November 5, 2010 - The Journey Continues
By Bishop Thomas J. BickertonSend Email
This year marked my 34th year of voting eligibility. I’ve never been highly involved in politics and have always maintained a measurable distance between my role as a church leader and my responsibility as an American citizen. I’ve never wanted to bleed religion into politics in an inappropriate way. Neither did I want to see politics find their way into the pulpits in which I have preached. However, I have always celebrated the opportunity and freedom given to me to cast my vote for political leaders over the years.
Still, I am confused.
I was raised with a basic understanding of how to cast my votes. When I first asked about into the process of participating in elections, my parents gave me what I thought was good advice in their basic “ballot-casting 101” course. Their formula was simple – vote for the people you would like to win.
That’s what caused my confusion during this election season. Either the advice given by my parents was wrong -- or something changed in terms of how we were to vote this November. It seemed, based on the wave of political advertisements on television, that we were being encouraged to vote AGAINST the candidates we would like to see lose, rather than FOR the candidates we would like to see win.
I watched the ads very closely in the weeks before the election, with more than just curiosity. I did so because of the climate of our country and because I felt that I need some help in discerning who I should vote for. I don't think I saw one ad that told me why I should vote FOR a particular candidate. What I saw instead were ads that told me all of the things opposing candidates have done wrong! Every ad was filled with argument and accusations pointed at a candidate’s opponent or the opponent’s political persuasion. All I was looking for was a candidate who would say, “This is what I stand for. This is what my record looks like. This is how I will work for the common good as an elected official.” I didn't see one.
What disturbs me even more is the spirit of hatred and accusation built into every one of these campaigns. I didn't see any joy or hopeful optimism built into a political ad this season. Politicians trying to unseat incumbents did not convince me that they would do any better than those holding office. In fact, if this vile spirit of negativism is any indication of where we are heading, then we are in far worse shape than I realized. I recently became aware of one candidate who touted that, if elected, he would go to Washington and vote NO on every bill presented. That’s not the kind of leadership I’m looking to support.
Where is the spirit of unity that is so necessary if we are to make progress as a country? Where is the spirit of discernment that is essential in making critical decisions? Where is the willingness to vote in favor of something that is right, regardless of whether or not it was initiated by a Republican, a Democrat, or a Tea Party candidate? Why are we spending more time talking about what is wrong than we are leading people with a vision of what might be right?
More than that, though, I am concerned about the spirit of distrust and hatred that seemed to be so prevalent in political campaigns this fall. This is where I will dive into the political conversation with no hesitation.
Hatred and accusatory finger-pointing have no place in our political debates, nor in our life as disciples of Christ. I was raised with a clear and simple reminder, “When you point a finger at someone else, just remember that there are three fingers pointing right back at you!” As I grew I learned what it meant to treat people with basic human decency. And as I became more in tune with what it means to live a spiritual life, I learned that being kind wasn’t an option. It was a commandment.
Paul seemed to understand that when he wrote to the church in Ephesus, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Ephesians 4:31). So did the writer of James: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).
As we wade through this general election and the aftermath, my prayer is that we will be guided by the spirit of Christ and inspired by those who followed Jesus, rather than tempted to behave and react like so many of our politicians were this season.
I’m confused. I thought we were to be “One nation under God.”
God help us be just that.