Why I’m worried about ‘Election Day Communion’

“I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible … except by getting off his back.” — Leo Tolstoy

Election Day Communion is a fine idea. Unity in Christ. Remembering what’s truly most important. Excellent.

I like this idea very much — in theory. In practice, I’m not so sure.

Here’s the introduction from Election Day Communion’s website:

On November 6, 2012, Election Day, we will exercise our right to choose.

Some of us will choose to vote for Barack Obama.
Some of us will choose to vote for Mitt Romney.
Some of us will choose to vote for another candidate.
Some of us will choose not to vote.

During the day of November 6, 2012, we will make different choices for different reasons, hoping for different results.

But that evening while our nation turns its attention to the outcome of the presidential election, let’s again choose differently. But this time, let’s do it together.

How is this to work in, say, Minnesota, Maine, Maryland or Washington?

What I mean is, we’re talking about communion here — the Lord’s Supper, breaking bread together in Christ’s name. And that communion ought to include everyone, just as the ECD folks insist it should. Political differences shouldn’t keep us from Christian fellowship.

So far so good. Except that in Minnesota, Maine, Maryland and Washington, this election is also determining the civil rights of LGBT people.

So Joe Christian shows up this evening for Election Day Communion in, say, Havre de Grace, Md., and takes his seat in the pew. To his right is a family, two women and their children, whose civil right for legal recognition of their marriage is on the ballot this Election Day. And sitting to Joe’s left, at the other end of the pew is another family, a husband and wife who just voted against the civil rights of the first couple.

This isn’t a matter of simple social awkwardness or wounded feelings. This has to do with justice and with injustice.

Given that, it seems to me that Joe can break bread in fellowship with one family or the other, but not with both. To join in communion with the family to his left would be to overlook the actual harm that family has just done and is doing to the family to his right. It does not seem right or proper for Joe to disregard that harm and dismiss it as inconsequential. It is not right to pretend that this does not really matter to real people.

Nor would it seem right for the families there in the pew with Joe to participate together in this ritual of unity. Even to ask that family to the right to do so seems to me to compound the harm that has been done to them.

And here, I think, we’re back in the ugly arena of compulsory forgiveness. We’re back in the realm of saying, “You really need to forgive your brother in Christ for standing on your neck” as though the Christian under the boot, and not the one wearing it, was the problem.

We discussed this earlier this year — see: “Mercy for the downpresser man is not the first step. Or the second, or third” and “Trying to get down to the heart of the matter.” The conclusion of that latter post, I think, sums up what’s behind my reservations about Election Day Communion:

If you are to grant me forgiveness, then, it can only happen if I come to you in powerlessness — if I accept that my request for forgiveness grants you all the power in the equation. Pharaoh can only be forgiven when he bows down before the former slave he has wronged.

This reversal, this correction, of the imbalance of power is why forgiveness can bring healing to both parties in the transaction. It’s like the leveling sung of by Mary or preached by John the Baptist. It brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the lowly; it fills every valley and makes low every mountain and hill. The powerful are brought low and the powerless are lifted up. The powerless are empowered.

The counterfeit of coerced or compulsory forgiveness cannot do this. There can be no leveling if the powerless are required or demanded or expected to surrender their forgiveness before the powerful are brought low. Any talk of forgiveness for one who has misused or exploited power over others that does not grant power — all the power — to those others becomes, itself, a second misuse and exploitation of power. It’s a sham and a scam that has nothing to do with real forgiveness at all.

Again, I appreciate the idea of Election Day Communion, but it risks trivializing the enormous stakes today for many millions of people by treating all political disagreements as little more than angry looks exchanged between neighbors with different yard signs. We need to confess those sorts of sins to one another as well in the days that follow an election — “I’m sorry I called you names,” “Forgive me for losing my temper,” etc.

But if that’s the main post-election problem in your congregation, then your first prayer shouldn’t be one of confession or communion. It should be a prayer of thanksgiving for the enormous privilege of being wealthy and healthy and “normal” enough that you didn’t have far more at stake.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Yes, this.

