Dear friends,

By the time you read this, it will be November 8, 2016, Election Day in the United States of America. I will have just returned from South Korea after a very fruitful visit with CST’s friends, colleagues, alumni, and prospective students. And what I have to share is very simple: please be mindful and prayerful today.

If you are of age, and registered to vote, please exercise that blessed right—your right to vote. I don’t begin to tell you for whom to vote; I just know that we, as citizens of the United States, are fortunate to be able to have a choice in determining our future(s).

While in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, I was reminded that we were just 35 miles away from North Korea, a communist country run by a dictator. For as divisive as this recent election season has been, we must still honor not only our ability to vote, but also our right to vote for the candidate of our choice.

I think you’ll agree, we have not done a very good job of hearing each other and there are great schisms to heal, starting November 9th. But, deep in my soul, I am convinced that we can come together, despite all the rhetoric and anger, as a nation of freedom-loving people, to heal division and tackle serious social ills together.

How do I know this? I know this because Claremont School of Theology reaches across barriers every day. We work hard to lower the walls that stand between us—religiously, culturally, ethnically, and politically—to be able to hear, understand, and—if not agree—then very respectfully remain engaged. We look for common meeting places where we can work together to fight against bigotry, racism, social injustice, hunger, and homelessness; and to fight for clean water, equal access, fair wages, good health care, and love, always love.

Today, I write to encourage you to vote, to exercise that essential aspect of being a citizen in the United States of America. And, when you awake tomorrow, I beg of you to be kind. Be grateful. And be aware of your neighbor, your fellow American whose candidate lost. Or won. As James 1:19 teaches, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger…” God bless you and God bless our journey together.

 

I leave you with some thoughts from some of our CST professors and faith leaders who are also pondering where we go from here.

What is it that God wants for the people of this nation, for this burdened world? It is not clichéd to believe our vote can make a difference, and what we do after that by holding the elected to election promises—that counts too. And if we can think about how close we all really are in what it is we are trying to bring about with this election, it may be the work-through. It might help us to open our eyes on November 9th, and say, “Well, let’s work together for the things that will make life better for our neighbors.” (Read full election sermon text here).

~ Pastor Brenda Torrie,
CST ’15, Associate Pastor, Redlands First UMC

 

This morning I asked M.Div. and D.Min. students at Wesley Theological College in Ho Chi Minh City to include the American election in their prayers. The debates received much attention here. Neither candidate holds economic or foreign-policy positions considered “helpful” to Vietnam, and most people I talk to emphasize the importance of making a choice that best preserves opportunities for peace.

~ Duane R. Bidwell, Ph.D.,
Professor of Practical Theology, Spiritual Care, and Counseling, Claremont School of Theology

 

I am already looking ahead to tomorrow, no matter who wins. A group of us are thinking and acting on how to consider post-election engagement with communities of faith working to prevent hate and violence, and creating collective visions for civic healing. I am going nowhere—staying here in my beloved city, my beloved state, my beloved country, no matter who wins. There’s work to do. Roll up your sleeves with me…

~ Najeeba Syeed, J.D.,
Associate Professor of Interreligious Education, Claremont School of Theology

 

It is thousands of years of genetic memories that teach us to demonize, de-humanize those with whom we find ourselves in conflict, because when they are “not-us,” we can safely categorize them as a threat. That is how humans survived the millennia—with categories. This plant is safe; that plant is not. This tribe is an ally; that tribe is a threat. And yet humans are also hard-wired for compassion—we can see this in our babies and young children. It’s the most profound act of love, of our Universalist tradition, to witness something beyond that instinctual categorical thinking. When all of our human history works to convince us that putting people into boxes keeps us safe, it’s dangerously radical to live into the idea that love wins.

~ Pastor Meghann (Ahern) Robern,
CST ’15, Sabbatical Minister at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, TN (Full sermon text here).

 

It is a fundamental responsibility of US citizenship to vote in elections. Without the participation of our citizens in the voting process, our democratic form of government cannot stand. For many of us, the choice in this election is clear. Those who are dissatisfied with the choice of candidates and who consider sitting out the election ignore their responsibility to choose. For those who are dissatisfied, the fundamental principle is to choose between the lesser of two evils.

~ Marvin A. Sweeney, Ph.D.,
Professor of Hebrew Bible, Claremont School of Theology

 

One thing that Muslim Americans have come to better understand is that we must be more involved in our local communities, because many fellow Americans need to recognize what they share in common with their Muslim neighbors and coworkers, rather than accepting the image of Muslims as framed by our political discourse.
While voting is not, on its own, the solution to many pressing problems, it is part of the process. It is imperative to vote and be counted, and then to stay engaged on issues that we feel strongly about—religious freedom, anti-racism, environmental consciousness, opposing militarism abroad and at home, and many others—working with friends and allies to improve our nation.

