The Other America We Did Not Know – David Gushee

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David Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University in Georgia. He writes the “Christians, Conflict and Change” column for RNS
David Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University in Georgia. He writes the “Christians, Conflict and Change” column for RNS

Like most other members of the commentariat, I had no idea what I was talking about. I repent in dust and ashes. Everything I knew was going to happen did not happen. Everything I understood about America I did not understand.

Donald J. Trump understood America better than any other political candidate in 2016, better than any of the minions of commentators who bloviated about him, better than all the learned academics who were sure that America would never elect him to be president.

He knew his customers, and he made the sale, periodically using rhetoric that many of us considered to be immoral and some experienced as personally terrifying.

But he won, besting the entire Republican establishment, Democratic establishment and Clinton dynasty.

It was quite an accomplishment, and whatever happens from here, he will go down in  history for what he has done.

And those who thought it couldn’t happen must now face the music.

I had this disorienting experience on Wednesday (Nov. 9). I opened up my New York Times app and felt the shock oozing from the virtual pages. And I thought: The same newspaper that gave Hillary Clinton an 85 percent chance of winning on the day of the election is now going to attempt to interpret the news today. Why should I listen to them? What do they know?

And then I turned on NPR on the way to work. And there they all were, with their smoothly modulated voices, attempting to explain what none of them probably anticipated on Tuesday. And I thought: Why in the world should I give any authority to these hosts and reporters? Really, what do they know?

Next week I will attend major academic-professional meetings in which surely more than 90 percent of those present will have opposed the Republican candidate for president and will believe they did so based on all good and noble values. And they will commiserate over drinks with other like-minded academics and everyone will tut-tut over the idiocy of the American public, and everyone will go home reinforced in their righteousness.

Charles Camosy was very wise in observing yesterday the profound dangers of a monolithically liberal higher education culture in which everyone thinks the same way as everyone else and therefore everyone is shocked, shocked to discover that there is another America that does not frame reality in the same way that it does.

The election results show there are (at least) two Americas. Anyone with the faintest interest in this country or in commenting about it had better get to know the other America rather than remain hermetically sealed in his or her own monoculture.

There are three places in my life in which I must engage that other America — my extended family, my classroom and my church. In those three sacred communities I encounter people I care about and am called to serve who did not view the politics of 2016 through the same prism I did.

As human beings, we all face a basic choice — whether to remain in relationship with those who voted differently than we did or to cast them into outer darkness for having done something that is from our viewpoint incomprehensible.

As the pastor of a politically mixed Baptist congregation outside Atlanta, I will look out on a sea of faces Sunday and I will know that both Americas are gathered before me. And it will continue to be my responsibility to lead them, drawing on spiritual resources that are far older than America.

I will need to show a way toward a Christian unity that transcends politics even as Christians are always called to bear witness to the way of Jesus Christ.

I will need to plead with them not to break relationships over an election but instead to remain in the conversation with each other.

I will need to project a vision of church as an alternative political community — gathered for common mission and witness despite all kinds of earthly differences and regardless of the ebb and flow of daily politics.

I will need to call them to confidence in the mysterious sovereignty of God, a concept that, despite all hyper-Calvinist abuses, must still be affirmed by those who take the Bible seriously:

For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations (Ps. 22:28).

My days as a pundit are over. I will never again attempt to predict what is going to happen in this country.

My days of thinking that I might have some kind of influence on affairs of state are over.

I will opine less, and pray more. Here’s a start. It’s from Psalm 72.

Give the king your justice, O God … May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice … May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor … For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper … From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.

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