The Soul of our Vote: a post for Election Day

How are you feeling today? What is happening in your body? How do you feel about the choice before you? What worries sit close to your heart?

It’s hard to imagine any person not feeling some sense of anxiousness about what is about to take place in our country.

Whether you like Biden or not, the moment does indeed feel like a battle for the soul of our nation.

And it’s a helpful phrase, but an anxious one. Because in it is where my worries lie. It’s the complicated question “Who are we?” “Who are the people that I love?”

How much does this vote define who we are as a collected body of diverse people?

Four years ago, it felt like this was the result of people not participating, or that many good people felt trapped in their decision and chose policy over character. Despite my strong disagreements with many of those policy choices, I have grace and understanding for that decision. But this time it feels different. This time we’ve seen what four years of this divisive and self-centered character has done to our nation. We’ve seen acts of division endorsed by the President. We’ve seen the sciences ignored for his “superior intellect.” We’ve seen lie after lie, and mischaracterization be spoken from the White House every single day. We’ve seen what it’s like to have a bully lead our nation.

This time we all know better.

This time the support is not graced with ignorance or the hope that his character will change after election day.

Over the last four years, in addition to the excuses and deflections I’ve seen of the President’s character and actions, I’ve most often seen those who support him push back on my dissent with “whatabouts” and “both sides” arguments.

Just yesterday a group of Trump supporters surrounded a Biden campaign bus driving through Texas and attempted to slow it down and run it off the road. One truck even rammed a campaign vehicle trying to follow the bus.  When people spoke out against this awful tactic I immediately saw Trump supporters state “well what about the rioting and the looting.” (As if this was done by people running around with Biden flags.)

Our duality, and our two party system, will likely always push us to feel like we must compromise important things for the advancement of progress as we hope for it. But I don’t believe that is true, and it’s been the single consistent line I have held with my family and friends that I’ve disagreed with these last five years. You may have to choose between two imperfect people, but after that choice is made, the shift then moves to holding that choice accountable lest those actions and character be imitated and encouraged unchallenged.

In my post-election write up in 2016 I said: “This is not about you electing Donald Trump. This is about your silence. And ignorance. It’s violent. It’s dangerous.

And people are genuinely afraid because of it.”

I have maintained in all of my conversations that it’s one thing to not want to go the direction Hillary Clinton would have taken our government, it’s another thing entirely to not speak up when your representatives cross the moral lines. I watched countless Republicans leaders speak honestly about Donald Trump when they were running for President. The moment Trump clinched the nomination, it was like none of their concerns mattered any more. What the hell happened? No, really, why did that passionate dissent stop?

It’s true for every group there are always people who cross the moral lines. That’s why leadership and representation is so important. When our leaders support and celebrate such divisive moments we become weaker and hate is given strength. It’s not just bad policy that can hurt a nation, as pastor John Piper wrote the other day, bad character in high places can cause profound harm not just to the Church and the Christian witness, but to real people. Bad character in high places can destabilize entire communities. Yet we seem to think bad policy is more dangerous and this fear keeps us from looking honestly at all that is falling apart.

Trump continues to celebrate division and tell monstrous lies that inflame his supporters to act out in violent ways. In my view this isn’t a both sides issue. Biden hasn’t done this. Obama hasn’t done this. Clinton hasn’t done this. Bush hasn’t done this. Romney hasn’t done this. McCain hasn’t done this. These are not things that I believe have historically defined Republicans even if now I’m in a place where I don’t agree with Republican policies. I’m not dying on the hill of partisanship. I’m not dying on the hill of Liberalism or the Democratic party.

I often hear loved ones lament about how America used to be a place where we could disagree and still get along. I worry however that that lament is a failure to understand the primary disagreement in front of us now.  

