GOSHEN — The morning after a long, gritty and expensive presidential race, pastor Karl Shelly spoke Wednesday to community members and Goshen College students about the importance of reconciliation in the wake of a particularly divisive election season.
“At its best, politics is about the improvement of people’s lives,” Shelly said in the Umble Center on campus. “At its best, it’s about coming together with your neighbors, choosing representatives and accomplishing things together that you can’t do separately.”
Shelly admitted, however, that often, different visions of how to best accomplish those objectives strikes a wedge between people of differing viewpoints, creating a need for healing.
The pastor at Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen and adjunct professor at the college invited Julia King, community organizer with LaCasa of Goshen, and Goshen College history professor John D. Roth to speak about their political identities and how it influences their actions and responses to people politically.
King noted that political differences may often seem to be a vast expanse that cannot be bridged.
Simply discussing issues and voting should remind people of their similarities in wanting the best for the community and country and bind them together as a community. “Opting out (of the community) is not an option,” she added.
Roth spoke to why he refrains from voting in presidential elections, saying the conduct of the candidates and the division such races cause damage community and muddies the view of opponents as children of God.
Political identity, Roth explained, is far more than how a person votes; it’s how they live and carry out their beliefs. “Not voting for me was a kind of spiritual discipline, a reminder that my ultimate allegiance and deepest identity is to a Christ who taught us to love unconditionally,” he said.
Shelly took the stage again, illustrating that party polarization in Congress is at its highest point in more than a century, and that people now have the lowest, least flattering view of the opposing party than ever before.
He equated morality with taste buds, explaining that while one person may see or taste something one way, another may see it differently and that in order to reconcile, people must understand that “your morality is not universal.”
“Here’s what I hope you get out of this,” he continued. “There are good reasons why the various political groups come to the conclusions they do and these reasons are based on moral foundations which we have all inherited.”
Taking the time to understand the concerns of those not in agreement with our opinions is paramount to reconciling after bitterly disputed political contests, Shelly noted.
“Meeting people counts, talking counts,” he said, quoting former “Daily Show” producer Michael Rubens. “When I’m exposed to views I dislike, I try to remind myself of the human being behind these views and to cut that person some slack.”
Editor's note - The original version of the story said Shelly is lead pastor at Assembly Mennonite Church. He is a member of the pastoral team, but the church doesn't have a lead pastor.