As an international student, I experienced a sense of wonder as I watched democracy at work this year. I also saw vividly the brokenness of American democracy.
Communities were marked by conflict and division, and dialogue was replaced by shouting matches. Instead of appealing to the most basic human attitudes of cooperation, citizens are divided into opposing factions of ‘us and them,’ ‘we are right and they are wrong.
These factional tendencies have crippled democracy to the point where there seem to be two countries within one, each denouncing the other as fundamentally threatening to the nation’s values and existence.
This is not what democracy should look like. Democracy is a system built upon the diversity of ideas, where free speech does not enable factions to incite violence but rather promotes discourse built on mutual recognition and respect. Democracy should not mean a civil war between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals.
Democracy is a system in which those who value tradition and those who value progress act as the twin pillars of society by maintaining a healthy balance. If the pillars don’t work together, the system will fail. As Abraham Lincoln declared, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Without progress and change, conservatism becomes archaic and incapable of living up to its ideals, and without conservation of necessary values and traditions, progress can become ungrounded and prone to deterioration.
A healthy democracy is one in which both sides recognize the importance of the other and therefore seek common ground with humility and respect, listening to one another. Solving problems in a democracy should be seeking not “the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer,” as John F. Kennedy said.
If Christians are to live up to their faith, should we not embody these principles of love, humility, and respect which reflect the foundational virtue of our beliefs? As citizens of heaven who sojourn on earth, we are called by Christ to be witnesses of God’s love and goodness to the world. What better way to witness Christ’s love, than to be motivated by unconditional love even for those who disagree with us? Shouldn’t we seek the answers that most benefit the common good?
Historically, Christianity has been used to justify many un-Christian things. We need to reflect on whether Christian values are really compatible with messages of those who claim to be “the chosen one” or have God on their side, yet spew hatred and narrowmindedness. If Christians are to be truly sincere when bringing faith into politics, their priority should not be imposing their views upon others by force but rather embracing the democratic ideals of respect and listening.
Their priority should not be to score political victories but to embody the spirit of Christ in caring for ALL our neighbors, especially, as Christ preached, the least among us. Not until the least among us are accorded the same voice and respect as the rest can we truly claim to embody Christian values. Ask what Christ, the one who healed the sick and aided the poor, would do. Ask what Christ, the one who sought shelter from persecution in another country, would preach.
2020 is the beginning of a new presidency, a new chance. It’s time for voters on both sides of the aisle to reflect on whether or not their attitudes and actions truly embody the ideals of democracy. It is time for believers to question how their political motivations and actions align with the title of Christian. It is a time, as President-elect Biden quotes from Ecclesiastes, for the nation to heal.