I’m not losing relationships over Republicans vs. Democrats. I’m not losing relationships over Socialism vs. Capitalism. I’m losing relationships over decency, kindness and morality. I’m losing relationships over harm caused to communities. I’m losing relationships over character. Because this Power that so many have aligned with I can’t see any other way but mean. It’s a power over others in such a destructive and divisive way and we are not better for it.

I did not vote for Barack Obama. I didn’t even like him until well after the 2012 election. My support went for McCain and Romney and I couldn’t understand how people would vote for someone who wanted a lean towards Socialism; despite not understanding adequately what Socialism even meant. I spent the majority of his presidency caught up in the cultural anger that my friends and family felt towards his policies so I can say as someone who did not support him that he never stooped to these levels. In my anger at his policies, I never felt he was a man who lacked character or kindness or compassion or a sense to unite our nation in our most trying of moments. He just wanted to take our government a direction I didn’t believe in. If anything I hated how likeable and cool he actually was. He never celebrated division. I still feel that way about McCain and Romney, even now that I disagree with their policies.

I liken this loss of relationships to a sensitive analogy: If I were a member of a college fraternity that was outed for covering up rape and hazing and when asked by friends and family how I felt about it, and responded by defending my brothers as not meaning to do anything wrong, and that the public didn’t really understand. Or perhaps I just kept going on and on “but what about Sigma Kai, they aren’t exactly saints either.” How would you feel about your relationship with me? How complicit would you think I was in the actions of my brothers?

Perhaps this is my weakness, but I couldn’t have a healthy relationship with someone like that. It’s no longer a place of joy and comfort but disgust and sorrow. I’m not just going to hang out and have fun with someone like that. That space is no longer healthy. And I can’t simply ignore my disgust and concerns for the sake of peace. I have to work through that with you if we’re ever going to have peace between us again. I bare no shame or guilt in saying if you excuse rape and violence, I’m not going to be your friend. I find a similar conflict with this moment where racism, sexism, and anti-gayness are all caught up in this power movement.

While that example may feel more dramatic than you are comfortable, it’s really not all that different. When I lived in Virginia, I confronted the ugly face of White Supremacy, I saw how embraced and empowered overt white supremacists felt by this President, and I met a mother whose daughter, Heather Heyer, was killed by those men. She matters to me.

When I was on a march to confront that white supremacy, the President ruled against DACA recipients, I sat next to undocumented immigrants crying and fearful of their status in the only country they have ever known. They matter to me.

When I was on a bus to the White House I sat next to an elderly Muslim women. Confusingly, with a trembling voice she asked me, “I don’t understand, I am an American. This is my country. Why do they want to ban people like me? I pay taxes. I work hard. I don’t understand.” She matters to me.

At a music festival in Austin, TX, an artist from the stage announced that Brett Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court. I saw a woman who had earrings that formed the words “Me too.” I complimented her earrings and asked how she was doing. She grabbed me and cried into my shoulder. She matters to me.

I’ve spent years showing up in spaces where black parents share stories of their children being murdered by law enforcement. I’ve been on the phone with black friends telling me they don’t think their white friends support them or care about them and their experience in this country. They matter to me.

I’ve listened to my LGBTQ+ friends. I’ve listened to their tears, and their concerns, for their right to simply exist in this country as policy efforts continue to try and strip away their rights. They matter to me.

I’ve talked with my students who fear for their safety because someone with an assault weapon may show up on their campus.
They matter to me.

So often when people reach out about how they love me more than our differing politics, they are missing an essential point. The power that they are endorsing is causing tears in the people I care about. The power they are endorsing is encouraging violence against the people I care about. The power they are voting for for a second time, is harmful and divisive and their silence for this reality is not something I have peace about and I have confidence that it doesn’t have to be this way. Especially because I do believe these people matter to you also. It’s why this choice is so upsetting and confounding to me. I don’t think you want this. But I don’t see you fight against it. Instead I see you give it power.