    I’ve been saying a lot on Facebook lately, to folks posting about how they hope we can all still be friends despite  political differences, that I don’t know how to be friends with someone who endorses my family being at best second-class, and at worst illegal. That’s not how friends treat each other.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    Even apart from LGBT considerations, the idea of “election day communion” seems dubious.

    I am wondering how I could ever be part of a community which contains pastors who would put up a church sign such as “Vote for the mormon, not the muslim.”

    Yes, I can find community with people who disagree with me, including people who prefer Romney to Obama.  But I do not see how to be part of a community with people who teach hatred and who publicly express a total disregard for truth.

  • LL

    RE  “trivializing the enormous stakes today for many millions of people by treating all political disagreements as little more than angry looks exchanged between neighbors with different yard signs”

    Holy crap, this. I am getting a little tired of hearing from people that the grievances of the Democrats and Republicans are equal. They’re not. Thinking the government should spend a little less money on everything is different from thinking the government should spend nothing whatsoever on feeding people or clothing people. Thinking our government should handle foreign policy a little differently is not the same as thinking the government should have the right to tell people here, in the land of the free, that they can’t marry the consenting adult of their choice. 

    I have no patience anymore for the whining of Republicans. Their perceived right to tell other adults how to live their private lives is not equal to anybody else’s right to have all the adult privileges that “straight” people do. And the “fears” they express about 4 more years of Obama are laughable. Seriously. I can’t listen to those with a straight face, they are so ridiculous, like listening to people in the 1980s telling us what a public menace heavy metal music is, about how Satan will enslave our children if they listen to Judas Priest. 

    Note: I don’t have a personal stake in this, I’m not gay, but apart from the whole “wanting adults to be treated as equal adults” thing, I certainly wouldn’t vote for a party that wants the law to treat a group of people as lesser citizens because of some stupid, quasi-religious prejudice. The same party that has made it very, very clear in the last couple months that it has little but contempt for everybody with a uterus, as well. We can’t expect any better treatment from them than they dole out to the LGBT community. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.sissons1 Christopher John Sissons

    I’ve been following your blog and several others from the States during your election.  This post is very powerful.  I saw another blog advocating election day communion this morning and felt a little uncomfortable and this post largely captures the problem far more eloquently than I could have done.

    One further point.  As a ‘professional’ ecumenist I am very much  aware of the continuing divisions between Christian traditions.  Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants cannot share communion.  In what sense can the whole community get together and share communion?  The point is all these divisions are real and there is a degree of honesty in our honouring of them even though for many of us they are intensely painful.  Interchurch families in particular feel this pain.  It does seem profoundly wrong to use communion to paste over the very real divisions you describe, when we can’t do the same for divisions upwards of 1000 years old.

    Divisions between Christians are real and they won’t go away in our lifetime.  The Orthodox think in units of 500 years or so they say.  Maybe in 500 years we will have addressed some of these divisions.  It seems to me, and remember I observe from a distance, the divisions between the fundamentalist churches on the one hand and the progressive / liberal / radical churches on the other are every bit as profound as the older divisions and just as intractable.  The only thing we can do is be honest, live with the pain of division and be in communion with those marginalised by church authorities who set a greater store pretending all is well rather  than supporting the marginalised.

  • caryjamesbond

    MOST political disagreements are nothing more than angry looks between neighbors.
    SOME FEW political disagreements are actually important.

  • Paul Durant

    The problem with refusing to go to things like Election Communion, meant to show we’re all just folks despite our differences, because the other side wants to deny you or people you care about rights… is that in doing so, you just keep ensuring that said side doesn’t meet with the people or the friends of people they want to deny rights to, to find out that they’re all just folks despite their differences.

