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Arc voting

By Mike Ruffin Well, here we are, three weeks from Election Day. We’re in the stretch drive. It’s a sprint to the finish. This one’s for all the marbles. (Apply other cliches as you see fit.) I guess we think every election is potentially world-altering. Maybe they all are. There’s no doubt that events would have unfolded differently had any election gone the other way. I mean, imagine if the two most recent presidential elections in which the winner got the most electoral votes but not the most popular votes had been won by Gore rather than Bush and by Clinton rather than Trump. Some of us think things would have been better, others of us think they would have been worse, but I’m sure we all agree they would have been different’”and drastically different at that. I recently heard an interview with a history professor about the upcoming presidential election. The interviewer asked the professor if this election would be as consequential as it felt like it might be. The professor said something like, ‘Well, if you think things such as democracy, civil rights, and healthcare are important, then yes, it will be a very consequential election.’ It will also be a consequential election if you think things such as international relationships, economic fairness, and basic human decency are important. As a Christian (and an ordained minister too) and an American, I think about how Christian Americans vote and about how they decide how to vote. We really can’t talk about ‘the Christian vote,’ because there are all sorts of Christians who focus on different issues in making their decisions. Every now and then I see a post on social media (always, I think, copied from somewhere else) that says something like, ‘As a Christian, I will vote for the candidate that takes the following positions on select issues,’ then lists a few of them with a Bible verse (or verses) purporting to back up each one. The ones I see are always from what I think can fairly be termed a conservative evangelical perspective. Christians with other perspectives could do the same thing. So, for example, I could say that as a Christian, I will vote for the candidate that supports the following positions. 1. Economic justice. ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives’¦’ (Luke 4:18; see also Isaiah 1:17; Proverbs 29:7; Exodus 23:6). 2. Better treatment of underpaid, oppressed, and migrant workers. ‘Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts’ (James 5:4). 3. Protection of the environment. ‘Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must treat down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet?’ (Ezekiel 34:18; see also Jeremiah 2:7; Revelation 11:18). 4. Universal healthcare. ‘Then the righteous will answer him, ‘˜Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘˜Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:37-40; see also Proverbs 21:13). Now some of you will check my references (Well done! I do that too!) and say, ‘When we read those verses in their context and apply rigorous interpretive methodologies to them, they might not quite support the positions you name.’ And you may be right. At least in some cases. At least somewhat and partially. But you see, that is the problem with relying on prooftexts to support a position: if we fail to take context into account, we may inappropriately apply a Bible verse to our position. We really need to take the overall trajectory of the Bible into account. We need to take what I call the trajectory of the Spirit into account. Where is the Bible pointing? Where is the Spirit leading? I believe that creation, including this blue globe that is our home, is moving toward being all that God intends for it to be. Some Christians used to think that if we worked hard enough to make the world as good as possible, it would finally become good enough for the kingdom of God to come in its fullness. Events like World War I and the Great Depression pretty much ended such thinking. Other Christians believe that the world is inevitably going to get worse and worse until God finally has enough and brings it to an end. That strikes me as a defeatist position that allows you to ignore the problems that oppress, marginalize, and harm people. Count me among those Christians who believe that in Christ, God is working God’s purposes out, and that in the meantime we should live in hope, doing all the good we can and making things better as much as we can, not because we believe such actions will bring in the kingdom, but rather because we believe that such living is our privilege and responsibility. Dr. Martin Luther King, paraphrasing an idea first expressed by the Unitarian minister Theodore Parker not long before the American Civil War, said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ So does the arc of the Bible. So does the arc of the Spirit. And I work, write, and vote in the fervent hope that the arc of the United States of America does too.

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