A URI Perspective on the US Presidential Election

15 November 2016

The Constitution of the United States begins with these words: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution…” September 17, 1787

The Charter of the United Religions Initiative begins with these words: “We, people of diverse religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions throughout the world, hereby establish the United Religions Initiative to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings.”  June 26, 2000

These two lofty intentions, 213 years apart, are based upon a common assumption, i.e. the legitimizing necessity of grassroots authority. In the case of the United States, the language states, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.” In the case of the United Religions Initiative, the language states, “We have the authority to make decisions at the most local level that includes all the relevant and affected parties.” So at the end of the day, the voice of the people determines the direction, whether in the USA or the URI.

Given that the voice of the people of the United States was heard on the night of November 8, 2016 General Election, I have several comments to make from a URI perspective. 

First, URI operates in 96 countries, so matters in the USA aren’t our whole concern.

Second, we need to have a moment of humility and reflection.  “No one saw this (the election results) coming” was the shocking comment of the evening. There were subterranean forces at work which, when surfaced, caught everyone off guard. We “know-it-all” folks need to bow toward the unexpected, deep yearnings that escaped our view but which have appeared and now demand respect. Hidden hurts deserve attention.

Third, URI has a high doctrine of respect for people of different religions, for the environment, for women, for the marginalized, for diversity as a gift, for fairness in financial matters.  Up until November 8, 2016, URI thought it was in sync with similar attitudes in the USA.  But the winning message of this election made an appeal to the country which seemed to promote opposite values. Many in URI are of a heavy heart and deeply worried just now.

Fourth, the USA has been around for a long time and gone through manifold moments of crisis and evolution. In the long run, the USA can be trusted to correct its mistakes and forge a better path.  But each change has to ripen at its own pace.  It is possible that the pace of our cultural and common life has moved faster than all of our people could accommodate. Cars have brake pedals and acceleration pedals.  Both have their moments. Perhaps, the electorate just put on the brakes.

Fifth, URI has been successful in getting Muslims and Christians to talk and work together.  I wish that we could be as successful in getting Republicans and Democrats to do the same.  Appreciative inquiry could go a long way at this moment of time. In the present polarization in the USA, URI members here have a special calling to be “bridge-builders.” Our country could use bridge-builders just now.

Sixth, no one knows what is going to happen next in the USA.  Perhaps, someone will do the right thing for the wrong reason.  Perhaps, some desperately needed things might just get done.  Perhaps, we will cast off the 24/7 cable news propagandizing that comforts us and chose the harder path of reconciliation with our suspected enemies. Who knows? The “surprise factor” keeps us from a false sense of omniscience and keeps us hopeful. 

At the end of the day, I have confidence in the USA, because it is founded on the consent of the governed. At the end of the day, I have confidence in the URI, because of its grassroots base.