With Malice Toward None: Loving Our Political Opponents

Written on: November 3, 2020

The following appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times on Sunday November 1. We have permission to post it here.

November 1 is All Saints Day. It is a day to remember all the saints – sacred and secular, public and personal – who have gone before and shown us how to be more loving. Take a moment now to give thanks for the saints who have shown you how to love.

This year, it is also the last Sunday before election day. Regardless of which candidate wins, about 60 million Americans will be upset with another 60 million who voted differently. Tempers will flare; violence may erupt. Take a moment now to hold our country in prayer during this time of anxiety.

Abraham Lincoln is a favorite saint of mine. He is also a saint we need to heed in this time of trial.

In his First Inaugural Address, Lincoln tried to avert Civil War by appealing to “the better angels of our nature.” During the ensuing slaughter, Lincoln honored his vow: “I shall do nothing in malice. What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing.”

In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln became his own braver angel. The Union was on the cusp of total victory.  Yet Lincoln called for national humility and reconciliation rather than sectional humiliation and revenge.  His address ended with this plea:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Now, like then, is the time for malice toward none and charity for all. My faith and my patriotism compel me to answer Lincoln’s summons.

As a Christian, I believe that all people are created equal and are equally beloved by God. Genesis and the Sermon on the Mount say so. Because my enemies are also equally beloved by God, I am required to love them — no ands, ifs, or buts. I can strongly disagree with my political opponents, but I cannot hold on to hate for them personally and claim I’m a Christian.

I am also an American patriot who loves our Constitution. I believe that all people are created equal and that we are called as a nation to make that truth become ever more real. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and King’s Letter from a  Birmingham Jail so testify.

In our Constitution, “We, the People” sought to create “a more perfect union.”

The only way to achieve that union is to respect the dignity of our opponents. There’s nothing perfect about one side seeking to annihilate the other. Ronald Reagan got it right: “How can you love your country without loving your countrymen?”

How I intend to vote is irrelevant. I have assured my friends that I will love them and their families no matter how they vote and have asked them to return the favor. When a presidential candidate angers me, I substitute a friend’s face of my friend for that candidate’s face and I remember our bonds of mutual affection.

Given my commitments as a Christian and a citizen, I am participating in a campaign organized by Braver Angels and called With Malice Toward None. The other night I participated in a conference call of 480 Braver Angel advocates all across the country – Trump and Biden voters united in seeking mutual kindness rather than divisive contempt. At the heart of this campaign is this pledge:

“Regardless of how the election turns out, I will not hold hate, disdain, or ridicule for those who voted differently from me. Whether I am pleased or upset about the outcome, I will seek to understand the concerns and aspirations of those who voted differently and will look for opportunities to work with people with whom I disagree.”

The key word is “hold.” Most of us have strong feelings about the candidates; many of us are going to be disappointed, hurt, and angry when the results are known. The pledge is not asking us to surrender our views or come to a Kumbaya moment with our opponents; it is simply asking us to honor the dignity of every blessed person and to seek the healing our country so desperately needs. Given our shared humanity and patriotism, “We, the People” can surely find common ground.

I have signed this pledge and if you would like to join me, click here. But regardless of whether the wording of this pledge appeals to you, I ask you to look deep into the heart of your own faith and patriotism and to consider what pre-election commitment you will make to our post-election healing.

And if, perish the thought, post-election chaos arises, I urge you to join me in doing everything we can to Hold America Together.

May our better and braver angels prevail. May we speak and act with malice toward none and charity for all.

Bob Anderson is a regular contributor to the From a Faith Perspective column in the Bucks County Courier Times. He is a member of both St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Yardley and Newtown Friends Meeting.

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