This Nation Needs Soul Work, Not Poll Work     

By Junius B. Dotson

The bitter reality we cannot escape from the presidential election is that what many of us have always believed about this nation may indeed be true: we are deeply divided and our station as a kind and just nation is vey likely overstated.

This reality surfaced for many people because the election finished disappointingly close.

I just don’t understand.

While I’m relieved that a simple majority of voters rejected the angry and intentionally divisive rhetoric of the past four years, I’m grieved by the razor-thin victory margin that shouts to me that our problems are not with fringe groups with outsized voices, but with neighbors and friends in our daily work and living circles who don’t understand the devastating effect the daily assault on one’s personhood brings.

This victory may have been achieved at too great a cost. We can’t un-see what we experienced these past four years and for many of us, it has been shattering. This is the bitter fruit of the tree of knowledge.

President-elect Joe Biden has called for healing across our political divide, but that can’t happen without deep, spiritual introspection. Faith leaders across the theological and political spectrum must lead our nation into a “soul reset” that dismantles racial privilege and oppression. We need a reset, a moment to prayerfully reflect on the responsibility we bear for the violence, chaos, the rise of white supremacy and hate groups over the past four years.

Biden’s plea is laudable but does not reflect the gravity of our challenge. This isn’t some difference of opinion we can settle by dialing back our egos. This is a spiritual battle.

President Donald Trump loosed some of our nation’s darkest racial impulses. As John Pavlovitz wrote recently, we should “not feel morally bound to make peace with a heart that dehumanizes other human beings because of the color of their skin, their nation of origin, their gender, their orientation. And to have embraced Donald Trump now, is to unapologetically brandish such a polluted heart.”

In the face of this reality, Biden’s admonition, though urgent, feels quaint.

We’re facing the great spiritual challenge of our time, particularly as the long predominant white population dwindles and a multi-racial, multi-ethnic population surges into numerical and likely political dominance.

I agreed with depictions of this presidential election as a fight for the soul of America. This soul work belongs to the church. We can promote chaos or community. The one thing we all have in common is pain. We have to help this country heal.

But this isn’t poll work. This is soul work. In fact, despite the fact that an election brought us to this point, politics has never been less important. We need to relinquish any and all party affiliation and move into transformational relationships with ourselves and with each other.

We will build these deep relationships through discipleship and through courageous conversation. Cornel West says that we don’t arrive at “Truth” until suffering speaks, and Christians need to hear that pain and grief.

Christians will also need to denounce with our mouths and mobilize spiritually against the foundation of that pain and purposefully and intentionally move to dismantle systemic racism and white supremacy for the sinful practices they are. Only then, can we hope to begin to close our cultural wounds.

As Second Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin, and heal their land.”

So, this is not something that we should do. We have a prophetic imperative to bear witness to hope. We are called to “seek the peace and prosperity of our cities.” (Jer 29:7). To announce a vaccine that has already been developed. This balm in Gilead that can heal the sin sick soul.

This is not some antiseptic intellectual debate.

We have to scour our hearts and souls for direction, for answers and eventually and prayerfully, for our redemption.

A recognized visionary leader in church revitalization, the Rev. Junius B. Dotson is the General Secretary (chief executive officer) of Discipleship Ministries, an international agency of The United Methodist Church. He began his tenure on July 1, 2016. Prior to his present position, Rev. Dotson was pastor of Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kansas, where he was instrumental in transforming the church into a 3,500-member multi-campus congregation.