I have a confession to make. This week was election week in Arizona and I did not vote. I’m sad to admit it, really. I take pride in exercising my right to vote and I encourage you to vote as well! Your vote is your voice. Many people have sacrificed their blood, sweat, and tears over the years to ensure that more and more citizens have access to the vote. When we don’t vote, we leave their efforts in vain. If I am so passionate about voting, then why could I not bring myself to vote in this week’s primary? The reason is because I was so put off by the nonstop vitriol that was expressed in this cycle’s political advertisements.
Firstly, allow me to make a commitment to you that I will indeed exercise my right to vote in the November midterm election. I hope you make the same commitment. Secondly, I encourage our congregation, as a Christian community, to engage in healthy and appropriate discourse with each other. I encourage all of us to refrain from following the direction of toxic and negative political ads and falling into the trap of making “others” out of people who have different political leanings.
Isn’t it easy to engage in conversation with people who agree with us? Isn’t it easy to find ourselves on a pedestal from where we can declare just how smart “we” are, and just how uneducated “they” are? If I’m not careful, I find it very easy to pontificate my own brilliance while putting down someone else. My inner dialogue easily becomes along the lines of, “I’m smart! My beliefs are gospel truth!” Sometimes I need to check myself and ponder, what if I’m not actually as smart and informed as I think I am?
To be fair, I have earned a solid education. I understand my education gives me some privileges that others do not share. In my studies, I have been able to visit and live in some fascinating places! And each of these places has changed and shaped my political opinions and understandings. Why am I an ally to the LGBT+ community? Because I have lived in places where there were large LGBT+ populations! I had a chance to get to know LGBT+ people personally and to hear their stories. Why do I support racial equality? Because I’ve had a chance to get to know people who have shared their stories of how racism negatively impacted their lives. Why am I in favor of making it easier to immigrate to this country? Because I lived in Mexico and I saw firsthand how complicated and expensive it is to jump through the hoops and red tape to come to the United States “the right way.”
My personal experiences have shaped my beliefs. Your experiences have shaped your beliefs. If you believe differently than I do, I owe it to you to listen to your reasoning. If I give you the time and opportunity to share with me your stories, I might have a better chance of acknowledging that your beliefs do come from a good place, even if they are different than mine. For example, if I believe in the importance of getting a vaccine, I can tell you stories about how I have seen vaccines keep people safe and healthy. If you do not believe in the importance of vaccines, perhaps you have a story of a side effect you felt after receiving a vaccine. (As a side note, I do advocate for vaccines, including the yearly flu shot. However, one year, I became incredibly ill for a few days after I received my shot!). After listening to your story, I may still encourage you to change your ways. But it doesn’t make me a “good” person and you a “bad” person simply because we have arrived at different positions.
This is what these political advertisements are missing. I have seldom in recent memory seen an advertisement that acknowledges the humanity of the opponent. Candidate X says Candidate Y is a “bad person,” while Candidate Y says Candidate X is a “bad person.” The message these ads portray is basically that voting for the wrong “bad person” makes you a “bad person” too! Don’t be a “bad person!”
I know St. John the Baptist is full of good people. There is not one single bad person here. Whether you agree with me politically or not, trust that I recognize that you are a good person. And I understand that as your Rector, I carry with me a degree of influence. So what advice do I have for you with that influence? I’m going to borrow from noted German theologian Karl Barth, and encourage you to form your political opinions with the bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Pay attention to what is going on in the world, and compare it to what scripture teaches us. And here’s the tricky part: Allow yourself to change your point of view as new information becomes available to you. We rarely see it these days, but it’s actually a sign of strength and courage to be able to say the words, “I was wrong.” I’ve been wrong before. Lots of times. I’ve preached some pretty cringe-worthy sermons. I’ve written some pretty crummy papers. I’ve written some poor pastoral reflections and I realize that the Internet means the evidence is around forever! It’s ok. I’m human. I understand that when a mistake happens, you will extend grace to me. I will do the same to you. Let’s all work to extend grace to each other and to avoid the vitriol and venom seen in negative political ads. Let’s model appropriate dialogue and discussion so others look to St. John’s as a beacon of health and kindness. Let’s continue to foster a culture where it is ok to admit that we’ve been wrong in the past and we’re willing to do better next time. And let’s refrain from ever thinking we’re “good” and someone else is “bad.” Even when we disagree, we are all good.