I’m choosing to write this on Tuesday, voting day for mid-term elections. Some are relieved the advertising will soon be over, some are anxious about the results, others simply somehow don’t care. There are dire predictions from every side, and every news outlet is interpreting poll numbers in their own way, to catch interest, hope that advertisers will continue to pay the bills for their particular channel, and, in a less cynical perspective, to try and keep us informed.
Perhaps you have seen this quote floating around social media from John Wesley, the one we give credit for starting what we now call in the United States, United Methodism. He says this on October 6, 1774:
“I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them
- To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy
- To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
- To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”
-John Wesley, “The Journal of John Wesley”
There are a variety, maybe even a plethora of reasons why I’m United Methodist and will stay United Methodist and will continue to support and advocate for United Methodists and United Methodist Churches. The above quote from John Wesley’s journal is a reminder of one of those reasons. Wouldn’t it be great if we all were to agree and live by his instructions around voting? I mean both in relation to secular society and the civil governance of how our nation works, and also in relation to where the current state of our denomination is?
A sign of hope for our denomination is the Episcopal elections of our recent South-Central Jurisdiction. Our Jurisdictional representatives (an equal number of clergy and laity) from Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas elected three Bishops. For the first time, a native American pastor, Rev. Dr. David Wilson from the Oklahoma Missionary Conference; from our Great Plains Annual Conference, and first African American Woman, Rev. Dee Williamston; and from the Rio Texas Conference, Rev. Laura Merrill. All three were elected on the first ballot which is also highly unusual. The Bishop coming to serve our area is the Rev. Dr. David Wilson, and we will learn more about him as he comes to serve beginning January 1, 2023.
In the midst of the fractures that are happening, churches disaffiliating because they do not want to be inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community, the United Methodist Church continues to be clear that we aspire for “Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors.” And actually seek to move beyond aspiration to concrete reality. I believe our Episcopal elections are a start at witnessing that to be true. I am quite clear that it is not a sudden resolution of our divisiveness and from here on out it will be sunshine and roses. And I also believe that a willingness to elect an African American Woman pastor and a Native American pastor from a missionary conference is a statement of what we believe God’s vision of the Realm of God is. In God’s grace no one is less or greater than another and all are embraced in living their calling of leadership and service. It’s probably a bit more of a “wow” moment for those of us who have been serving in the South-Central Jurisdiction for several decades, who essentially knew with every quadrennial election with three or four new Bishops elected, the hope was for maybe one representing a racial/ethnic minority OR a woman, but the reality was that we would not get both. For those who might say what’s the big deal, make no mistake, those we see in positions of leadership and power witness to us our aspirations of whom we are and hope to become.
I don’t know what our civic mid-term elections will say to us once all the results are counted. I can’t predict if there will be civil unrest or an immature need to try and convince all of us that the election was invalid by those on either side who lose. I remember sitting in the locker room crying after the loss of my final basketball game as a Sr. in High School. And I remember a very patient basketball coach who came in and reminded me that I had a whole life left to live and a whole lot of wins and losses in all kinds of ways to face. And that no, it wasn’t the ref’s fault (I still wonder about that *snort) and even if it wasn’t completely fair, I would have to face those moments in life as well. He was right.
I have several hopes today. I hope everyone who can, will vote. I hope everyone’s voting experience at whatever polling place they go is positive and safe. I hope none of us EVER take for granted what it means to live in a free Republic and that we will stand up for everyone’s right to participate in free elections and the promise of the peaceful transfer of power. To say that I don’t care who wins would be untrue. And to say that I will stand up and advocate for your right to vote even if your vote cancels mine out IS true.
Regardless of winners and losers, my faith remains in the power of God, and for me, the spirit of John Wesley that remains foundational for our United Methodism in essence, to vote with integrity for whom we judge most worthy; to not speak hatefully about those we vote against; and to not demonize those who hold different political views from our own.
(link to video: Sweet Honey in the Rock, Freedom Suite)