    Conservatives “come around” on the subject of gay rights all the time, and tell the stories of their own realization and conversion pretty often. I can’t remember a single person who went from anti-gay to pro-gay who didn’t get to know some gay people and find out they were just normal folks and realize it contradicted what they’d been taught and what they repeated.  If you get a chance to walk into their walled-off evangelical world they so studiously keep free of any outside influence that might change their mind, “oh no this might make the guy think I approve of him if I talk to him” should be the LAST thing on your mind. Gay people, or the allies of gay people, refusing to engage in non-political humanizing activities with their enemies out of fear it somehow excuses or legitimizes them is… pretty short-sighted.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     There’s a big difference between my choosing to engage with evangelical conservatives in the hopes of them “coming around,” and someone else insisting that I engage with evangelical conservatives in the hopes of them “coming around.” Agency matters.

  • Sorbus

    This should also apply to Prop 34 in California. 

    (Although I guess there may be thoughtful and nuanced arguments against 34 regarding the humanity or lack thereof of life without parole and the fact that it doesn’t do anything about disproportionate imprisonment of black youth. All the arguments I’ve heard it again are more along the lines of “Justice requires that we kill people”, which sounds like the antithesis of justice but what do I know.)

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     One of my best friends is a staunch libertarian whose reaction when i mention politics is to snort derisively and bitch about the parsite class who rely on government handouts, and how Obama is the most socialistic, anti-business president in all of history, and how global warming is clearly a natural process because “Come on. Really? You really think humanity is powerful enough to do that?”

    You learn to bracket.

  • http://shiftercat.livejournal.com/ ShifterCat

    Honestly, I can’t think of any current hot-button issues that are just “angry looks between neighbours”.  It’s more like, “Can my neighbour get proper healthcare?  Can my neighbour get married?  Can my neighbour feed herself and her family?”

  • Paul Durant

    …Not really?

    Someone’s giving you a big chance to do the thing that is a necessary condition for people to stop being shitty homophobes, and you’re so caught up in what kind of message YOU are sending about your approval of them, you’re ignoring the more relevant point of what that guy is learning by talking to you.

  • EllieMurasaki

    You do not have the right to dictate what we do or do not do. You may be right about what we should do, but that does not mean you may require us to do it.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Paul… have you ever had a conversation with someone who considers it their moral responsibility to explain to you, at length and in detail, why your family and the people you love are bad, why acting on your love for them or even acknowledging it will send you to Hell, why it is necessary for decent people acting in love to shun you and everyone like you because if they don’t, then otherwise decent children might be corrupted into thinking it’s okay to be like you?

    If you have, and you still consider my wanting to control whether and when I engage in such conversations an example of being caught up in what kind of message I’m sending, and you still consider that what that person is learning from the conversation “more relevant” than what that conversation is doing to me, then I don’t understand you at all.

    If you haven’t, and you still consider that you have both the right and the knowledge to judge me like that, then I suspect I understand you pretty well, and you’re simply mistaken.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I understand how to bracket opinions I think are foolish, mistaken, even evil.

    I don’t understand how to remain personal friends with someone who personally wants to destroy one of the most valuable personal things I have in my personal life.

    I take that sort of shit personally.

  • Paul Durant

    You do not have the right to dictate what we do or do not do. You may be right about what we should do, but that does not mean you may require us to do it.

    …Okay, how is this relevant? Do you really do this every single time someone tells you what they think you ought to do? That has to be very tiresome for you and everyone around you. 
    If you have, and you still consider my wanting to control whether and when I engage in such conversations an example of being caught up in what kind of message I’m sending, and you still consider that what that person is learning from the conversation “more relevant” than what that conversation is doing to me, then I don’t understand you at all. 

    Man if you don’t wanna go have election-day communion with these people because they’r emotionally exhausting to spend any time with that’s obviously a valid position. That wasn’t the position advocated by the blog post I was responding to, though. The blog post, that I responded to, was very much about sending messages that trivialize the seriousness of the conflict and implying acceptance or forgiveness of far-right positions, without considering that maybe the point is that the far-right position kind of requires as little personal human interaction with “the enemy” as possible and it tends to fall apart when exposed to opponents as people.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Know what, fuck you, CONGRATULATIONS PRESIDENT OBAMA! Ohio’s been called for Obama and it is not mathematically possible for Romney to win without Ohio!