I talk about Trump so much because I want to hold onto you. Because I don’t want to let go. I talk about Trump because I care about the people on the other end of his remarks, I care about this country vulnerable to his division, I care about you and I want you to be informed about the impact your choices and your voice (or lack of it) has on people you may not know or be concerned for. Because I do believe you are good. I have fought for this belief to my own ruin. Admittedly, I just can’t let it go.

I am constantly torn by how confident I feel standing against this movement and how sad I feel by the loss my speaking out can cause.

In my experience it seems you can either speak up for what you believe is right and cause tension and rock the boat of your relationships or remain quiet and have “peace” with people you love, yet feel complicit in what you believe is wrong.

I can deal with the tension of my relationships if the fruit of that tension is mutually directed towards understanding and justice. But if that is not present, what is one to do?

King is famously quoted saying “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I do believe love matters more than politics, so when people offer me that sentiment, I do understand and hope for what they are communicating. I want that relationship, I want that peace, but we will have neither if we can’t work together nor open our ears to the impact of our choices. It’s not just about intention but impact. Politics is people.

The day after the 2016 I wrote this sentiment:
“A nation of compassion would not have elected Donald Trump. I’m not trying to point an angry finger here. I’m not trying to piss you off. I’m trying to break your heart for the least of these. Hurt people need convincing that America feels their pain. That America sees their wounds. And that something will be done about it.

The people who are sad. Those are the people who love one another. Who hope for one another. They’re not sissies as I’ve seen people say. They’re not absurd. They’re heartbroken that a country wouldn’t stand for them. That so many wouldn’t speak for them. That people preferred winning to humanity.

But there’s a way to move forward. Stand for them. Speak for them. Decency calls you to. Love calls you to. Hope calls you to. And Christ saved you to.

Start listening to them instead of ignoring them. Let them speak. Let them cry. Let them mourn. And join them there.”

I have spent these last four years closely listening to those impacted by the Trump Presidency. Doing my best to join them rather than ignore them for my own privileges. It’s been four years of heartbreak, disbelief, and outrage. I’ve been to many protests of people who feel ignored and harmed and betrayed. I’ve spoken to many former Christians who have left the faith and others who have left their churches.

This sentiment from Jen Hatmaker really spoke to me: “So many of us feel like spiritual orphans, abandoned by our spiritual leaders and disassociated from the church that once taught us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

It was and remains one of the great sorrows of my adult life.

If Biden is elected, the Christian leaders who threw themselves at Trump & defended his indefensible words & deeds will now be left empty handed. They got their 30 pieces of silver, but they lost their witness, their integrity, & the next generation of the church.

And as I said below to a commenter: This is not a tacit endorsement of Biden. It is grief over the Christian defense and rabid support of Trump. I will never get over it. My kids will never get over it.”

I’ve spent these past four years learning I too will never get over this.

Proud and casual support of this man makes my relationships with people I have long thought so fondly of nearly impossible. And that’s not a vindictive posture. It’s not a hateful one. It’s simply stating I don’t like mean people. And Donald Trump is a very mean man. Support of a mean, divisive man who misrepresents and tells lies every time he speaks, makes relationship difficult.

This isn’t about anything liberal or conservative. Those conversations exist somewhere else.

Please consider the world and the people so many of us are fighting and hoping for. When you don’t listen, don’t ask, don’t try to understand, and instead dismiss us as being fooled by some liberal anti-America conspiracy, you are pushing us away. The Church already did this and we probably won’t come back. It wasn’t liberalism, Marxism, or atheism that sent us away, it’s that when we saw injustice, you did nothing, you said nothing, and you let that injustice be. And we felt betrayed.

Please consider how your vote and support of character and behavior like Trump’s impacts your relationships. It does. It does. That’s not just a warning, it is likely a reality you have already noticed. And if I need to say it again, that’s not about the usual decorum of partisan difference. We see this as you putting Trump and this mean and divisive take-all power above people and relationships.

