It’s election season. Actually, it has been since the day after the last election, but we are now only three weeks away from a national election. But I don’t have to tell you that, unless you are holed up in a cave somewhere, and in that case you would never be reading these words anyway. I live in one of those “battleground states,” in which the electoral vote that determines who will be elected President is likely to be decided. That means we are under the gun for television ads, radio ads, browser ads, print media ads, brochures in the mail. In short we are under a barrage through every conceivable means a candidate has at his or her disposal in order to communicate with us. I was in a conversation earlier this week in which we all agreed that technology is such that we should not have to listen to the political ads for candidates for whom we cannot vote – for example the United States Senate race in Maryland. I don’t live in Maryland. It is clearly torturous enough to have to listen to the endless ads – or should I say the endless charges and countercharges – for the candidates on whom I will vote. I’ve further concluded that, since I will be out-of-state on November 6 and have already voted absentee, I should be able to get some kind of an exemption from all of those attempts to influence my already-cast vote. I am so fed up with candidates who try to get my vote by attacking his or her opponent. I would much rather listen to candidates telling me who they are, what their values are, what their goals would be if elected to office. If I know who they are and what they value I am much better able to determine if I can support them with my vote. Instead, they all – or almost all – try to get my vote by telling me what a dangerous rascal the other candidate is – trying to define the opponent and his or her values and goals in a way that will demonize that opponent. We all complain about this, but the fact is that such negative attacks on opponents win elections. That is, we (the electorate, present readers excluded of course) allow our votes to be influenced by such attacks. I’ve heard people say, “We deserve better” candidates and elected officials. I believe that in the end we get what we deserve, and if we really want different results we had better start looking at ourselves for answers rather than at the behavior of the candidates. We must change.
Suppose Jesus ran for office – let’s say for Senator from Virginia, since that is a highly visible race this year. I’m somewhat reluctant to even bring this up, because each of us seems to have a way of understanding Jesus and his teachings so that our own beliefs and biases are essentially affirmed. To state the obvious, therefore, the following are my own opinions about how this might play out. How would He handle the inevitable attacks from His opponent? Based on his public ministry as recorded in the gospels, he could reveal publicly the dark inner thoughts of His opponent, lay out for the whole electorate every last sin and stumble – as He did for the Samaritan woman He encountered at Jacob’s well. His advisors (can you imagine that job!) would urge Him to do exactly that. Instead, He would more likely say something like, “Forgive him, for he doesn’t know what he does.” Or, when accused of being soft on terrorism, He might reply that we need to pray for our enemies. When He would be pushed for His own platform, He would probably say something like it could be summed up in loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself. Instead of attacking His opponent, He would call each of us to live out the best that is within us – as He did long ago with those He called to follow Him then. He would not say things just because we wanted to hear them, or make promises that would be neither pursued if He were elected nor be desirable if they were. When I come across a candidate who employs those campaign tactics, I will be very likely to vote for him or her, who – like Jesus if He ran – will probably lose. But if he somehow won, that’s when the changes would begin. It would be interesting.
It’s easy to write those words, and even to mean them. Putting them into practice, however, can be another matter. What happens when I get inside that voting booth and no one knows how I’m voting except myself? What if a particular proposition or a particular candidate’s positions and platform would benefit me personally, but do so at the expense of the “least of these” that obviously meant so much to Jesus? What if a proposition or candidate is good for the country but not for the Kingdom, that is a world ordered according to God’s values? I don’t want to live in a theocracy, even one in which I’m in the ruling majority. I think I’m more afraid of that situation than I am of a situation in which God’s order is completely ignored. But I cannot separate myself from my values and world view when I step into a voting booth. Actually, that’s not true. I have learned to do exactly that on occasion. I’ve developed considerable expertise at creating wiggle room where Kingdom values are in conflict with my own. That is the only place that I can actually change the political landscape. I can prayerfully listen to the whisper of the Spirit and cast my votes based on my best understanding of that message. I doubt that I would often wind up in the majority, but I’d probbly feel better about myself. Maybe the first thing transformational leaders need to transform is themselves. Ourselves. Myself. What do you think?
Dr. Gerald L. Young