A lot of things come together on the calendar in November, and once every four years we get something extra: the election of a new president, or sometimes the reelection – a first-term president. The final days of the current election season are upon us, and I think that there is a consensus that this has been the nastiest, most contentious presidential campaign in living memory. That is an important qualification, however, because I do not believe that is the worst election our country has gone through – at least I pray that that will not prove to be the case. After all, the election of Abraham Lincoln in November of 1860, now almost universally considered to be one of our greatest presidents, was unacceptable to the southern states, which seceded from the Union the following spring, beginning four years of civil war.
God forbid that we should go down that road again. Our nation is deeply divided politically these days, and there are always people eager to exploit divisions in order to benefit themselves, no matter the costs to others, or to future generations. And they want us to do the same, to follow their lead. Selfishness and self-centeredness are deeply ingrained in our culture and in our personal experience. The way our economy works depends upon them. The entire advertising industry is dedicated to convincing us that we deserve to indulge our appetites and our whims. And let’s be honest, that’s not a very hard sell.
Let’s also be honest and call it what it is: a manifestation of our sinful condition. Our baptismal vocation, however, calls us to not be the people our culture is calling us to be. Baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are called in an entirely different direction: away from sinful selfishness and towards God and our neighbor. We shouldn’t pretend that that is an easy calling, because it’s not. We shouldn’t even pretend that it’s realistic or practical, because it isn’t. Without God’s help it’s a lost cause.
We are convinced, though, that God not only calls us in Holy Baptism, but also empowers and makes possible the life to which we are called, and for which we were created in the first place. In Jesus Christ God speaks a different Word into the chaos of our present reality, a Word of love and forgiveness, a Word of hope that God has not abandoned us, but is at work even here, even now in the midst of chaos, in the midst of division, in the midst of hatred and hopelessness – maybe even in the midst of our fraught political process. Could that be?
It is our conviction as the baptized that we are the body of Christ, agents of our Lord’s presence and activity in the world for the sake of the world, agents of love and forgiveness, of kindness and faithfulness, in concrete and everyday sorts of ways. And that extends even to the voting booth.
Now, I’m not going to tell you how to vote, and not only because that might get us into trouble with the IRS. In previous years I would have said, “I won’t tell you how to vote, but just make sure you do vote.” But I’ve changed my mind on that score. Now I advise this: If you are going to vote, make sure that you exercise this power (because it is a power) not on your own behalf, not in your own interests, but in the interests of others and of the greater good.
If you plan to vote only for politicians and referenda that serve your own interests at the expense of others, or out of anger or spite, then I would prefer that you didn’t vote at all, because I see that merely as a perversion and exploitation of our system of government, not to mention a manifestation of sin. That doesn’t mean that there is only one right way to vote, one particular candidate in each race that is God’s choice.
I have long believed that people of good faith can vote selflessly and end up on the opposite side of a particular issue or candidate, and I still believe that. God has called us into the world as it is to be witnesses to the world as it should be, a new world that begins at the foot of the cross, where Jesus Christ faced down the evil and chaos of our sinfulness not with more of the same, but with death and resurrection that disarm evil and chaos and open up a new reality. May we trust that promise and act accordingly, not only on election day, but also in the months and years ahead.