At a time when politics and corruption have become synonymous, how refreshing and impressive would it be to see, as the central platform of presidential candidates, a strategy towards healthy and integrative goals that allow our nation to “become glorious in spiritual degrees even as it has aspired to material degrees?”
Of course, the values Bahá’ís hold during their own elections – honesty, integrity, and considering one’s neighbor as oneself — are really universal values.
IT’S THE START of the 2016 election year, and I know what you’re thinking: “No it’s not. It’s the middle of December, and I haven’t done any of my Christmas shopping!” Understood. But this is our January issue, and in our minds the ball has already dropped in Time Square, Ryan Seacrest’s New Year’s Eve was, once again, not rockin’, and we’ve got serious political work to do.
Although at Sojourners we have to be very careful. In the coming year, we can speak prophetic truth about the issues facing our world but can’t direct that same righteous fire at a candidate, because we’re a certain kind of nonprofit, a 501C-3PO, I think. Nonprofits follow rigid federal rules against partisanship, and most of them don’t make a profit. That part we’re really good at. We never have any money left over. (Although once we bought a ham for our Christmas party. I had three slices. Sometimes it’s okay to have a profit, as long as you eat it.)
Nonprofits are nothing like the political action committees that will be spending billions of dollars in the next election. PACs can raise unlimited money in support of any candidate, but they can’t coordinate with them. Which is why PACs have names such as “We Love Jeb Bush, Just Don’t Tell Him That” and “Supporting Ted Cruz, But We Want It to Be a Surprise.” It protects them from any appearance of collusion, which is unlawful and closely monitored by the Federal Election Commission, which would respond harshly by winking.
Unlike a PAC, Sojourners doesn’t have unlimited anything (there were no seconds on the ham), except our unlimited love for justice, the Risen Savior, and this one sweater I have my eye on for Christmas. (Come on, J.C. Penney gift card!) But we do have a lot of curiosity about the people wanting to be president, the second most powerful person in the country after Jeff Bezos, who invented Amazon because he dreams of a world where the only human contact is with UPS drivers.
I believe that Nelson Mandela was the greatest political leader of the 20th century — because of his 27 years of spiritual formation in prison. Visiting Mandela’s jail cell on Robben Island was the most emotional moment of my visit to South Africa this past summer. How could such a small place so change the world?
I found this quote by Mandela when I visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg on my last day in South Africa. It’s about how “the cell” drove him much deeper into his interior life. I think his words are a good reflection for us as we choose our elected leaders next week:
“The cell is an ideal place to know yourself. People tend to measure themselves by external accomplishments, but jail allows a person to focus on internal ones, such as honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, generosity and an absence of variety. You learn to look into yourself.”
Let’s reflect on that quote, both personally as leaders in the faith, and politically as we confront a very depressing election.
Know yourself. That is such different advice from what our candidates and other leaders get from their advisors and pollsters and boards of directors who want them to know their audience, their constituency, their potential voters or consumers — but not so much themselves. Leaders are often being told to “be who they need you to be,” and seldom are they invited to go deeper into themselves.
It seems so easy, doesn’t it? Love God. Love your neighbor. The two greatest commandments encapsulate the core of faith and could — if we really were to trust God — transform the world.
Similarly then and with election day looming, voting should be an easy affair: people of faith should vote for the candidates whose policies would most embody a love of God and neighbor.
It seems so easy, but it isn’t if we are honest with ourselves and gracious towards those who disagree with our political persuasions. No single party or candidate has a monopoly on loving God and neighbor. Moreover, people of passionate faith and commitment to the values Jesus commends in Mark 12:28-34 so often can’t even agree on what these seemingly simple commandments mean.
Such disagreements about what it means to love God and neighbor are at the very center of so many of our political debates.
Some Christians will vote for President Obama, arguing that the most loving thing we can do for our neighbor is to build a stronger social net. Some Christians will vote for Mr. Romney, arguing that the most loving thing we can do for our neighbor is let loose the power of the market to create good-paying jobs for all. Some Christians will cast a ballot for Mr. Romney in support of his stance on abortion. Some Christians will cast a ballot for President Obama, noting that the availability and affordability of basic health care is a pro-life position.
All of us, if we are honest, will vote for a flawed candidate.
There aren't any white Protestants on the presidential ballot this year — a first in American history.
Instead, the race features two Catholic candidates for vice president, and a Mormon Republican and African-American mainline Protestant for president.
Perhaps lucky for all of them, voters care more about issues such as social justice or gay marriage than they do about denominational brands.
That's particularly true for Republican Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan, who hope to woo evangelical voters that share their values rather than their theology.
It's a situation that probably would have baffled famous evangelicals such as the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who used the issue of abortion in the 1970s and 1980s to turn evangelicals into a powerhouse voting bloc among Republicans.
"If you had told Jerry Falwell back in 1980 that by 2012 that there would not be a white Protestant on the ticket — he would have died right there," said Shaun Casey, professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington.
One of the common ditches that political candidates fall into is the temptation of a “concrete” character.
Among other things, one who is concrete holds to views that are supposedly unchanging and non-negotiable, and thus they possess an inability to compromise with those who may have diverse perspectives. A concrete character is often grounded in the belief that she/he “knows” who she/he is, and because of these unbreakable principles will not waver in her/his understanding regardless of the setting and potential consequences.
In other words, a person with a concrete character is immovable, solid, and resolute, and as a result, nearly impossible to bend or twist. While there is much to be admired in those who display the concrete character, there is also much to be criticized.
For example, while concrete may be strong and resolute, it is also fixed in time, stiff, and inflexible, and is thus unable to change regardless of conditions, societal advances, and circumstances. Thus, concrete — sooner or later — will crack.
As the current generation experiences cultural and technological change at a rate far greater than any era before it, those who refuse to be changed by unfolding knowledge and wisdom allow life to pass by while remaining trapped in one place. Therefore, while the concrete character may appear to be one of strength, it is ultimately weak, vulnerable, and unsustainable.
The Iowa Caucus is today and the nation is watching. It’s a lot of attention for a relatively small part of the nation voting. Having grown up in New Hampshire, I know that kind of limelight well.
When I was a pretentious 11 year old, I wasn’t able to vote but nonetheless assumed I had the right to meet every candidate who was seeking their party’s nomination. When President Bill Clinton came through the state I remember being particularly annoyed that he just drove by and waved instead of talking with me.
I still haven’t let that one go.
There are a lot of concerns about the undue influence early voting states wield in the primary process. The fact that I got more face time with candidates as an elementary school pupil than most voters will get in a lifetime is problematic.
While some folks holler and scream about Rick Perry’s ad, the blunt truth is that this has always been the consistent strategy of modern day politics.
Sadly, religion has become fair game for politicizing – at its best or worst depending on your perspective. What I’m saying is that I while I really dislike Rick Perry’s ad and strongly disagree with his assertion that President Obama has waged war against religion. But that’s not the point. My point is that we’ve allowed the politicizing of religion (and other things) to be FAIR GAME.
Listen folks: I’m not criticizing Rick Perry (or other candidates) because, truth be told, we’d probably do the same politick-ing. I’m actually critiquing you and me. I’m critiquing us.