We are still waiting for final results from Tuesday’s election, as President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden both have pathways to the White House. As states continue to count votes, legal challenges related to the election loom as well.
While we wait, I’d like to address a question many people are asking: Why were the polls so wrong again? Prior to the election, one poll gave Joe Biden a seventeen-point lead in Wisconsin; yesterday, his lead was 0.6 percent. Another poll had Mr. Biden with a five-point margin in Florida and four points ahead in Ohio; the president won Florida by three points and Ohio by eight.
A political science professor notes, “Whatever the final result, there appears to have been a broad and systematic error in predicting the election outcome.” One explanation is social desirability bias, also known as the “shy voter” theory. It holds that Trump supporters were less likely to tell pollsters their political preferences. To the degree that this is true, it betrays something fundamentally wrong about our nation.
According to a recent survey, 62 percent of Americans say they are afraid to share their political views with others. Clearly, we have crossed a dangerous line of essential civility.
Why my father enlisted in the Army
As I note in my latest website article, our nation is experiencing a season of deep divisiveness. We are angry not just at candidates we oppose, but at their supporters as well.
In years past, national threats unified us. I remember packed churches in the days following 9/11 and my parents’ and grandparents’ stories about American patriotism during the Great Depression and two world wars. When the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor, my father volunteered for the Army, a decision that nearly cost him his life. But for the rest of his life, he was proud to have served and proud of the nation he served.
Many hope that our nation can find unity after the election as we face the coronavirus pandemic, economic challenges, and threats from China, North Korea, and Russia. But as scholar Yuval Levin notes in the New York Times, “What has broken down is fundamentally communal and institutional, so that a recovery of the ethos required for our national politics to function is likely to happen closer to the interpersonal level.”
Levin argues that we should “see problems around us as reasons to think creatively about how to act together: to help people who are short of food in this pandemic, to organize schools that will teach our children what our community cherishes most, to help our neighbors feel respected and safe, or to care for our environment or protect and welcome the unborn.”
Here’s how to start, according to Levin: we should ask ourselves, “Given my role here, what should I be doing?” Let’s answer his question as followers of Jesus.
Surprising facts and a life-changing invitation
Americans are a remarkably diverse people in ways that transcend our politics. For example, the 2019 report from the congressional Joint Economic Committee notes that one in four millennials (adults ages twenty-four to forty in 2020) speaks a language other than English at home. About one in seven marriages among millennials is interracial. As of 2015, most of the US population under the age of five is nonwhite.
The CDC reports that 39.6 percent of all births in the US are to unmarried women; this percentage is ten times higher than it was in 1940. Pew reports that 25 percent of parents living with a child in the US are unmarried; that number was 7 percent in 1968. These trends matter because, as Pew notes, it’s “well-established that married parents are typically better off financially than unmarried parents.”
We can avoid those whose language, race, or marital values are different than ours. We can reject those who voted for someone we did not. We can shut ourselves off from those with whom we disagree and withdraw into safe spaces where we engage only with our ideological friends.
Or we can see those with whom we differ as invitations to personal ministry.
“If you will, you can make me clean”
In Mark 1, a leper came to Jesus, “imploring him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean'” (v. 40). Jesus could have healed him with a word, as he often did (cf. Matthew 8:13; 9:6). In his day, touching a leper exposed a person to this contagious disease and rendered them ceremonially unclean.
Nonetheless, “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean'” (v. 41). “Touched” translates a Greek word meaning to “bind fast” or “fasten.” Jesus did not lightly touch this man—he grasped him. With this result: “And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean” (v. 42).
I do not mean to suggest that those with whom we disagree are lepers. Rather, I want to encourage us to take the initiative to engage with them personally, seeking to meet their needs in Jesus’ name and to share with them the grace we have experienced.
To be peacemakers and cultural healers, however, we must first be at peace with the Great Physician. We must ask him for the discernment to speak words others need to hear, the compassion to meet needs in his name, and the courage to share unpopular truth with grace.
The “deeper and more lasting affirmation” we need
God’s people working without the power of God’s Spirit cannot shape our culture for God’s glory. But a single believer empowered and led by the King of the universe can be a transformational bridge builder for the gospel and a peacemaker for the Prince of peace.
Henri Nouwen was right: “Friendship requires a constant willingness to forgive each other for not being Christ and a willingness to ask Christ himself to be the true center. When Christ does not mediate a relationship, that relationship easily becomes demanding, manipulating, oppressive, an arena for many forms of rejection.”
This is why Nouwen believed “we must experience a deeper and more lasting affirmation than any human relationship can offer.”
Will you seek and share such affirmation from your Lord today?