And we all know it does not have to be this way. You could vote for a candidate and speak out against their meanness, their lies, and their division. Should Biden become our leader you have my word that I will do the same. Because I know my integrity, my decency, and my moral standing depends on what I align myself with regardless of who is in charge. You too could hold a representative accountable when their ugliness crosses the line. But it feels too late for that. For four years you haven’t done it. And it hurts.

My struggle with the “choose love over politics” is that, in my view, it ignores that much that aligns with Trump cannot be categorized as loving and we no longer have the grace of ignorance. We’ve seen the unnecessary unemployment and death toll of this leadership, we’ve seen the disregard for safety, we’ve seen the division, the racism, and we’ve seen the disregard and mockery towards the voice of the vulnerable. His rallies are so unthinkingly ugly. I can’t watch a Trump campaign speech or look at his twitter and think that love is the motivation of those who support that kind of character and behavior. No amount of prayer has brought me to that conclusion. I just don’t see it. When I look at the impact it has on people I care about, I don’t see love as its fruit. Division is so regularly celebrated and promoted by this President. I see every effort to talk about this division deflected and ignored or excused.

So if you are telling me you love me more than our political differences, please understand that I know in your own way that is true, but in this case, it feels like you are telling me you love me with one hand and hurting what I care about with the other and most often making little effort to understand or bridge between the two. It more so feels like you’re hoping that supporting the abuse I’ve been fighting publicly for years isn’t enough to compromise what’s left of our relationship. It feels fair to say the onus of that work is on you.

I don’t know how to be in a healthy relationship with that. I spent years of my life pretending to belong in the face of things I disagreed with for the sake of relational and professional absence of tension, and it ruined me. I no longer know how to show up and act like there’s not a devastating rift between us. I don’t have peace about this and I won’t just look away and act like I do. And perhaps, that is what I’m fearing most about the outcome of this election.

It’s not just the soul of our nation.
It’s the soul of our churches.

It’s the soul of our friendships.

It’s the soul of our families.

This time, it feels like it’s the soul of our relationships.

And if we can’t lean into each other, then we really are lost.

In the days ahead, I don’t want to lose you either. And in so many ways that’s the fight I’ve been fighting these last few years. I’ve been fighting my own disbelief that so many could align with this and sending opportunity to be vocal about this Christian loyalty to so much that feels against our calling and faith. My intent is not to elicit shame as much as vocalize my own sorrow and pain. It’s been the plea of the moment. “Please give your voice.” Please distinguish our faith. Please distinguish conservatism from racism. Please distinguish yourself from this madness because it is hurting our country and breaking our relationships. That thought hurts my heart more than I can possibly express and I don’t have peace about it. I am at a loss for what to do about it and I promise you I’m trying so hard.  

No politician or party is going to rescue us from this moment. But may we have and fight for leadership in all platforms that sets the example forward. And may we be ruthless to that end. May we not just set the example, but demand the standard.

I am expressing my lament as honestly as I feel appropriate.

Tomorrow millions of you will make your voice heard. I ask that you all think sincerely about who is listening.

I’ll close with this from Black Liturgies:
“You cannot practice a Christian spirituality that isn’t political.
You thinking it can be so most likely speaks to your disassociation from the choices you make and systems you benefit from that tell the story of how you uphold or diminish the dignity of those in the society to which you belong.

God of everything,

stir our collective conscious toward an ethic lived not merely by a cluster of individual choices, but of communal and systemic action. Rid us from that interior complacency which reduces our callings to mere whispers of care for the most vulnerable among us. Free us from all self-delusion that convinces us we are doing more than we really are, that we might perceive the condition of our souls more clearly. Guide us to vote, holding sacred our privilege to participate in societal decisions that could bring healing, health, liberation and repair. Let our votes be made in integrity, humility, and hope; aligning best we can with what we know of your character and desires, holding humbly that we may not always know the best means of love and care, and believing that the pains of our age need not persist.

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