The business of government is a uniquely earthly affair. We only need taxes and laws because we human beings are imperfect, fallen creatures. James Madison put it best in Federalist No. 51: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” But sometimes the earthly business of politics and government – and our human imperfections that necessitate it in the first place – require that we turn to the otherworldly, the divine, for guidance and strength.
Ben Franklin thought this a reasonable course of action on June 28th, 1787. He lamented that his fellow delegates to the Constitutional Convention, then assembled in the sweltering Philadelphia summer heat, had not yet “thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings.” Franklin and the other delegates had been haggling for weeks over the question of how to structure representation in the new and improved federal government, but compromise had thus far proven elusive. Franklin sought divine intervention – and daily divine intervention at that, as he called on the Convention to institute daily prayer to open each session from there on out.
When faced with tough, momentous political decisions as voters or government officials, those of us who buy Franklin’s claim “that God governs in the affairs of men” would be remiss not to ask God to guide our decisions. As we head to our polling places (or drop off our mail-in ballots), prayers might be in order.
If I have learned anything from my Catholic faith, it’s that our prayers can be most powerful not only when they seek God’s guidance, but also when they seek the strength we need to cope with difficulty – to act justly and remain faithful to our bedrock values no matter what comes our way. This is the sort of prayer that those of us disposed to praying must offer up this November 3rd.
Today, Americans can offer up a prayer that we, as individuals, can muster the strength to contribute to our communities and our nation in the years to come, no matter the election results. We can pray that our leaders rediscover a politics of grace and human dignity. We can pray that our nation’s civic bonds do not snap. And we can pray that the work of restoring our frayed ties begins anew right now – and that we ourselves find ways to contribute to this essential project.
And in the event of a contested election, we must pray that we, our fellow citizens, and our political leaders learn the importance of taking a deep breath. Like Andrew Sullivan, I too am dreaming of a Biden landslide. The way I see it, Joe Biden has the character for the job. He seems ready and able to refocus our public discourse away from Twitter spats and back on the issues that matter – economic security, upward mobility, civil rights, health care affordability.
My personal opinions and daydreams aside, it seems likely that in this fraught period of American politics, we are heading for a challenging, tension-filled period following November 3rd. In some critical battleground states like my home state of Pennsylvania, it is clear that a winner might not emerge for a few days after Election Day.
So, let us pray that before we all rush to the streets (and the courts), we let the democratic process play out. Let’s pray for calm, and let’s pray for patience. If a candidate fails to respect the election results, then yes, let’s pray for the strength to not merely sit on the sidelines and shake our heads in disgust. Let’s prove ourselves “sober people who are militant about America,” in the words of David Brooks, by engaging in “a sustained campaign of civic action” to safeguard our Constitution and our democracy from being trampled underfoot by hacks.
Above all else, let’s pray it doesn’t come to that and have a little faith in our constitutional system, the norms that undergird it, and the people wielding power under it.
Today, a prayer for strength is a prayer for the nation. With the election soon over and done with, the task at hand will be a tall one: To forge a way forward out of our contempt-ridden politics, weakened social trust, and worsening material deprivation. Regardless of who holds governmental power — from the White House down to the statehouse — we must refocus our energies on this work and ask God for the strength to do it.
So, after you vote, pray that come next election cycle, our situation won’t be as dire as it is today, and pray for the strength to help see that vision through.