This week the Buckeye state hosted the GOP convention, moving us ever closer to the fall general election. Most of us will avoid political conversations with pretty much everyone we know, especially if we know we differ in political convictions.
In the occasion when I do fall into the “who are you going to vote for” question, I find myself talking more about whom I would vote against than who I would vote for. That is the general mood of our nation right now.
The two nominees have the highest disapproval ratings of any general election. There are vocal minorities on both ends of the spectrum that hold their candidates in high regard, but the majority of the middle are left to hold their noses and cast their vote; or worse yet, skip voting all together.
What does this say about who we are as Americans? We have become more known by what we are against, than what we are for. I noticed this when I traveled abroad with students this spring. Those we spoke to were amazingly well versed in American politics and interested in what our students thought about their presidential prospects. This was also the case when I went abroad in 2005, immediately after we inaugurated President George W. Bush for a second term. America seemed divided then, but we were nowhere close to the divisions we face today.
As people of faith, we are called to a higher standard of civic duty. God calls us to follow the Way of Jesus, who with grace and mercy and love sought to unify. A walk through the Gospels shows us all how we can be for something and not just against it. Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek, offer our coat when we are sued for our shirt, to walk the extra mile, and not just to love our friends but our enemies as well.
Jesus was also clearly for the least of these. In Matthew 25, Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
How do these values translate into the voting booth? I know sincere Christians on both sides of the aisle. In fact, my very house is divided with my husband and I registered under different parties.
Whom then shall we vote for? Some want to vote for the protection of the unborn, while others want to vote for the provision for the poor, the widow and the orphan. Some may want to vote for religious freedom, while others want to vote for welcoming the foreigner and stranger. But if you want to vote for all of these things, then which candidate should you vote for?
There lies the tension. Neither candidate can deliver on each of these issues. There is no perfect candidate, not even one. However, I do not believe that means we abdicate our responsibility to participate in the democratic process. We simply cannot stay home. We must prioritize what it is that we are “for,” select the candidate who most compliments those priorities, and then go and do the work that must be done of those issues that remain.
Government will never save us. Our society is set up on a number of institutions that can work together to ensure the safety, strength, peace and prosperity of all of its citizens. Our churches, our schools, our families, our businesses and our government are vital players in this great nation. If one of those institutions fails, we all suffer. Let us do our part to strengthen our country and choose to be for all of her citizens.
Lisa Ho is an associate chaplain and academic coach at Ohio Wesleyan University.