Divided, We Fall
Several months ago I wrote about the presidential elections, but wouldn't reveal the candidate I was backing. Now that we have a new president in office - and the fight is obviously over - I figure it's OK to tell you this: My guy didn't win.
I'm what you'd call one of the Republican "party faithful": I've done phone banks, canvassing, rallies, and fund-raisers. I've visited the RNC headquarters in Washington, D.C., and met several Republican leaders. Perhaps my most impressive GOP credential: I once shook hands with Mr. NRA, Charlton Heston. Yes, I'm a Republican through and through. And yet, I'm optimistic about our new commander-in-chief, who happens to be a member of the Democratic Party.
It saddens me that some Republicans are acting as if President Barack Obama's inauguration never happened. Salon.com writer Thomas F. Schaller noticed that the RNC still portrayed George W. Bush as president on its website even 10 days into the Obama administration.
Indeed, if all Republicans were like the ones portrayed in the documentary Right America: Feeling Wronged, which aired on HBO last week, the American population should have decreased 50 percent by now. In her documentary, filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi interviewed Republicans on the campaign trail who'd vowed to leave the country if John McCain didn't win the presidency. The documentary included footage of grown men and women bawling as they declared their allegiance to McCain - and their disgust toward Obama. Some interviewees proudly proclaimed they'd continue wearing their "Obama sucks" t-shirts regardless of the election results. When Pelosi asked one McCain supporter how he would "feel about America" if his candidate lost, the man tearfully replied, "It's going to sour me. I'll do what I can. I'll keep my head up."
As I watched, I initially was offended that Pelosi would stereotype Republicans as crybabies who'd turn our backs on our country if we lost political control. Then I realized: This does reflect how a percentage of the American population truly feels. I've heard folks say they'll be in mourning for the next four years - some have even dressed entirely in black. Personally, I think their expressions of distaste are in poor taste.
Don't get me wrong: I'm proud to be a Republican. (I'll surely be voting for the GOP candidate in 2012.) But first and foremost, I'm proud to be an American. My commitment to my country transcends party lines and ideologies.
So I respect the decision of the American people, and have been looking for common ground with my new president by listening to his speeches on YouTube. I've discovered President Obama believes (just like me!) that a great nation is formed through the efforts of hard-working individuals. Yet we cannot be great, he says, unless we work hard together.
He backed up this sentiment by launching a non-partisan website, USAService.org, which lists community service projects within local neighborhoods. I did a search on the site using my zip code and found numerous volunteer opportunities: planting trees, beach clean-ups, mentoring programs, food drives, cancer research fundraisers, even shelving books for local schools.
President Obama's focus on unity and community - and his rallying words, "Yes we can!" - is just what America needs right now. For too long, our focus has been entirely on the individual: Each person values her own work, her efforts, and her rights above everything else. This me-centered attitude causes individuals to leave community - and to break commitments - whenever things don't go their way. Americans do this with increasing frequency in marriages. (Do I feel satisfied with my spouse? Would I be happier with someone else? Is this marriage working for me?)
The American church, too, has been infected with an overemphasis on the individual. (Am I tired of the music? Do I feel the pastor has lost his charisma? Did someone at church offend me?) Any bit of personal discomfort becomes sufficient reason to look for a new church. Even worship and spiritual growth become individual endeavors: We focus on a personal savior, and personal relationship with God solely through individual prayer and study. In reading the Bible, our focus becomes, What does this passage mean to me? It's a tragedy when we completely ignore the importance of the body of Christ. (Check out my blog from last month, where I discussed how Christian community is necessary for an individual's spiritual growth.)
A couple years ago, when my friend Ed Gilbreath's book Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity (IVP) was published, critics thanked him for exposing a major problem in the church - racial division - which has been largely unaddressed. However, some said his book fell short because it didn't offer a complete solution to the problem! Heaven help us when we think it's acceptable to place the burdens of the church on the shoulders of individual members.
The same holds true for our new president; one man isn't going to save America. President Obama is wise to recognize this - that's why he's called on all Americans to roll up our sleeves and get to work, together. I hope this communal effort will meet with success, and that the Christian church will be the first to model it. After all, we're in this together. Divided, we will fall.