Our Divided Nation: A Reflection from Dr. Keith Anderson

This week, we are confronted more than ever before by the division and fragmentation of our culture. The Seattle School is committed to equipping people who will step into that divided space to foster attunement to the pain and brokenness in the individuals and communities around us. To that end, Dr. Keith Anderson, President of The Seattle School, wrote the following reflection for our community as election results were still unfolding.


As I write these words I’m somewhere in Texas on a train heading north. I don’t yet know the outcome of the election—still too close to call.

Keith-Anderson1-300x200This was my 13th time to vote in a national election. My candidates have lost many times—starting with George McGovern the first time I voted. During those elections we were at war, in recession, deep in inflation, and at each other over Vietnam, civil rights legislation, foreign policy, the draft, and social agendas that seemed destined to tear us apart.

This year’s election has revealed a schism, a great divide, deeply felt animosity, disrespect and fear in our country—often from one group against another. This time around, middle ground seems harder to find. Platitudes don’t serve us well—the gaps are enormous and the fears are palpable. In our naïveté, I suspect some thought this election would provide resolution and an ending to a long political season. We’ll see.

Platitudes don’t serve us well—the gaps are enormous and the fears are palpable. tweet

When a nation is divided it is vulnerable. Such vulnerability highlights the need for character and skills that we hope are foundational to a Seattle School education: curiosity in the midst of differences, discourse even in contested conversations, listening when all you want to do is walk away, “and offering a table” in the very presence of those with whom we most strongly disagree. To be people of such character and skill is costly—and more costly for some in our midst than others.

The election results were just reported: The theme of “too close to call” is slowly giving way to a different reality.

Some, perhaps most, are reeling in disbelief. For some it is the joy of what seemed impossible, for some it is shock. I remember students and staff who wore black when their candidate lost, conjuring an old American tradition of grief at what seemed an impending death of hope. Some in our midst undoubtedly feel that same sense of loss, that same death. In the face of such, what is there to be said?

I suppose the right thing to say is we are called now, as always, to deep prayer. We are called to speak truth in love. We are called to serve the only kingdom that will prevail with prophetic cries for and against, to say “yes” and to say “no,” to act as agents of peace, reconciliation, and grace. The right thing is to remind us in the depths of our grief or fear, God is present to us all as we wrestle with life in its hardest moments.

God is present to us all as we wrestle with life in its hardest moments. tweet

Paul Steinke, Vice President of Student & Alumni Development, asks what I believe is one of the great questions for Christians to ponder: “Where do you wrestle with the angel of hope, the angel of despair, and the angel of blessing?” Perhaps this is such a time we wrestle with the angel of despair: There is anger that is real, fear we cannot calm, and questions about the future of our democracy that do not have answers. This is a time when “right things to say” fall on deaf ears or hard hearts or shocked and numbed minds. So we must start with the grief and fear that inhabits our bodies, the trauma which is within us and around us. Beginning there gives us choices. We must find those with whom to cry and rage and those who share our sense of gain or loss.

And, yet, if we stay there, inevitably the divide will continue to grow and the days ahead promise to express our divisions in rancor, ugliness, and more fear.

I am not oblivious or detached. Political gains and the losses are real. They shape strategies and call for action to correct, overturn, or reverse what we see as wrong, unjust, or evil. The issues are enormous, the consequences grave, and the stage, global. And yet…we will have moments with each other, face-to-face. In classes, families, households, and communities, there will be moments for us all to talk against each other or past each other or over each other or even those outside our doors. It now falls to each of us and all of us together to ask, “What now?”

Democracy has been chosen a 13th time in my life. Each time it calls me to the only kingdom that will always prevail for even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. We are a community of diverse political views in a divided nation. Feel your passion. Look always for injustice. Fight always against evil. And may we find ways to speak truth in love, continue to practice kindness and grace, and look for surprising evidence of the kingdom to God, the good news of Jesus Christ, to our right and to our left, behind us and before us.

I offer my thoughts as my prayer and call us as followers of Jesus to help us heal and find ways forward together as we go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

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