Democracy As I See It

In 1974 I celebrated my eighteenth birthday.  As I recall, there was no fanfare, no big celebration. I think my mother probably made her famous strawberry cake that was divine. However, this was a monumental milestone for I was now (legally) an adult.

The Draft for military service was winding down, as was the Vietnam War.  In fact, the 1967 Selective Service Act expired in 1973 ending the authority to induct draft registrants. However, those of us turning 18 in 1974 were still required to register. I was grateful the war was coming to a close. 

The second marker of 1974 was that I was now eligible to vote in United States elections so I was eager to register. I did so and since 1974 have exercised my privilege to vote. It is a sacred honor of our democracy.  

Over the years I have cast my ballot most often for the person, regardless of the party, who I believed could best serve our country, state, city and county governments. 

I have already exercised that privilege this year by voting with a mail-in ballot in the State of Tennessee. 

As I consider this election season, at the heart are two significant concerns:

The first one is civil—that is, the preservation of democratic norms and institutions. In Abraham Lincoln’s powerful address at Gettysburg, these now famous words come to mind:  “that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

This is the beauty of being an American and the privilege of being a United States citizen.  We participate in sharing in the preservation of democracy every time we cast our vote. If our preferred candidate is defeated in an election, we accept it and move on until the next opportunity to support our preferred candidate. 

The second one is ecclesial—that is, our ability and willingness to love one another through this civil process. It is the heart of our Christian faith.  Neighbor love is how our dear friend Dr. Doug Meeks speaks of Jesus’ instruction to love God and love neighbor. When we love our neighbor we are concerned for all the dimensions of a person’s life.  

Perhaps you are familiar with John Wesley’s instructions about an upcoming election in Parliament. He wrote in his 1774 Journal: 

“I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them: 

  1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy. 
  2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against,
  3. And, to take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.“

My sense is this: these two concerns are at stake in the November election: 1) Civil—the preservation of our democracy and 2) Ecclesial—the exercising of the call of Christ on our lives to neighbor love. 

A lot has changed in our country since 1974.  I have travelled many roads. I still remember in one of my early appointments two members of the same church.  In the home of one hung a picture of President Ronald Reagan, in the other, a picture of President Lyndon B. Johnson. 

That’s who we United Methodist’s are—those with the ability to disagree and hold hands at the same time. Love God and love our neighbor. 

It’s not 1974 anymore, not that I wish it were. I simply acknowledge that the landscape has shifted and continues to shift. It often feels as if we are in the wilderness, and it is yet unclear when we will come to the Promised Land. The cultural shifting of partisanship politics bleeds into the Church. The margin for misunderstanding grows wider and wider in this politically polarizing season.  Contrary to what some might like to believe, Jesus is not a Republican, nor a Democrat. 

Voter suppression is real and has been for 150 years in this country.  Historically, voters of color and low-income voters have had their right to vote suppressed by those in power.  What does voter suppression look like today?  State and local governments making it harder for people to register to vote; purging voter rolls; disenfranchising criminal justice populations; reducing the number of polling places; restricting early voting; enforcing rigid voter ID requirements; restricting alternatives to physical voting and registration. 

 All those who seek to cast votes need to have the privilege granted to every American citizen. Those votes need to be cast with integrity and honesty. 

It is my prayer that regardless of your political preferences, you will participate in helping make our country more loving and just. 

It is in that spirit that I offer this prayer from the Moravian Daily Text, November 4, 2018:

God of love, may our love for you mirror your love for us. May others know us to be your disciples—through our love for our enemies and those with whom we differ—as well as those with whom we have affinity. Amen. 

O God, give us clarity of mind and spirit. Bring us to a place of deep understanding and peace within our land. Keep us from harming one another. Give us courage to speak our truth in love as we exercise the privilege given to us to vote in this country. These and all things we pray in the name of the one who taught us to love You and love those you love. Amen.

I encourage each of you to VOTE in the upcoming election.  And then, no matter the outcome, let’s come together to be the people of God in our land, in our neighborhoods, in our churches, and in our families. 

We have work to do…offering Christ to a hurting world one neighborhood at a time.  

Bill McAlilly