Joe Biden became the president-elect, set to become the oldest American president from being one of the youngest senators in U.S. history. Kamala Harris – a daughter to an Indian immigrant mother and Jamaica-born father – became the first female, first Black, and first South-Asian vice president-elect. Listening to Biden’s first address to the country, I could not agree more that it is the time to heal America. He spoke of commitment for unity and pledged to be a president who “does not see red or blue states, but United States.” Unity, not division, is what we need to get through the pandemic and its impact on the economy.
It is said that theology calls for a willingness to be wrong and to learn from others. It’s about having a heart of wonder and an attitude of humility – the kind of maturity that enables the art of living together despite our differences in thought and perspective. This year’s presidential election has underscored the necessity of this virtue. The race had the highest voter turnout in modern US history, and 71 million fellow Americans voted for Trump. And this fact speaks to us of the great diversity of people, of life contexts, and opinions in this vast country.
I’m freshly reminded during election seasons how the structure of US government prevents any one party from becoming too powerful. The separation of powers and the system of checks and balances make cooperation inevitable. As I have witnessed over the past few decades, there’s a push toward the left when the power is tilted to the right, and there’s a push toward the right when the power is tilted to the left. The biggest reason Biden lost ground with Hispanic voters in Florida is the fears of Democrats ushering in socialism to the United States. Labeling Biden as a socialist is unfair; but for many immigrants from countries like Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela who fled from socialist autocrats back home, the concern is real. The Democrats could wind up with the slimmest House majority in 20 years, and Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia raised the issue with the party’s progressive left for costing them important seats with slogans such as ‘Defund the Police’ and ‘Socialism.’ The argument is that such topics have negatively affected their moderate, white, middle-class constituencies. In response, Rep. AOC of New York, a leading voice of the party’s left wing, pushed back that it is irresponsible and unsustainable to avoid the problem of race in this country.
I hear that the concerns about Democrats and socialism are considerable among Korean Americans too. About 80% of white evangelicals support Trump, but Korean Christians lean toward him in even greater proportions. This is our reality. Interestingly however, actual gains in Korean American political leadership occurred within the Democratic Party. Andy Kim of NJ was reelected in the House of Representatives, and so was Strickland of Tacoma, whose mother is Korean. Grace Meng of NY, whose husband is Korean, won her fifth term. Most of the Korean Americans at the city or state council are also Democrats. And it seems to me that more Democrats exercise their rights to vote within Korean American communities.
I posted a song by Ray Charles, “Georgia On My Mind,” on my Facebook a few days ago. There was a possibility of Georgia flipping from red to blue, which could change politics nationwide. I received a message shortly afterward, asking me to be more reserved in terms of my political color on social media. Contrary to my reasoning that it’s just a song, his suggestion was that the senior pastor of First UMC in Flushing should rather opt for a song that helps bridge, not drive, political divides. It was a valid point given the diversity of perspectives and opinions within our church. I agree that pastors should treat political issues with much care so as to not impose their personal views on the congregation. But when my daughter suggested we order Indian food to celebrate, I welcomed the idea with a big yes.
“Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics,” so wrote French poet Charles Peguy. I think it translates into saying that people who believe in Jesus should first regard everything through the words and heart of Jesus, and then responsibly participate in politics to spread that faith. But the problem has always been that Christians tend to mistake their own political beliefs for God’s will.
Mysticism, however, recognizes that human experience cannot fully comprehend or encompass God’s action and will in our lives. Rather than insisting on the infallibility of human judgment, mysticism calls for trust and humility to wait for God to take the lead.