I have been fascinated with politics since I was a child. I have vivid visual memories of watching Republican and Democratic conventions in, I guess, 1956 when I was 8 or 9. It was all right there on a 13-inch, black and white Sears Silvertone television. I remember especially the excitement of the roll call of the states. “The great state of…proudly casts is 43 votes for…” Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson were the candidates that year. Each seemed intelligent, dignified and worthy of the highest office in our land. Is my memory faulty or did the political process have a certain amount of grace and gravitas in those days?
In 1964, as a high school senior, I was nominated to be president of the school’s political science club. I was one of a handful Democrats in the school. The Republican faction nominated two candidates and I received a plurality of the votes. The Republicans assumed a run-off, but when they pressed for it, the faculty advisor ruled that I was elected because no one had argued for a run off before I got the most votes. It was a fun year, even though Barry Goldwater swept the mock election by an overwhelming majority similar to the percentage by which he lost the actual election. I was considered something of a radical for supporting Lyndon Johnson. Imagine!
For a while, in college, I toyed with government as a major. In the summer of 1968, I actually worked on “the Hill” as an intern to the senior senator from Oregon, Wayne Morse. An iconoclast and something of a curmudgeon, Morse represented Oregon with distinction for 24 years – 12 as a Republican and 12 as a Democrat. (He shifted parties largely in objection to the choice of Richard Nixon as Eisenhower’s running mate and was one of two lonely “doves” who first opposed the Vietnam War.) It was a wonderful, exciting time to be in Washington. When George McGovern announced his candidacy that summer, I jumped on the bandwagon.
I guess I’m reminiscing with a kind of nostalgia for what has been lost in our political process. I know pastors and congregations are not supposed to endorse candidates officially. This is part of what gives us tax-exempt status. So I will honor that expectation (unlike some others, particularly evangelicals and Baptists, who have forgotten the cost paid by our forebears who sacrificed much to create the separation of church and state.)
The current political process surrounding the presidency has become appalling and painful to me. The self-serving rhetoric and juvenile brawling that passes for debate is reprehensible. I will confess that there have been times in my life when I waded hip deep into a good political debate. In high school, I actually competed as varsity debater. Our team even tied for second in state.
Maybe I am getting soft in my old age, but I have little or no interest in engaging in arguments anymore, especially the heated variety. Don’t get me wrong. I would be delighted to sit with you and discuss ideas and even opinions till the wee hours of the morning, if we can keep the conversation civil and practice care for one another. But talking over one another, shouting each other down, demeaning another’s character, making fun of people’s quirks or limitations have no appeal for me.
It seems there has been a sickness in the political process this year, largely manifest in vitriol and disrespect for persons in the Republican debates and in the treatment of our sitting President. Neither is worthy of our support. We need to be better human beings than this. We need to treat one another with dignity and compassion, especially if we claim to be followers of Christ. It is a dilemma for me and others from various faith traditions to identify the “elephant in the room” without taking an actual public stance on candidates. I’ve read any number of attempts on Facebook.
I like what my friend Karen Selig, pastor of Royersford Baptist Church in Pennsylvania, wrote. “I thought about posting a video showing some of the things Donald Trump has said and done just since he started running for president, to try to convince others not to even consider voting for him as a candidate for president. But honestly I couldn’t stand to have that kind of ugly, mean-spirited behavior posted on my page. So I am simply praying that those who go by the name of Christian at least will consider the fruits of the Spirit that are meant to be a part of the lives of those who follow Jesus. Donald Trump is not displaying these, but we can as we make our choices.”
I would argue that Donald Trump is just the most egregious of the offenders; he is definitely not the only guilty party in this election cycle. As with Christ’s challenge to love our enemies, speaking truth in love is not an easy enterprise. But that’s no reason not to take up Karen’s invitation to focus on the fruits of the Spirit in all of our living, including our voting. Remember, with God anything is possible!
Yours in a deepening desire to know God’s love,