5 Priorities as We Vote

ID-100106434A number of years ago, I invited a New Testament scholar to speak at the Cathedral in Washington. I picked him up at Reagan – National – Airport – in Washington – by God – DC. We drove up the tidal basin past the Jefferson Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, west of the Lincoln Memorial, the Reflecting Pool, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol, and then traveled up Rock Creek Parkway, past the Kennedy Center.

“You, know,” he said, “I began my work as an archaeologist and I’ve often thought, this city will make a great ruin one day.”

It was a jarring observation and it made me sit up straight in the seat of my car. But, he was right, of course. History teaches us that no human empire (I use the term in neutral terms here) lasts forever and the United States has hardly scratched the surface of history.

That perspective, as well as my own religious perspective, informs my perspective on this year’s election.

I love my country and I do what I can to support it, to nurture it, and to make it a place that continues to strive for values that intersect with what we as Christians hold most dear.

But my nation is not the kingdom of God, nor is it God’s agent of salvation. Furthermore, the moment I am tempted in the middle of chaos to assume that my country is the Lord of history I have betrayed my faith and the best interests of my country.

Not surprisingly, those basic insights can contribute to a certain perspective and deliberative distance in this election season. Out those insights come a list of priorities:

One: Take the long view.

Don’t allow yourself to being stampeded into voting in a fashion that treats the current election cycle as the moment in which everything must be accomplished. Governments are not typically moved overnight and when they are, it is usually with catastrophic results.

Two: Don’t panic.

Panic is the opponent of deliberative voting. Vote in haste and you will repent at your leisure. Panic also creates candidates who give glib, easy answers to complex questions and who are rewarded for being superficial.

Three: Focus on character and experience.

Policy statements and promises only take a leader so far. To govern effectively leaders take into account unforeseen circumstances and new information. The only guarantee in such circumstances is to vote for someone whose character and experience hold promise for wise decision-making.

Four: Vote for bridge builders, not bridge burners.

By definition, the democratic system makes space for differences of opinion and compromise is a necessary tool for governing. Vote for someone who can build bridges, craft compromises, and create a way forward. People who insist on winning for their side are bound to fail and will burn the bridges needed for judicious compromise.

Five: Support people who tell the truth.

The truth I have in mind here is not the truth about the candidates themselves — as important as that is — but the truth about ourselves, about the challenges we face, about our priorities, and about the finite resources that we have available to us to address any stated need. Far too often, the exchange of promises for votes made by candidates is a shallow exercise in which we are told what we would like to hear.  As a result, what many candidates offer is marked  by magical thinking, over-simplification, and misrepresentation. The only way to break that cycle is to demand something different from our candidates.

Only one question remains: Is there actually someone running for President that actually meets the criteria described above?

 

Image by coward_lion, used with permission from freedigitalphotos.net

 

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and consulting editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, as well as several books: A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009), and The Dave Test (Abingdon, 2013). He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an Episcopal priest), live in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and five grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, Sophie, and Drew, with a sixth on the way.