~ Jihad Turk,
President & Dean of Bayan Claremont

 

One take away from this election, whatever the results, is that we must not become complacent. This campaign has revealed the depth of prejudice that still exists in our country and, as faith leaders, we have the opportunity to do the work of healing, of challenging, and of being community.  Human rights are still being contested. Our very humanity as people of color, as members of LGBTQIA community, as immigrants, as disabled people, as fat people, as poor people has been thrown into question. As a Christian minister I affirm the sacred worth of all of God’s people and I will continue to work and pray for justice for all of us.

~ The Rev. Thea Racelis,
CST ’14, South Congregational Church UCC of Middletown, CT

 

I know the media cycle is dominated by fear and the election looks bleak, but take courage and vote. For somewhere I read, beloved, that the God of Abram, the God of Moses, the God who saw the children of Israel leave Egypt, told Haggai and is telling us, “‘Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel,’ says the Lord; ‘take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land,’ says the Lord; ‘work, for I am with you,’ says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.” So take courage, for God will and shall be with you. Take courage!

~ The Rev. Eddie Anderson,
CST ’16, Senior Pastor, McCarty Memorial Christian Church, Los Angeles, CA (Full sermon audio here).

 

This election makes me think of the work of Quaker educator Parker Palmer when he writes of “Healing the Heart of Democracy” and how we must strive for a political process worthy of the human spirit. How can we reclaim that spirit of democracy? The reconciliation that needs to be effected is beyond binary politics—winners or losers, those who are right and those who are wrong—but rather focused on how our country can best exemplify a spirit of democracy. This work is beyond what one POTUS can do alone—it calls each of us to a higher purpose and greater solidarity. Democracy is an ongoing process, not a fixed reality.

~ The Rev. Dr. Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook,
V.P. for Academic Affairs & Dean of the Faculty, Claremont School of Theology

 

Although technically we, as church leaders, cannot endorse a candidate running for office, we put this message on our church sign: “Choose Kindness…stand up for love!” And Bishop Guy Erwin issued a statement, calling for prayer and unity, guided by our Christian mandate to love our neighbor.

~ The Rev. Dr. Thomas Johnson,
Adjunct Professor at Claremont School of Theology, and Pastor, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Covina, CA

 

The world’s great spiritual paths teach compassion—a way of acting, of being, that fosters true healing, justice, restoration, and joy for all. I wonder: what compassionate response are we invited to live into after the votes are counted?

~ Andrew Dreitcer, Ph.D.,
Associate Prof. of Spirituality, Center for Engaged Compassion, Claremont School of Theology

 

This election has been particularly difficult because of the polarization that has surfaced among the American people. It is a time of uncertainly for many, but we must find a way to bridge the divides. When people open up and share their concerns and hopes as fellow human beings, partisanship recedes. Let us find ways to open conversations and enable people to set aside talking points for real conversations.

~ Munir Shaikh,
Director of Academic Affairs/Planning, Bayan Claremont

 

If this election has taught us anything, I pray that it has taught us to hear the pain of those who feel unseen and unheard. Voicelessness is a horrific form of human suffering to which we dare not close our eyes. Our Gospel imperative asks us to give voice to the voiceless and dignity to those who feel maligned, and to work for reconciliation, as Christ did, especially in moments brimming over with suffering and pain. Today is a day when we must turn our focus toward a kind of deep listening that costs much. Today is a day when our deepest ideals will be tested on the fulcrum of our subsequent actions. May we today, more than ever, seek a way to truly live out our baptismal covenant to see Christ in all persons and to respect the dignity of every human being.

~ The Very Rev. Sylvia Sweeney, Ph.D.,
Dean and President, Bloy House/Episcopal Theological School at Claremont

 

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of American (ELCA) published a voter’s guide that covers all non-candidate issues and offers suggestions for voters. For the candidate races, we are encouraging voters to evaluate the candidates based on values, behaviors, and examples that they observe in the candidates in their lives, businesses, and voting records. Do the values of the candidates resonate with your values? If not, why not? We also encouraged our congregants to discuss the topics and candidates at a forum we assembled after church a few Sundays ago. We as clergy are also available for conversations about voting. It is our way of providing Pastoral Care.

~ Chaplain Wally Burman,
CST ’14, Assistant to the Pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Covina.

 

Time spent in the voting booth allows for the exercise of a basic right and responsibility of every citizen, and it can be a prayerful reminder that we are building community. We are invited to envision a community built on respect for others, peace, hospitality, and compassion. This election day marks the beginning of the challenging work that will make possible a more perfect union with justice and liberty for all!

~ The Rev. Dr. Lincoln E. Galloway,
K. Morgan Edwards Associate Professor of Homiletics, Claremont School of Theology

 

Dr. Kuan, I will join you and others to reflect on the recent turn of events, the consequences of which could be disastrous for women, religious, ethnic, and LGBTQ minorities of this great nation.  Mr. Trump’s advocacy of reverting to fossil fuels will, no doubt, have negative impact on green energy, ecology, and climate change under his administration.  The Trump administration could be short-lived, but the legacy he will leave behind with the appointment of Supreme Court judges will be long-lasting, impacting the lives of our children’s children.  This is a grave matter and we all need to consider our actions very carefully.

~ Deepak Shimkhada, Ph.D., 
Adjunct Professor, Claremont School of Theology