  • Paul Durant

    …Why would Obama’s victory be such a “fuck you” to me, a person who voted for him, that it’s enough to shut down a mostly unrelated conversation?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Because it says Election Day in the thread title and I had that email open when I heard Ohio called. But if you insist: yes, I do in fact get pissed off every time someone says I should do something that I know damn well will hurt me to try even if it might in fact be the right thing for me to do, and yes, I do in fact point that out loudly every time such a thing is said to me. Now fuck off, I’m celebrating.

  • Jessica_R

    Sorry I’ve got Ellie’s back on this, it’s the bullshit of “stop hitting yourself”. Her or anyone’s concern with a bully shouldn’t be forgiveness, it should be the bully stop hurting them, or someone(s) stepping up to stop the bully. And it’s willfully ignorant to think that the vulnerable person needs to or has to spend time with their oppressor to reach them. No they don’t actually. 

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    It’s not “just” people who want the basic human right to marry another adult of their choice that the downpressers are downpressing.

    It’s women. It’s poor people. It’s disabled people. It’s non-pink skinned people. It’s anyone who can’t get medical care because it wouldn’t be profitable to insurance companies. It’s anyone who cares about the environment. It’s anyone who lives in a place where there are or will be natural disasters soon. 

    You want forgiveness, you must stop hurting people. No one owes anyone forgiveness. We certainly don’t have to listen to your story and have empathy for you while you’re punching us in the face. You can become the most perfect person who ever lived, and no one would owe you forgiveness for the wrongs you committed in the past. Forgiveness is a gift that someone you have wronged grants you out of their own generosity of spirit. Anyone who demands it is a spoiled brat, and probably wants to use it as an excuse to keep punching people in the face.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Spending time with people who harm you isn’t really doing the “right thing”. You are a person; your health and happiness matters, and you’re the person in the best position to care for those things. And if other people want to change, they’ll choose to do so on their own. No one can change another person. I’ve learned this over many, many hard years.  Putting yourself in front of a charging bull isn’t likely to stop the bull. 

  • Jess

    It is a very serious matter that we take matters of electing our leaders with utmost sincerity as Christians. Nonetheless, as Christians we are required to speak out against moral evils that leadership in our nation may legislate in favor of. But there’s a different vote that we often lose focus of in times like this, check out that vote at http://alivewithchrist.com/confession/

  • Guest

    You know what I take away from that article?

    “Who cares about your health, your rights, your safety? Screw you, come care about this thing I say is important instead!”

    I respectfully submit that the above message is, perhaps, not especially likely to succeed at its ostensible goal.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    Who you mean “we”?  Are you suggesting only Christians should be allowed to vote?

  • Will Fitzgerald

    Dear Fred,

    Our church hosted a election day communion service in our home-based fellowship in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We didn’t have many people — a few more than a dozen. Almost all of them were people I already knew. We didn’t do a lot of advertising, just on Facebook. Even so, we represented Mennonites, Presbyterians, Christian Reformed, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran communities. We were all on the older side — fifties and above, I’d say.

    We weren’t trying to pretend that, after having communion, everything was all right, and we’d fixed all of the bad feelings and injustices. We had a short teaching, based on one of the ‘great commandment’ passages from the gospels. We acknowledged ways in which we could act in good faith and bad, in agreement and in disagreement, and that a lot of choices we have as voters are difficult to navigate. 

    All meetings like these are partial, dangerous, and likely to fail and even to promote misunderstanding. Your hesitation is well-founded, but it’s true of all human action. We gathered in our brokenness anyway, to acknowledge our need for one another and for God, to increase our love for one another and for God. 

    Will Fitzgerald
    Kalamazoo Mennonite Fellowship


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X