the original Gospel sense does not mean I wish them harm or suffering. It simply means that my soul is not at peace with the harm they directly enact unto others.

      1. My argument comes with the presupposition of love. By this, I mean that I would not break my love with someone due to their support of a policy. If my mother was a Trump supporter, that would not affect my love for her. If my girlfriend turned out to be racist, I would not break up with her due to her offensive position. I do not mean that you need to love every Trump supporter. I only mean that it is INJUST to stop loving someone for their views on an issue. As a Christian, I feel that love is a spiritual bond formed based on our intrinsic characteristics and not on our views which change with the climate. I believe that every person has qualities that are inherent to who they are – those are the qualities on which love is based. I do not think that the policy issues voted on are the intrinsic qualities people have. They can be, but generally, they are not. A person is not defined by their vote – so love should not be contingent upon their actions.

        1. Maya — I appreciate your perspective on this, as I find it beautifully depicts how I feel in this political climate. I also feel a responsibility to hold my loved ones accountable, and I admire how you conceptualize the act of not loving someone as “not at peace with the harm they directly enact unto others.” I felt that.

          On this topic of love and friendship, I would encourage us all to acknowledge the privilege that comes with maintaining friendships across the political aisle. Ethan mentions this idea of inherent qualities that folks possess.

          Some reflection questions as we ponder life in this divided America: Have you personally felt victimized from our President based on an identity you hold? Would you still stay friends with someone who voted for an elected official who is in direct opposition to your individual humanity?

        2. Hi, Ethan. Thank you for sharing your perspective on this issue, although I’ll also have to disagree with your statement. According to the election tally at 7:48 PM CST, 70 million Americans have cast a vote for Trump, while 73 million have cast a vote for Biden. While we’ve have all heard this point ad nauseam, this is clearly representative of the almost unprecedented divide in our country. And, clearly, it also shows that we have to ask the question “why?” I want to understand why an individual on the opposite side of the aisle voted the way they did, put myself in their shoes, and empathize with them. Conversation is important, which we all already know. I am more than willing to engage in a discussion about taxes, urban planning, or the economy. However, what I will not do is attempt to empathize with an individual who is openly racist. If that were the case, I would attempt to expose them to my perspective, but it would not be a topic or issue of debate. Policy issues are no longer policy issues when they question an individual’s right to exist. If someone in this day and age is a racist, then my love for that individual would not stay, as I also have love for the people who are impacted by that individual’s racist beliefs. And, lastly, I would definitely break up with them.

      2. I appreciate your perspective, Maya. I think that you frame how I feel about loving people across the aisle as “not at peace with the harm they directly enact unto others.”Maya, Milan, and Laura address the need to advocate for others and converse and understand. This is something I’ve also taken to heart during this election cycle. Additionally, I think that we must all reflect on the privilege associated with staying connected with folks across the political aisle. Ethan brings up this idea of inherent qualities. Has an elected official stated their direct opposition to your existence? How does that feel? How would you imagine that feels? If someone is against a quality that you associate with your own humanity, would you still be able to love that person? I think we all need to practice a bit more empathy.

    2. Hi Ethan,

      Recently I read the Christian book “Boundaries” which is relevant to mention now because in it, it reminded me that God supports us separating ourselves from people who act in destructive ways (matt.18:15-17, Cor. 5:9-13). We are not being unloving by separating ourselves from these people but instead we are protecting love because we are taking a stand against things that destroy love. Having said this, I know it is challenging to confront those that are close to us but it is important to communicate and see where people’s head are at – maybe they’ve been mislead and you can help bring them clarity or maybe it can help you re-evaluate how close you want these people to be to you.

  2. Hello Grace,

    I found your post so interesting and timely. As a Muslim my religion and definitely our prophet Muhammad PBUH, teach the constant of loving those around those and how we all deserve respect and kindness. In a similar fashion to Jesus PBUH, our prophet said to pray for our enemies. I find it hard personally to love everyone like so many of our great prophets did, but I do try to embody forgiveness and try to be respectful even when disagreeing with others. I think you can still extend respect to others, regardless of how they vote but I think most importantly we have to start coming to the realization that we need more dialogue with others who may oppose us. The dialogue will help us come to realize why someone may vote the way they do and for them to understand why we vote or believe what we do.

  3. Hi Grace! Very recently I was confronted with a topic similar to this when my best friend said something that at face value seems hugely commendable. She said “I just want you to know I would never love you any less because we have different opinions,” to which I responded with “unpopular opinion but I actually really disagree with that.” We are now on day 7 or 8 of this conversation, but I’ve concluded that neither my initial statement nor hers is right. We agreed that you can never judge someone on the outcome of their thought process, i.e. voting for Trump or Biden, but the person’s justifications for who they voted for can, and should, be criticized. And most importantly the moral responsibility to redact your love for someone you disagree with is becoming exceedingly more complicated. That being said, I have to agree with Milan, I would definitely break up with my racist girlfriend!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.