A little personal history lesson about me and elections:
- In July of 1995 I registered as a Republican on my eighteenth birthday. (My parents were Reagan Democrats)
- In the general election of 1996 I voted for Bob Dole. I was so disappointed “my candidate” didn’t win the first time I cast a vote.
- In 2000 I joined George W. Bush’s grassroots “Get Out the Vote” movement, knocked on doors, worked phones, and canvassed neighborhoods. I rejoiced in his win.
- In 2004 I was beginning to have my doubts about the notion that the Republican Party had a lock on Christianity. So many policies and practices had occured that seemed counter to what I was learning as a young woman about my growing faith–but I stuck to my guns and I “Got Out the Vote” for Bush again.
- I spent the next four years finding it impossible to defend that choice and drifting away from the “Christian Right”, even as my faith grew by leaps and bounds.
- In 2008 I abstained from voting in the general election. I spent the day in prayer and fasting and recommitted myself to working for the Kingdom of God and for the good of our nation in my day-to-day life. There is more than one way to fulfill our civic duty.
- In 2012 I switched my registration from the Republican Party to the Mountain Party (basically, West Virginia’s Green Party) as a protest to the shifting attitudes and policies of the Republican Party more than anything and voted for Barack Obama because I liked what I had witnessed from him the previous four years and many of his policies (not all) were in line with my ideas and faith.
- In the early days of this election I supported Bernie Sanders. I even switched my registration to Democrat so that I could vote for him in the primary. When Hillary Clinton won the nomination, I stood with her, not because I thought she was the ideal candidate, but because she most closely reflected my positions and ideal out of all the remaining candidates.
Now–with all that out in the open, I’d also like to point out that for the second time in my voting life it is beginning to appear that the person who won the popular vote will not win the election. That’s because America is built on democratic principles, but is not a “pure” democracy.
In 2000, the electoral college system worked in my favor–last night, it did not. But my support of the system hasn’t changed.
What I saw unfold in the 2000 election, which helped to cement my understanding of the electoral college system (something I had a difficult time grasping in junior high Civics classes), was how the electoral college system, with the guidance of the popular vote, spreads the power of the election more evenly throughout the country. Highly populated areas along the coastlines often carry the popular vote. But what happens when those of Middle America come out in large numbers? They may not be able to tilt the popular vote completely in their direction. But with the electoral college system, they have the power to do so… in certain situations.
The lesson, I loudly told anyone in 2000 who would listen, was that the simple majority needed to be willing to listen to the minority who had been able to use our system to tilt the election. The system protects the differing views of our citizens. What matters to people on the West Coast may not matter to those on the East Coast and what matters to either coast will be different from what matters to all those in between. But what is in between tends to be less populous, but should not be ignored just because they aren’t as many in number.
I was twenty-three then–sixteen years later, at the age of 39, I realize I had only half learned the lesson. It took a second close election. It took another probable chance of a popular vote not deciding another election. And it took me being on the other side. But I’ve finally learned the other half of the lesson.
Yes–those who tilted the popular vote need to listen to the other side. But, those who tilted the electoral college need to listen to the majority, too.
In 2000 we were so busy yelling, “We’re angry and you need to listen up” that we failed to do exactly what Bush had been promising to do: to be unifiers. We ushered in a season of unprecedented polarization in this country. I fully take responsibility for my part in that.
Look at how it has played out in this latest election cycle: people are fighting with their own families, friendships and relationships have been ended, angry rhetoric on both sides shut down any hope of reconciliation or coming together and finding a common path forward. We’ve all developed a “my way or the highway” attitude.
So how do we move forward?
Well, as a nation we need to stop shouting insults at each other across the political divide. We need to come together in wisdom and peace and be willing to listen to one another. And not just hear the words that are being spoken so that we can debate or argue, but hear the hurt, the anger, the fear, the worry, the hope, the dreams. We need to stop listening for the sake of arguing and start listening for the sake of understanding.
That’s the first step. From there we can begin working out a way forward. It will mean compromises on both sides, something we’ve all become loathe to do. But if we set aside our personal pride, we can do it.
As people of faith we need to realize that we are a broad and diverse group. I know good Christians who voted for Clinton. And I know good Christians who voted for Trump. No one party has a lock on what it means to be Christian. If anything, they may a lock on how we live in our personal lives. But just because we may walk with Jesus in different ways, we need to realize that we are all walking with Christ.
My journey with Christ took me from my conservative upbringing and the Christian Right into the world of progressive activism and the Christian Left today. To assume that this moment in anyone’s life locks them into attitudes and understandings for the rest of eternity is faulty. We are all growing. We are all changing. And if we are approaching it as people of faith, we are all experiencing a changing (hopefully deepening) relationship with Jesus.
I was a devout Christian when I cast my vote for Bush. And I was a devout Christian in the booth yesterday when I cast my vote for Clinton. I woke this morning, disappointed and disheartened, but still a devout Christian–and no matter how the election turned out, that is the truth that is bigger than any poll or result.
So–from a personal perspective, I vow to continue my journey with Christ. I vow to continue this walk that began 39 years ago, when my parents held me in their arms in that hospital room and met me face-to-face for the first time and promised to raise me as a Christian. But I won’t assume that the path I am on is the only path to Christ and the only way to be a Christian. I will be willing to hear you. I will love you. I may not always understand you, but I will try to do so. I may not always respect your positions and opinions, but I will respect you and give you space in my pew–a pew that has been growing longer and broader throughout my life.
Professionally speaking, I feel obligated to create a safe space for all people. Over the past year I’ve noticed that politics has edged its way into our conversations in Bible Studies, Sunday School classrooms, meetings, and other church-related discussions and gatherings. It has resulted in some people feeling alienated or unloved–myself included. This morning I’ve already fielded telephone calls from members who are also disappointed and dreading coming to church on Sunday because they worry the results of a worldly election will be lorded over them in their moment of sorrow.
This won’t happen. It can’t happen. In our pews are people on both sides of the divide and every where in between–and not one of them should be made to feel they aren’t welcome or that their faith is somehow less than someone else’s.
I will be deliberate in the days ahead in shutting down political discussions–not for the purpose of shutting down public discourse, but to preserve the sanctity of our holy gathering place. People need to know that regardless of which box they checked yesterday that they can come before the altar and offer themselves to God. Those who are celebrating need to be able to rejoice in the Lord…and those who feel disenfranchised by the current events need to be able to bring those woes before the Lord also.
Our sanctuary is big enough for all of us because it is big enough for God. But when we drag our opinions into that space, we start to edge out God with our selfishness and everything becomes smaller.
Yes, we can have honest discussion about things that are affecting our world and our lives. We can wrestle with God. We can struggle together to learn more. But it must be done with Christ at the center, not our graven images.
Rhetoric that lashes out at a candidate or that candidate’s followers will not be tolerated. Insults will not be tolerated. Hateful language will not be tolerated. Generalizing people and communities, casting stereotypes, or making stands that pit one group against another will not be tolerated. All of those are weapons of this world’s powers. We are going to lay down those weapons and come together, equally vulnerable, equally humbled.
We are all in this together.
As Americans I hope and pray we will learn to live together again.
As Christians we are obligated to live together. We are obligated to love one another.