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RGOD2: After the election, pray for grace

While the victors in the local and national elections move on with implementing their policies and dreams, the candidates and parties that were not elected face some deep existential questions.

The Republican Party had a wake-up call to look afresh at the diversity of America and reframe their political ideology in a way that can be understood and perhaps be accepted by more people.

The winners need to face the reality that the contest was close and their election by a small margin of voters tempers any sense of a mandate to do whatever they want as elected officials. Races were so close and emotions so high that most elected officials need to work very hard on reconciliation and making sure they represent all their constituents.

The presidential election gives the incumbent another four years to seek ways of making Washington work for the common good of the country and the world.

Reflecting on the San Diego mayoral race

Here in San Diego, the mayoral race between Republican and openly gay candidate Carl DeMaio and Democrat Bob Filner was one of the nastiest political campaigns I have witnessed in years. It became so personalized, and character assassination became an acceptable weapon in their campaigns arsenal. San Diegans pride ourselves in being a community of collaboration where everyone looks out for everyone else’s interest, but it is going to take many years to heal the deep divisions that have been gouged into the San Diego political landscape.

We were somewhat spoiled by a really great mayor, Jerry Sanders, who was a progressive Republican and was able to reach across party divisions to lead this whole community. If the Republican Party needs a model to reframe issues, communication and leadership, they ought to utilize Sanders as their coach. So, the real work of rebuilding trust, respect and focusing on issues that requires both parties to work together begins in earnest. It is my belief and hope that our elected officials can now take a higher road and reach out to others. It is incumbent upon us to make sure our former political enemies become colleagues for the common good. How can we do that?

Lessons from Northern Ireland

I spent a year at Trinity College, Dublin studying International Peace processes and witnessed the difficult work of ending sectarian violence in Ireland. I lived with a community of Irish Catholic monks called Redemptorists. They had served in parishes all over the world and none was more challenging as their mother house (Clonard) in the middle of war-torn Belfast. A member of this community was a remarkable priest called Alec Reid. He had retired after a long and rich ministry and was living in the Dublin house, so I spent many evenings getting to know him and to understand his approach to peace making. It was interesting to study the history of the Irish peace process during the day and have dinner in the evening with someone who actually created it.

When the power-sharing government of Unionists and Republicans met in Belfast in 2007, Reid was invited into the VIP box with Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Bertie Aherne as well as the architect of the peace process, Sen. George Mitchell. He became the ultimate mediator between the British, Irish and Unionist factions and spent years delivering messages and negotiating agreements long before everyone was actually talking at the negotiating table. His bedroom was full of boxes that contained historically significant documents that ended one of the most violent disputes in the modern era. He managed to get the Irish nationalists and Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army to agree on a strategy that ultimately led to a constitutional change in the Irish Republic that had claimed Irish territory in Northern Ireland and convinced the Irish Republican Army to lay down its weapons and use the electoral process to achieve their aims rather than through violence.

Reid was a remarkable man and a priest. He worked all his life on the streets among the people so he had a remarkable grasp of reality. He called this “lessons from the streets.” He avoided hearing the news from the media only and would spend time on the barricades to find out what was really going on. These were his “lessons from the streets.”

One of his altar boys at Clonard monastery in Belfast grew up to be the infamous Gerry Adams who became a leader in the Irish Republican movement and convinced the IRA to stop killing people for political gain. I met Adams for the first time last month at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York and we talked about Reid. Clinton played a major role in helping the British government understand the need to bring Adams to the negotiating table. He was regarded as a terrorist and was so despised in the British media they dubbed his voice and used subtitles when he appeared on British television. He literally had no voice and no respect from the British establishment but Clinton and Mitchell, with the help of people like Reid, changed that.

Reid’s reputation for being a mediator brought him into contact with the Basque independence movement, ETA. Fiercely socialist and largely atheist and anti-Catholic, they reached out to a Catholic priest to help them understand the Irish peace process. He laughed when he reflected on how strange he appeared in a room full of anti-church and anti-religious people talking about grace! He described grace in a very simple way.

“Grace is a moment that breaks into a seemingly impossible situation when both sides of an argument or factions have exhausted all possibilities for dialogue. It is a moment of surrender because there is obviously no solution and people are ready to walk away from the negotiations or give up talking to one another to resume violence. Then, something mysterious happens and GRACE breaks in. It is unexpected and it provides a space for people to continue working together on the ultimate solution to their conflict.”

As ETA leaders kept experiencing little moments of space in the difficult talks with the Spanish authorities they began to understand what Reid was talking about. Reidc laughed how there were times in negotiations when they would actually refer to an impasse and pray for a moment of grace!

Applying peace-making tactics to LGBT situation worldwide

I have found Reid’s principles for peacemaking very helpful in both personal reconciliation and larger conflicts. We have more than 300 million LGBT people in the world who live every day with a big heterosexual foot shoved on our throats. Over them stand Archbishops and political leaders who deny us our citizenship, our right to exist, and our relationship with God and each other.

For me, this provides an opportunity to create a peace process that has global significance. The old maxim “when a man has a foot on another man’s throat, both of them are going no-where” rings true for me in the struggle for LGBT rights and human dignity. Reid’s principles for peacemaking may also be helpful to Bob Filner and Carl DeMaio, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and the divided city and country they are elected to serve and leaders.

1. Always allow space for God to act-for “GRACE.” When it looks as if there is no room for dialogue and the common out, allow yourself to be surprised by the mysterious breaking in!

2. Conflicts need to be removed “from the street” and taken to the negotiating table. If there is some form of civil disobedience or public demonstration of dissatisfaction Reid believes the issue is fundamentally about human rights. (This can also apply to LGBT issues where conflict in the political “public square” or marches in support of marriage equality support this principle. LGBT people need to be at the negotiating table because this is about our fundamental human rights).

3. Everyone should have “parity of esteem” – no-one should be excluded from the negotiating table. (We cannot demonize one another enough to exclude us from being heard). We cannot deny a person’s identity. We cannot suppress the collective identity of a minority community. The Republican party’s platforms have denied the rights of LGBT people, immigrants and women for too long and maybe this election will help them see they will gain more support for their policies if “minorities” are respected instead of feared. We need to be at the table.

4. Women are needed in the peace process. Gender parity and respect for the balance of male and female energy is needed if peace is to be realized. (Filner and DeMaio are surrounded by really great women leaders in San Diego and they both need to ask for help from them to rebuild trust and a shared vision for the community. Our women leaders also need to call them to account for their behavior and demand their commitment to solve their personal issues for the common good. Washington’s problems may also be solved merely by the fact we are electing more women leaders and testosterone may be managed more effectively.

Thank God this election is over, so now the real work can begin. If we can take an ounce of wisdom from Reid’s experience and advice, we all may begin to move towards a different place. If not, we remain like two frozen dummies from Madame Tussaud’s waxwork museum, one foot on the neck of the other. Both are going nowhere.

RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.