“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you … If you love [only] those who love you, what reward will you get?” Thus spoke Jesus Christ (NRSV). And yet, in a country where 70% of its population identifies as Christian, according to Pew Research, the market research company, YouGov finds that 50% say they exclusively have friends with the same political beliefs, and 44% are uncomfortable dating someone with differing political dispositions. This is the America of 2020: a country where those of differing ideological dispositions are disqualified from love and friendship, estranging neighbors from each other. This is so wrong. We are not meant to be divided over partisan affiliations and I argue this: don’t let partisan ideology break your relationships.
I am writing this before the election, fully unaware of its results. To be honest, I’m less worried about who wins than about post-election violence. How did it get to the point that people, who want the country’s best so desperately, could end up hating each other, with scenes of violence inundating our feeds all summer long and reasonable fears of civil conflict? I’m willing to bet that most people who take to the streets, no matter what side they are on, are motivated by similar values. They desire safety for themselves and those they love, fair treatment, freedom to flourish, and most have a genuine love of country and community. For those not on the streets, i.e. the rest of us, those same values resonate. At the end of it, we are united by the desire of the same basic things.
We should also remember that people are defined by more than partisan affiliations. At Westmont, we are still students, professors and staff members. Many of us take the same classes, agonize over the same assignments, frequent the same cafes, and, before COVID-19, jammed to the same walkout songs in chapel — gosh, I miss that. We have passions, dreams and anxieties as we try to figure life out. Several of my closest friends who have supported me at my worst times disagree with me on a myriad of political issues. We still take care of each other. These relationships don’t continue in spite of our differences; instead, they enhance our bonds. To this day, one of my highlights at Westmont was debating immigration policy over lavender matcha with a classmate, thus beginning a beautiful friendship. My girlfriend and I are of different leanings too, and our conversations have been integral to understanding and learning to respect each other, instead of arguing over contentious friction points.
Especially in the age of mask-wearing and social distancing, we are painfully aware of how our well-being is tied to connectedness. The ancient Greeks famously said that humans are social animals. Christians believe human nature is meant to be in communion with God and each other. While diversity of thought is a feature of humanity, division is an aberration, and a dangerous one, at that. In a society starved for connection, partisan division is akin to unhealthy food. Sure, you might be temporarily satisfied with an echo chamber, but the toxicity builds up and poisons you from within.
We are called to be reconciled to God and each other, yet how many people have been demonised, how many friendships have ended, how many Instagram posts have said “unfollow me if you support candidate X or policy Y”? How much of this, and worse, have you witnessed on this campus alone? I have seen these things, and I’m sick of such behaviour. If we care as much as we say we do about loving each other, building intentional relationships, promoting flourishing, or even just being a decent human being, we should resist cancelling people with differing partisan leanings and see them for who they are: human beings with inherent dignity and worth by virtue of their being human. Imagine how different society would be if we actually lived this out. Now stop imagining, and start living. Oh, and wear a mask to protect your friends and keep this school open.