The state of American distrust has led me to the conclusion that the single most important issue in American politics is integrity — that is, a constancy of moral character that fosters trust. More important than any policy on economics or healthcare is the ability of a candidate to rebuild trust in the system to which we all belong.
And this can only be done by a candidate who possesses integrity.
I've done it in booths at a New York City public school, and the 92nd Street Y. I've done it on a small, enclosed counter in DC. But you never forget the first time you voted.
My first time at the polls was not particularly spectacular — it was an off-year for elections, so I voted on a referendum. Since then I have voted every year except twice. Once was on another off-year — I was in grad school for public administration and had to finish a statistics assignment. And for the other, I’d just become a DC resident, too late to vote in the special election that year.
In case it’s not obvious, voting is important to me, and I’m kind of a dork about it. And when I consider the hard fight for women’s suffrage, I feel that the best way to honor the women who fought hard for that right is to responsibly exercise it.
So it’s disheartening to hear women say that they don’t really pay attention to politics or take the time to vote. And as a DC resident whose interests are determined by the legislators of other states, it’s hard to watch anyone take for granted their right to vote.
Well, here we are again. The season that seems to come around all too often and stick around far too long. Some of our dinner table dynamics are still trying to recover from "conversations” that percolated during the last election season and our “unfriend” counts have finally slowed.
So, how does the Jesus community live in this election season as a signpost of the kingdom rather than a pawn in a political power play?
As presidential candidacies multiply and campaigning accelerates, we can expect much tawdriness to occur. These are difficult times in American democracy.
Money will pour into negative campaigning and ideological posturing. Lies will become the norm. Every word will evoke counterattack, and facts will lose their currency. Barbed sound bites will be mistaken for wisdom. Bullies claiming to be “Christian” will be among the loudest. On both sides.
What are people of faith to do?
We can assume, first of all, that truth-telling will be absent all around. We, then, need to be truth-seekers, reading beyond the sound bites and toxic jabs for actual insights into what candidates stand for and what is their character.
We can assume, second, that God’s name will be taken in vain by everyone. Every candidate will tell stories of personal faith, maybe even dramatic conversion. They will quote Scripture and claim to be promoting God’s work.
In fact, to judge by candidates’ behavior, their words will be insincere and their faith a concoction meant to satisfy the sweet tooth of religious leaders. We, then, need to do our own work of discerning whether they have any functional familiarity with Scripture and any real concern for Christian ethics.
Late on a Saturday night in 2012, I received word from my sister in Mississippi that my mamma had passed away. My home was silent as my wife and two boys slept upstairs. I was reading when the sad call came.
I woke my wife to tell her; we sat on the edge of the bed and hugged. In my sadness, around midnight, I started cleaning the kitchen, likely because my mamma was always cleaning something. I also reached out to two friends.
It was within minutes that I heard back from Hillary.
Secretary Clinton joined me in my heartbreak, reminding me that she could share the pain because of the fairly recent loss of her own mother. She also told me to get to Mississippi, be with my family, and take all the time I needed — because my work in Washington paled in comparison to remembering and mourning my mom and being with family.
My family and I drove home, deeper and deeper into my Southern motherland, to bury my mom. My siblings had asked me to speak for the family at the funeral, so I rode shotgun and wrote while my wife, Karen, drove.
Along the way, drafting what I consider the most important talk of my life, I again reached out to Secretary Clinton, who was engaged in one of the most grueling and intense schedules that any secretary of state had undertaken.
Even so, she found the time to offer suggestions and talk me through this most personal task.
Sen. Randal Howard “Rand” Paul, the junior Republican from Kentucky, is expected to launch his 2016 campaign on April 7. Here are five facts about the faith background of this libertarian candidate:
- Paul, 52, was baptized an Episcopalian. It didn’t stick. He attended Baylor University, a Baptist school in Texas, then Duke University. He now attends a Presbyterian church. In this, he is like most Americans — all over the map in terms of his religious affiliation.
- At Baylor, Paul joined the NoZe Brotherhood, a secret and controversial society that routinely skewers the school’s Baptist roots and other aspects of undergraduate life. His association with the group came back to bite him in his initial run for the Senate after GQ magazine ran a story claiming NoZe was dedicated to “blasphemy,” and Paul, while high as a kite, helped kidnap a coed and forced her to pray to “Aqua Buddha,” a made-up water idol. Paul threatened to sue the magazine.
A northern Nigeria Muslim leader who promised to pursue a nonreligious agenda as president will now have to deal with an Islamic terrorist insurgency that has wreaked chaos in the country’s north.
Muhammadu Buhari, 72, a former military ruler and a Muslim, beat incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, 57, a Christian from the country’s south, in a race held under the shadow of Boko Haram violence.
Not all Nigerians are happy with Buhari’s election, given his past human-rights record as president from January 1984 to August 1985. During that time, he imprisoned journalists and opposition activists without trial and executed drug traffickers by firing squad.
But Nigerians, both Christian and Muslim, hope he is better-suited to battle Boko Haram, despite being a Muslim himself.
Under the shadow of Boko Haram violence, Nigerians head to the polls March 28 to elect a president and a deputy in a vote observers say is critical for the country’s stability and economic progress.
In a twist that might have been difficult to predict, many Christians in Nigeria’s north are backing a Muslim candidate to lead their country away from the brink of violence and chaos.
Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the north and the leader of the All Progressives Congress party, is challenging the leadership of incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south who heads the ruling People’s Democratic Party.
Some Nigerians fear that another term for Jonathan would mean institutionalization of corruption and emergence of more Muslim extremist groups in addition to Boko Haram.
And they are willing to pin their hopes on a Muslim candidate.
Nigeria’s election commission has postponed national elections for six weeks saying it would not be able to provide security for voters in the northeast region of the country most affected by the Islamist group Boko Haram.
Attahiru Jega, head of the Independent National Electoral Commission, announced Feb. 7 that the elections scheduled for Feb. 14 had been moved to March 28. Nigeria is slated to elect a president for a four-year term. Goodluck Jonathan, the current president and a Christian, is running for re-election alongside 13 other candidates, including his most formidable challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim.
Jonathan has been sharply criticized for his management of the Boko Haram crisis and some Western leaders suggested the postponement was a last-ditch effort to shore up his vote.
But church leaders in the war-hit regions welcomed the move.
“Many Christians here had not collected their voter cards and this may afford them time to do so,” said the Rev. John Bakeni, the secretary of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri.
The two most critical requirements for democracy are freedom of the press and an educated citizenry.
The one informs the people and brings government and power into the open. The other enables people to comprehend information and to discuss opinions without resorting to panic and violence.
Power elites have declared war on both requirements.
These include “big money” oligarchs, such as the people who gather around the Koch brothers, politicians who cater to the wealthy in exchange for campaign contributions and government officials who have come to identify with the corporate and financial interests they regulate.
Through acquisitions of newspapers and television outlets and intimidation of reporters, these power elites seek to turn the press into propaganda vehicles and to distort information.
I was talking to my wife, Amy, today about the news that Speaker John Boehner has requested movement from his party toward a temporary increase of the United States government debt ceiling.
The shutdown in itself is problematic enough. Our leaders have willfully put about a million people out of work while they haggle about policy that has already been put into law. The cost of their standoff to the United States economy is a loss of about $1.6 billion a week in economic output. And it’s more than a little bit ironic that this is being done on the watch of a Congress that supposedly has its first priority as jobs and economic growth.
However, all of this pales in comparison to the potential damage that would ripple throughout the global economy if we were to default on our debt. Because so many markets in the world peg their valuation system to the American dollar, and because so many exchanges use our currency as their monetary system, the prospect of the credibility of our money losing its footing in a potentially irreparable way could be nothing short of catastrophic worldwide.
“We should just fire them all," said Amy. “Just clean house and start fresh.”
The thing is, although this is a sentiment I hear on nearly a daily basis, and I've heard it over the course of many years, very little of substance seems to change when it comes to who represents us in Washington, D.C.
NEW DELHI — Political leaders in the tiny Buddhist nation of Bhutan have announced a nearly six-month ban on all public religious activities ahead of the upcoming elections, citing the Himalayan nation's constitution that says “religion shall remain above politics.”
A notification by the Election Commission of Bhutan asks people's "prayers and blessings" for the second parliamentary election, expected in June 2013. But it also states that religious institutions and clergy "shall not hold, conduct, organize or host" any public activity from Jan. 1 until the election.
The ban comes a year after the country's religious affairs ministry identified Buddhist and Hindu clergy who should be barred from voting to keep a clear distinction between religion and politics.
[editor's note: This article was originally published in 2012. References to elections or politicians without specific dates attached are in the context of the 2012 election cycle.]
AS I CAREFULLY watched both the Democratic and the Republican conventions this summer, I realized, once again, how challenging and complicated it is to bring faith to politics.
For example, the phrase “middle class” was likely the most repeated phrase at the conventions. And even though both parties are utterly dependent on their wealthy donors (a fact they don’t like to talk about), they know that middle-class voters will determine the outcome of the election. Now, I believe a strong middle class is good for the country, but Jesus didn’t say, “What you have done for the middle class, you have done for me.” Rather, Matthew 25 says, “What you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.”
When your first principle for politics is what happens to the poor and vulnerable—and I believe that is the first principle for Christians—you keep waiting at conventions for those words and commitments. There were a few moments when the poor were briefly mentioned, but it certainly wasn’t a strong theme in Tampa or Charlotte. “Opportunity” for the middle class was an important word in both conventions this year, but Christians must be clear that creating new opportunities for poor children and low-income families is critical to us.
The conventions also talked a great deal about “success,” but how we define that is very important. Is success mostly about how much money we make, defining the “American Dream” as being able to pass on more riches to our children than what our parents passed on to us? Or is success measured by how we as a nation prioritize, in our spending and political choices, the sick, the vulnerable, the weak, and the elderly? Is it determined more by the values we pass on to our children—evaluating our lives, and theirs, by how much we are able to help others?
America is a nation of immigrants, and how we welcome “the stranger” in our midst is another Christian principle for politics. So is our racial diversity as a nation, where all our citizens must be treated as having equal value. The most inspiring stories at the conventions for me came when that diversity was evidenced on the stage—from a young undocumented “dreamer” and a black first lady on the platform at the Democratic convention to Condoleezza Rice telling her fellow Republicans how a little girl from a segregated Southern city became secretary of state. But little mention was made at either convention of the racial disparities in America’s burgeoning prison industry or voting suppression efforts that most affect minorities and people who are poor.