Recently, I remembered a conversation from 4 years ago, with a white friend. We were a few weeks from the 2016 presidential elections and taking the scenic route through southern Minnesota.
The 2.5-hour drive through the Minnesota River Valley is beautiful (especially in the fall). But I was silently counting the number of Trump signs we passed on the road. I’ve always lived in a swing state (dimpled chads anyone?), so I have deeply understood how precarious elections can be.
When I think back to how I felt the fall of 2016, I knew I was on the precipice of something important. Both spiritually, but also historically, I could see how significant the election would be.
I remember listening to the news, tracking the polls. My whole body felt so anxious about what was going to happen. As an Indian American anti-racism trainer I knew the racial tension simmering under our state’s reputation of “nice”. The stakes felt impossibly high.
After a long stretch of quiet my white friend broke the silence. “I don’t think I’m going to vote for president.”
I paused and listened. And listened some more, working to subdue the hurt and disappointment rising in me. She went on to express her doubts, frustrations, and limitations with the campaign.
She’d even share that she had prayed about it and had ‘peace’ around her decision.
There was a bit of silence. My mind raced as I sorted out her words from my own prejudices and insecurities.
Then came the question, I dreaded: “So what do you think?”
I wish I could go back in time to that exact moment. And tell her 4-years ago how exhausted I would be.
How life feels like a strange post-apocalyptic movie right now. I wish I could tell her I would rarely feel safe and the day to day traumas that would come with the news.
And then turn to my younger self, grab me by the shoulders and reassure myself that the election, the trials, the set backs…through it all my passion for helping people engage in hard conversation would only grow bolder.
My resilience would deepen.
That I would proudly march, with the city that inspired a world-wide uprising after the murder of George Floyd. I would sweep the broken glass from streets leftover from the tension in our streets.
I would count the days until our one large grocery store reopened.
I would walk the alleys looking for gas cans and watching White Nationalists terrorize my neighborhood.
I want to relay to you what I said to my white friend on that car ride. As Trump signs flew by us in the window. When I was afraid of what would happen if Clinton would lose, knowing it nothing was a guarantee.
When not voting felt like a get out of nightmare free card for millions of Americans who didn’t like either option. Especially for white evangelicals, a group which my friend identified with.
The question “So what do you think?” resulted in a good conversation that I want to share with you. So settle in with some coffee (or wine) and I’d love to know your thoughts on sorting through faith and votes.
It’s complex, and this conversation is only a slight fraction of the ethical dilemmas we find entrenched in our political system. Conversations are more polarized and politicized than ever.
But it’s a start and we need to make space for these conversations somewhere. Even if we don’t have all the right answers (or questions!)
This conversation centers around what it means to really see the Imago Dei in others. And if I, an Indian American Christian anti-racism trainer, am I willing to look for the Imago Dei in a white supremacist?
It’s no secret we are about individualism in the United States. Isn’t that what democracy is all about? We have legacies of the greats who expanded the vote over the years to include minorities, women, and other marginalized groups.
Even campaigns are very individualistic, where candidates’ agendas are more about establishing their own reputation and rarely address policy issues. But voting gives us an opportunity to think differently. Politics, after all, is about the way we choose to live together.
When we vote, we are practicing community. We are shaping systems and laws and policies that govern the spaces we live in. We are choosing power that either affirms or denies the dignity of others and how they interact in that space.
Who gets to use what parks?
Which areas of town are funded certain ways?
Who gets clean water access or new textbooks?
How easy is it to end up in prison? When we start to think communally about our vote, we start to think of the way we are advocating for each other and enabling and supporting other voices in our community.
I think of stories in scripture about the good samaritan and the woman caught in adultery.
Aren’t these favorites because they teach us about the underrepresented and oppressed? How would that transfer into our modern context? How do they shape our vote?
Voting as Affirming Each Other’s Humanity
I’d like to think in our day, the Good Samaritan would be a black transgender woman who stopped to helped a white, middle-aged conservative preacher, beaten on the road.
Stopping even though she has no idea what he might say or do to her. Risking her life.
Her oppression and marginalization in society allows her to have compassion for this stiffly-suited man who is abandoned because of his sanctimonious reputation.
Jesus used these stories to show us a paradox about seeing our own humanity and the humanity of others. When we vote with community in mind our lens shifts.
Votes no longer become about my opinion, morals or judgments lining up with a candidate or party promise, but about affirming and supporting the Imago Dei in others. These stories are illustrations in the way we see the Imago Dei in others.
When our lens shifts to the underrepresented among us, we remove ourselves from defending our own rights to the rights of ‘the least of these’.
How are the refugees, immigrants and poor treated among us?
How do we view those with a sexual orientation we don’t understand?
How do we see a grieving mother whose son was shot in the street?
I listen to a lot of consternation (and rightly so) about ethics and faith and voting. Jesus followers get mixed up in voting in ways that represent faith-led morals.
What we see in stories like the Good Samaritan and how Jesus interacts with Zacchaeus or the woman caught in adultery unapologetically affirms their goodness and humanity outside of the law.
He defends their sanctity of being, the Imago Dei in them– regardless of where they are at in their faith. He allows each person to be seen, known and affirmed as they are. This is the kindness that leads to repentance.
So what’s this got to do with voting?
Bringing the Kingdom into my Voting Practice
So often we vote with what we are ‘against’ in mind. Gun control, immigration, marriage and health rights all become laws and its dance with morality.
Pitting political agendas against people, we use our morals and values to inch others out– to take stands on what seem right and wrong. So often laying down our kingdom means asking what opinions we need to release to God to bring more of who God is to our community.
There are always going to be candidates, policies, and agendas that I don’t agree with. Most of them impede on my finely balanced line of knowing what I think or making room for the grey-space for the Holy Spirit shows up for transformation in my own heart or others.
Sometimes it means voting for something I may not completely agree with because I know it will help someone else feel affirmed, seen and human.
The practice of bringing the Kingdom to earth means radically affirming the goodness of God in others– embodying a lens that affirms each other’s’ humanity through law, community, and society.
It means voting in mind of the least of these. It means choosing inclusion as a way of radically affirming the Image of God in others, so they can see God in themselves.
Voting with the Kingdom in mind means asking ‘what does it look like to defend the least of these?’
Voting with the Kingdom in mind means I allow the Holy Spirit to transform my view of the “other” and broaden the way I see God in those I don’t agree with or understand. It means releasing my interpretation of the law and asking God where God is working in our society.
Voting with the Kingdom means I can choose people over policy. It means I fight to see the image of God (even in our candidates) over the law.
As we move through and past Election Day, remember that voting is only a transition point of how we embody the kingdom in our communities.
It gives us the opportunity to ask how we are helping build systems that support and sustain others in our community for the long haul.