The fears of violence and social unrest after the 2020 presidential election top the list of concerns in many households across the nation. The possibility of a highly-contested election, the heightened frustration with racism and police violence, the emergence of paramilitary organizations, plus the threats of voter fraud are just a few elements of the perfect storm brewing in America.
States across the country are preparing for the all-too-familiar reality that riots, looting and peaceful demonstrations that turn violent might make up the bulk of the civil unrest that will ensue on the days that follow November 3rd. Cities like Miami, New York City, Portland, Minneapolis, Chicago and Philadelphia are just a few preparing “for all possible scenarios on Election Day” according to the Philadelphia Police Commissioner. Many other cities are coordinating with the National Guard and other law enforcement agencies to do their part to keep things controlled.
However, unrest doesn’t only involve the physical damage of property. There is an emotional element that almost everyone paying attention to the media is feeling. Many people will share in the emotional unrest and there is a temptation for those within the body of Christ to disengage, hoping the storm passes quickly.
However, the nation needs peacemakers now more than ever and cannot afford to have us sit on the sidelines as the clock ticks. So, amid deep reservations about what actions society might resort to both internally and externally, what can the Church do leading up to and after the election to promote peace?
1. Promote ‘Just-Peacemaking’
One of the biggest responsibilities a child of God has right now is to be an agent of peace. The context we’re facing now is hurt rooted in division over how America should move forward. This hurt is not only being felt as a nation. It’s also being felt within church circles and communities. As a result, many have cut off communication and engagement with those who don’t align with us politically.
According to the ‘Just-Peacemaking Theory’, one of the practices we can do more of to promote peace is undo the hurt we might have caused others. With political figures so polarizing, it’s so easy for our friends and network to be offended that we support one candidate and not the other. We might be so convinced that one candidate offers the best solution to bring restoration to the corrupt structures of the nation. However, our passion to see the nation restored should never involve destroying our personal relationships in the process. No matter which man is inaugurated on January 20th, 2021, we can’t expect to build a nation by breaking down our relational communities. Peacemaking requires consistent humility and going the extra mile to outdo one another in honor.
In the case of civic unrest and social divide, it’s not enough for us to simply voice our disapproval when we see it. It isn’t even effective to reject the act of partaking in it. Jesus never told us to say “no” wherever we encountered anger, disruption and revengeful resistance. Instead, he commanded us to engage in transformational activities. Jesus told us to make peace with our brothers and sisters (Mt 5:25) and go an extra mile for those who don’t see eye to eye with us (Mt 5:41). The heart of God is always constructive and never apathetic. What we can do today is identify the people we’ve lost peace with during this election cycle and start restoring those relationships.
2. Avoid the Spread of Misinformation
It feels like nothing is more quickly accessible than false information. With social media being one of the biggest beneficiaries of our attention, it’s easy to get caught up in the unintentional errors that are posted as well as any propaganda that is willfully distributed. Sharing and spreading posts filled with misinformation can lead to dangerous consequences that feed into partisan strategies that only widen the divide in society.
Make it a point to fact-check the sources you rely on and be slow to react when something seems counter-productive to society.
3. Empathize with The Fears of Those Whom You Disagree With
The reality of the coming days is that one of the two major party candidates will officially be declared winner of this election while the other concedes. Whether it be Joe Biden or Donald Trump, half our nation will rejoice while the other half feels their world momentarily crumble. Beginning now — and for as long as we’re on this side of eternity — we need to make it a personal commitment to listen, empathize and dialogue with those we disagree with.
- Don’t be afraid to hear the complex reasoning’s for why your friends and loved ones’ support or disagree with a policy or candidate.
- Educate yourself on the issues that are on the ballot, even if they don’t pertain to you. Being informed allows you to see why something might be important to someone else, which will help you be more thoughtful.
- Open your heart to understand the fears that others have about a potential political outcome. This allows you to challenge yourself to see if it’s something you agree with instead of immediately discrediting a fear someone would have just to defend your own opinion.
We are constantly surrounded by people we don’t agree with and it’s easy for us to discount their fears as irrational but we must commit to acting in love and understanding as we hear different worldviews. Jesus says in John 13:35 that everyone will know we follow Him because of the way we show our love to others. Take time to sit with those you might not agree with and engage with them in a manner that is representative of Jesus. That means we listen, we comfort, we encourage, and we uplift.
4. Pray for Wisdom for Our Leaders
While some of our leaders might have lost the vision they initially had to serve others, they’re still human beings that need divine wisdom to organize and facilitate the world that God has given us dominion over. Just as we’re living in unprecedented times, our mayors, military, police officers and civic authorities are leading in unprecedented times.
Right now, they are facing situations that no amount of education, fundraising or connections could have prepared them for and it’s our responsibility to devote ourselves and uplift our leaders in prayer. Jeremiah 29:7 beautifully prophecies that if we pray to the Lord for the prosperity of our cities, He will hear us and we too will prosper.
The mysterious reality of prayer is that God desires to partner with us to see His will executed over society. No matter who our leader is, we have a duty as peacemakers to stand in the gap for our authority figures. Believe that no matter who is in power, it is God who is on the throne and we have the remarkable task of interceding to see the Will of the Lord fulfilled regardless of party lines.
5. Remember the Only Kingdom That Will Not Fail
Nations of the world are in a state of unrest because humans are placing their trust in structures that are destined to fail. It’s been this way throughout all of history, under both prosperous and oppressive regimes. Today in America, many might be trusting in a specific party or in a specific candidate. Others might be wrestling with a distrust towards the media or are concerned with a distrust towards institutions meant to protect them. The unsurprising yet beautiful reality is that everyone will either fail or betray us except Jesus. Only Jesus has established a foolproof Kingdom that we all become citizens of the moment we put our trust in him.
The hope we have is that one day we will commune with Jesus in a Kingdom and eternity that knows no suffering, no failure of authority, no betrayal of trust and no oppression of people. If you are a Christian, be bold in your witness and communicate to others who don’t know the peace you have that Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose for our sins. If you’re not a follower of Christ, know that the sacrifice Jesus made is what gave us the right to be children of God and to one day experience a reality where every tear is wiped from our eyes, where there will be no more death, no more sorrow, no more crying and no more pain. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can change hearts in a way that produces behavior patterns that strengthen society and overcomes all forms of injustice. So, don’t strive to change a kingdom on earth that will always be imperfect. Instead, develop an understanding of the Kingdom Christ established and mirror that while we’re here on earth.
The Long Game
We will never experience an absence of conflict on this earth. Chances are that the generation that comes after us will face situations that eclipse what we’ve seen in 2020 so far. However, the greatest opportunity we have today is to be men and women that serve God’s purpose for this generation. That’ll continue to require different responsibilities as the years’ progress but one thing that should remain constant is our striving to be peacemakers for today.
Make it a point to hold others in your life accountable if you feel like they are contributing to the opposite of what God expects for His children. Remind them that their response to disagreement with the outcomes of this world is important to control and that one day we’ll be able to see the big picture behind everything we are unable to understand today. Leading up to this election and beyond, actively seek peace and reconcile people to God and to one another no matter what our differences are.
Alvin is a Philadelphia-based entrepreneur and Justice Ambassador for Prison Fellowship, a ministry that works to bring hope and restoration to prisoners, families and communities impacted by crime and incarceration.