Guest commentary by Ken Evers-Hood
Over the past post-election week, I’ve been struggling to understand my own emotions and why this has felt so challenging to me. While deeply disappointed over the election, my grief reaches past mere partisan disappointment. Having been a pastor for some time now, I’ve seen elections come and go. I’ve been pleased with some of the results; frustrated with others. But I’ve never experienced anxiety in myself or others like this. At first I thought it was the reasonable fear I feel for the people I love who may be targeted for harassment or violence because of their gender, race or faith tradition. While such incidents appear to be decreasing, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that over 400 such incidents have taken place to date.
Then, I considered that perhaps my feelings stem from not being able to offer words adequate to the task of providing hope and comfort. While, I would love to lift up a more optimistic message and tell people it’s going to be OK, none of us actually know whether that’s entirely true. When he is sworn in as president, it’s entirely possible that Donald Trump will behave differently than he did as a candidate. But nobody – including himself, I sense – knows for sure. And I perceive the early appointments he is making to point in ominous directions.
But at this point, if I had to put my finger on what is hardest for me personally, it is that I don’t know how to be a pastor right now.
I have served my present congregation for 12 years. We have been through a great deal together. In particular, we have grieved many losses as a family of faith. And while all losses are difficult, a few were sudden and tragic. As a pastor, I’ve known some excruciating days with my community when I have struggled to find the right words to offer.
Yet this, somehow, feels worse.
I believe it’s because when we have faced loss before, the entire church came together pitching in to help. In hard times, people came out of the woodwork to set up our sanctuary for standing-room-only crowds, provided food and helped to create a generous, loving, caring space in which people could lament and begin the healing process. In those instances we were on the same team, pulling together as one. Despite the fact that the congregation I serve is all over the map theologically and politically, we were as one during those terribly hard times.
But we aren’t feeling that way right now. This election has fragmented us into shattered pieces, all experiencing something different. Some of the people I serve feel like this is just an election. They wish everyone would just get over it. One of these folks articulated that this is the equivalent of your sports team losing. Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose; but you always move on. They don’t want to hear anything more about this and feel like politics don’t really belong in church anyway. Yet, another segment of my community is feeling absolutely devastated, wrecked and frightened. They would say this is nothing like a team losing in sports. When a sports team loses, no one is worried about human rights being endangered or increasing violence stemming from hatred. No, for them right now, words that leap to hope too quickly ring hollow. And then, I believe there’s at least one other element of the community I serve who really don’t know what to think, but do wish that I would downplay current events and just lift up a hopeful message: less cross and more resurrection.
And what is so hard for me is that I love all of these people. It’s not just because I’m supposed to as a pastor, but it’s because I know them. I’ve served here since 2004, and I’ve been with them through thick and thin. I know their hearts. We’ve never agreed on everything before, but we’ve always been able to find common ground. But that’s exactly what this election has eroded: common ground. And I’m left reeling, not entirely sure how to speak to all of the parts of Christ’s body in my care.
Of course I will press on. As Churchill once said: “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” But for the first time in my ministry, I really don’t know quite where we are headed. It’s possible that this may always have been the case, and any previous sense of direction has been an optimistic delusion. But this darkness feels deeper and thicker than it ever has to me before.
For now I cling to the psalmist’s hope that even this darkness is not dark to God, and even in the pit of Sheol, even there, God will find us still.
Ken Evers-Hood pastors Tualatin Presbyterian Church outside of Portland, Oregon. Ken writes about behavioral theology and game theory, and is the author of “The Irrational Jesus: Leading the Fully Human Church.” You can find him at irrationaljesus.com.