Elections’ Directions Reflections

If you’re reading this on November 3, we probably don’t know much if anything yet about how this year’s hotly-contested elections are turning out. What we do know is that elections produce anxiety. Regardless of your political persuasion, we can’t help but stress about, “Will ‘my side’ win? Will the other side, i.e., the forces of evil, cheat, steal, lie, and deceive the election away? Or what if ‘they’ win fair and square? Isn’t that one of the great risks of democratic elections? The majority getting it wrong?”

Someone, some set of someones, somehow, determined by somebody, will be elected. One thing we do know is that polarization and gut-level convictions won’t change. In either party, the ones in power will do all they can to retain that power, and the ones in the minority of government will do everything they can to undermine the prevailing party or administration. A Democrat-controlled House does it to the Republican executive branch in Washington. A Republican-controlled legislature does it to the Democrat governor in North Carolina. We’re Hatfields and McCoys. Blue Devils and Tar Heels. Axis and Allies.

I personally hold by far the strongest opinions in this election cycle that I’ve ever held. The stakes seem so high not just in my head but on a visceral level. How will I react to election news if I’m devastated? Just as importantly, how will I behave more publicly if my preferred candidates and platforms prevail?

As in contemplating for whom to vote, for me as a baptized child of God and as a church leader, it boils down to core conviction. And what are those core convictions that inform and motivate our unavoidable (yes, even as church) political involvement? It’s all about our call to love neighbor, love enemies, “serve all people following the example of Jesus” and “strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”

Our three grandsons, all born within a week, are four years old. Watching them is a good reminder for me of who I am called to be. Winning to the point of vanquishing the personhood of the foe is not acceptable. We still have to live together. Sharing is good. Using our words without attacking rather than hitting or insulting or hurting is always best. Nobody wins if we have to have ultimate winners and losers. The path where we all win a little bit is the best. Gloating when we win is mean. Name-calling and accusing the winner of cheating is petty and small. We’re in this together.

I’m old enough now that I don’t think you’ll change my mind too much on too many things. Nor will I yours. But for the church, for the image-of-God and redeemed-in Christ precious children of God who claim to follow Jesus, we have to find a way to respect others, to take the high road of kindness and Luther’s 8th-commandment “speaking of our neighbor in the best light” seriously. (Yes, it had to be a commandment, because if left to my own discernment, I’d never get there.)

That doesn’t mean I shy away from baptismal vocation convictions. Pursuing justice as best we can discern it following the example of Jesus and serving the neighbor will always be paramount. Christians on both sides of the political divide must acknowledge that. We will continue to debate how politically this is best pursued systemically as opposed to the “curved in on self” sinfulness that is so appealing. My highest hope and commitment is that we can keep our eyes on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the source of all conviction, political and otherwise. Win or lose, core values don’t change. Deep peace to all in these stressful and divided days.

Walking with you,

Tim signature

Bishop Tim Smith