I come from a political family. Well, sort of.
It’s probably more accurate to say I come from a family of public servants. On my mother’s side, my grandfather spent his career in the State Department, and my grandmother served as a secretary to Speaker of the House Jim Wright. Once on my birthday they sent me an American flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol. I was so excited to hold it.
I also come from a family with a strong Lutheran heritage. On my father’s side, my grandfather and my grandmother are from a long line of Pennsylvanian Lutherans. My father’s cousin and his family still live on the family farm outside of Harrisburg.
These two family trees have given me deep roots in both faith and politics. Blending these two feels quite natural for me. But this particular election cycle has been complicated, to say the least.
It’s one thing to ask how one’s faith ought to shape one’s political views and our vision of our common life together in this country. It’s quite another to ask what one’s faith has to say to a bitterly divided nation. “We the people” as it turns out is not an abstraction. “We the people” are those in our congregations and in our families.
In his theology of vocation, Luther gives us a helpful way of holding our various callings together, particularly when those commitments collide. Drawing on a metaphor common in his time, Luther wrote about the family as a “little society.” The conflicts, divisions and opportunities for love and service to one’s neighbor that exist in society also show up in our families. Lutheran theologian William Lazareth described family as “a society in embryo: a combination church, state, court, hospital, schoolroom and playground all in one.”
In fact, the family and the public lives we live together as Americans are not just metaphorically related, they’re tethered. It is in the home with our families that we first learn of love, service and perhaps most importantly, forgiveness. Or at least, that is the hope.
If your family is anything like mine, perhaps you too have very real differences within it this election season. Perhaps there’s an uncle who is going to vote for that other candidate or perhaps you have a parent whose political views you’ve spent decades moving away from.
On more than one occasion this election cycle I have found myself at a loss. How did we get here? How is it that we differ on these issues, many of which I am strongly convinced are central to who I am and how the world ought to be?
When our vocations collide, when our responsibilities to our families and to our common good seem to demand a choice, what does our Christian faith require? I wish I had an easy answer to this, but again this election season I am at a loss.
We may need far more than a brief order of confession come Nov. 9, the day after elections. We may need entire liturgies of confession and healing to find ourselves in a place beyond the fear and anxiety of this election cycle.
If nothing else, perhaps we will name this encounter for what it is—a very human experience. But if we momentarily lose our appetite for electoral politics (understandable, of course), perhaps we can return to our families, both the families we have been born into and those we have chosen, to practice gentleness, listening and forgiveness.
Maybe, just maybe, if we can relearn it there, then we may find a hidden capacity within us, one that has been drowned out by all the ads, news headlines and those TV spectacles we used to call “debates.” Susan Briehl often describes our vocations in life as an invitation to die and be raised up again in Christ. My prayer between now and after Nov. 9 is that we may embrace this invitation to die and be raised up, that we may admit our limits and confess our faith not in our politics or even our families, as much as we love both, but in a God who invites us into new lives grounded in the promise of the resurrection.
May we hear that promise anew this November in our homes and in our nation. And may our hearts turned inward be converted, change direction and find freedom in serving the neighbors in our living rooms and in the public square.