Tag Archives: voting

“If You Don’t Go to Church You Can’t Complain.”

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This morning as I drove home from breakfast with a church member, I caught the last 15 minutes of the Diane Rehm show on NPR. She and her panel were discussing the upcoming midterm elections. One of them shared a recent poll, in which only 15% of respondents said they were “closely following” the midterm elections. Among voters ages 18-29, that number is 5%.

The topic turned to voter turnout, especially among young people. How can we get young people to register and vote? Diane asked, and enlisted each panelist to make his or her best pitch for voting.

Now, I’m not a young adult. (As my friend Jarrett put it, “If you’re happy Apple put the U2 album on your phone, you’re not a young adult anymore.”) And I’m a committed voter. But as I listened to the panelists’ responses, I thought to myself, “There’s no way young adults who aren’t voting will be convinced by these reasons.”

And–of course–I was struck by how similar their reasons were to those reasons we give why young people should be in church.

  • It connects you to a larger community. Guess what? There are many ways to connect with community. Young adults go to work or school, they pay their taxes, many of them volunteer, and many seek to live ethically in how they spend their money and their time. They don’t feel they need to vote/to attend church in order to make a contribution; there are other avenues.
  • It allows you to be “part of the solution.” Don’t like what church has to offer? Get involved. Don’t like your options for governor? If you get involved in the process, and bring your peers along, the candidates will start to respond to issues you care about. But young adults are involved in all sorts of community service and activism. They see themselves as able to make change. They just do it differently than pulling a lever or showing up on Sunday morning.
  • And they ended with the old saw, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” Eh, I don’t know about that. First of all, because for better or worse, we Americans (and others) see complaining as a birthright. That’s why #firstworldproblems is a thing! But also because millenials’ lack of participation is a statement, if we bother to listen. Their silence in our churches and at the polling places is not apathy. It’s a clear message: “This has no relevance for my life whatsoever.” Our job isn’t to convince them otherwise. Our job is to ask, “What if they’re right?”

I’m not telling people not to vote. I mean, come on. It’s a small expenditure of time to do basic research and get yourself to a polling place (though one party wants to make the voter registration process harder, through a variety of tactics designed to alleviate the non-epidemic of “voter fraud”).

There are people out there who will say that both parties are corrupt, and they aren’t that different, so why bother. I am not one of those people. Yes, I’ve never seen such a bunch of do-nothing, gridlocked dysfunction as I do in our nation’s capital, and the day Citizens United was decided was a dark day in our democracy. Still, I vote. In a fallen world, the lesser of two evils is a choice we need to make.

Similarly, I think Christian community provides something distinctive that you don’t get other places. (Other religious communities provide their own distinctives.)

But I can’t exactly fault young people for not being jazzed about deciding there are better uses of their time than choosing between Corporate Candidate Chet and SuperPAC Steve at the ballot box. And let’s not dump on them for not jumping on board with church, when what “church” often means is “the way we’ve always done it… until you’re around long enough for us to trust you to suggest ways we can change.”

The whole Diane Rehm discussion–and the discussion so many churches have–is backward. The question isn’t how to convince young people to show up and vote, or to go to church. The question is, what is it about the “product” that they find utterly un-worth their time?

Why do we frame this as a problem with the millenials and not with ourselves?

~

photo credit: Denise Cross Photography via photopin cc

Choosing the Lesser of Two Evils

I read from time to time about people who have decided not to vote because they are tired of making a choice between what feels like the lesser of two evils. Perhaps their candidate of choice got elected and compromised more than they “should have.” Or neither of the candidates truly reflects the person’s convictions. I’m hearing from some folks in Illinois that neither of the senate candidates is all that great.

I agree that holding one’s nose while voting doesn’t exactly inspire excitement. You think to yourself, “Out of the entire country (state, city), these two clowns are the best candidates we could come up with?” Doesn’t make you want to hop out of bed and stand in a long line at the polls before work.

And yet isn’t life often about choosing between two imperfect (sometimes highly imperfect) options? I know a woman whose mother was in a slow decline due to illness, and in the end, she had to choose between two different therapeutic options, one of which would lead to congestive heart failure and the other to kidney failure. In the former case, death can come more quickly, but it’s an anxious, uncomfortable process. In the latter case, the person just slips away, but it can take longer.

Talk about the lesser of two evils.

Recently while I was pondering a decision, some friends asked me, “What’s the worst that can happen if you choose X, or Y?” Now, in this case I was trying to decide between two good things. And with two good things, you really can’t go wrong, and it’s freeing just to do the best you can with the decision.

But really, at its heart, “What’s the worst that can happen” is a question about minimizing the negative outcomes. Kind of a “do the least harm” thing. And sometimes that’s the best we can do. So much is out of our control; even the outcome of our decisions is largely out of our control.

Back to voting. I’m always thrilled when there’s a candidate that aligns exactly with my values. Hardly ever happens though. So I go with the one that’s slightly closer to me than the other, and then I call and write letters and do all that stuff one does, including supporting a primary challenger who more accurately reflects my values, if it comes to that.

I hope that doesn’t make me complacent, or a pessimist. I just remember that ten years ago, a third-party candidate convinced a good number of people that there was no difference between the Democratic and Republican candidates. Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, I don’t know anyone credible today who thinks that an Al Gore presidency would have been “no different” than the George W. Bush one.

I learned in seminary that the book of Exodus gets its name from the Greek which means, “a way out.” I love this. It’s not THE way out, it’s A way out.

In one sense, this can speak of abundance (something I write a lot about)—God could have rescued the people in any infinite number of ways, but chose this one.

But you can also see it with a different slant, a sort of “eh, there might be other ways to do it, maybe even better ones, but this gets the job done.” Kind of a MacGyver God: the world’s an imperfect place; you don’t always have the tools you need, so you kinda do the best with what you’ve got. So if you’re MacGyver, you break yourself out of the bad guy’s lair with the chewing gum and the brillo pad, and if you’re the American voter, you try to make the world a better place with a candidate that you find the least offensive.

As I said, this doesn’t inspire a lot of excitement, and we should all work for change—does anyone NOT agree that our campaign finance system is broken?—but such is the world as it stands.

I don’t know. No pithy conclusion here. Just thinking.