Two weeks ago I was asked by Doris Kobe, who leads a weekly "health and healing" group at CCPC, to design and lead a worship service on Election Day. The theme of the service : to pray for healing for our nation that is wounded by the long election and scared by the economic downturn. In preparation I did what Karl Barth famously instructed preachers to do: work with the best wisdom of the journalists in one hand and the Bible in the other. What follows is what I observed.
The most startling thing I noticed in the surveys of Obama and McCain voters is that in each group, about 25% of each candidates supporters believed that if the other side won the nations future was imperiled. That is a lot of fear and demonstrates a deeply divided electorate. I believe that both men are very capable (and far more competent then the current White House occupant) and would adequately serve our nation as President. I believe that whoever wins, our people will be more united then they have been during the current Presidency.
There were several positives. 1. I thought that this election cycle more issue oriented then the past two campaigns. Unavoidable problems like two wars and a fiscal meltdown tend to drown out trivial issues. It is to Mr. McCain's credit that he did not play the race card although his campaign managers, mostly holdovers from the slash and burn-do anything to win Rove/Bush team, consistently told him it was necessary to win. Mentioning Rev. Wright is playing the race card.
2. For the most part both candidates showed respect for each other and at the Presidential level the debate was more civil and decent. Maybe the campaigns of personal destruction are over.
There is an urgency that we come together. A large margin of victory will speed the process. We NEED TO HEAL, and heal quickly, BECAUSE THE PROBLEMS WE FACE LARGE AND IMMEDIATE. John Heilmann wrote a blog about the big opportunities and big risks of a possible Obama administration. "The circumstances Obama will face are infinitely more daunting then Clinton faced at the outset of his administration. The recession that fell Bush Sr was already in the rear view mirror. Although the mounting deficit compelled Clinton to abandon many of his planned initiates, the fiscal situation he inherited is nothing like the house of horrors awaiting Obama. Add to that a collapsing real estate market, the credit crunch, and rising unemployment, and Obama (or McCain!) will find himself staring down the barrel of a downturn so steep and ugly that it easily could consume his whole first term. Oh, and did i forget to mention that the country is at war--in not one but two countries?"
The crisis we face will not spare any part of the nation. Jobs are being lost. Homes are foreclosed. Saving are depleted for retirees and for those nearing retirement.
There are many other good things going on. Most significant is the energy and higher participation rates of young people. I remember trying to register college students at my Alma mater in 1976 when I was working for the Gerry Ford campaign in Spokane , Washington. Even with the President's daughter Susan Ford staffing our booth, my fellow classmates had no interest in voting . They were turned off by the Post - Watergate cynicism. By the mid 1980's Reagan brought some young people into the political process, but it was not until the Obama campaigns cutting edge recruitment of this age group that they became fully energized. I asked my son (he is 25) why people his age were not engaged 4 years ago. "Dad, for my age groups entire adolesence we have only had Clinton "competent but sleazy" and Bush "incompetent and intolerant" to look up to. Why should we vote? The rich run things, we don't have health insurance, college costs are rising twice the rate of inflation and government support for higher education has dramatically declined. Of course my cohort is disillusioned and apathetic!"
We will see by tonight if the wave of young people will make a difference in this election.They are important because our nation needs a counter balance to the near sighted and short term policies that have been enacted.
Now the bible part of the preparation. There is only one passage in the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) where the writer paints a portrait of the Ideal King. That passage is Deuteronomy 17:14-20 "When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, "I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me....choose one of your own community. He must not acquire many horses..and he must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself. when he has taken the throne, HE SHALL HAVE A COPY OF THE LAW WRITTEN FOORM HIM. THE LAW SHALL REMAIN WITH HIM AND HE SHALL READ IN IN ALL THE DAYS OF HIS LIFE SO THAT HE MAY LEARN TO FEAR THE LORD HIS GOD, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statues, neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandments."
The history of the Old Testament had only a couple Kings who followed the ideal proclaimed in Deuteronomy 17. The classic designation of God's servant leadership here on earth is threefold :that of prophet, priest and king. The King is to be a steward of the land and the people: God warned the Kings to avoid war and to shun greed and to ensure justice and fairness for the people. The King also had a priestly function: to provide opportunities for the free worship of Israel and regular reading of the word of God's law.
The third office was expected to reside outside the king. The prophet was a special role, also chosen by God. The prophet was to speak the truth to the king and to keep the king honest and humble. Jeremiah 9:23-24 says it well:"Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom. let not the mighty glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that i am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord."
The prophets role then is to declare boldly and plainly the gap between the nations ideals and their current practices. The prophet would remind the King to not be confident that God is an Alie for his agenda, but that the king needs to make sure we are on God's side.
The real hope I have for an Obama Presidency is that he is trying to get us past a 40 year culture war. This culture war has distracted us from addressing real problems. The culture war started in the 60's when America was the unquestioned top of the economic food chain. Liberation movements rose to deal with racial, sexual and gender discrimination. Civil Rights were won for Blacks and women started to gain some semblance of equality in the workplace and in the home. Then the Vietnam War opened huge holes in our social fabric. Those that came to oppose the war are still blamed 45 years later with losing it. A backlash against Civil Rights led the once reliable southern Democrats to join the Repbulican party. Relgious conservaitve reacted to the sexual promiscuity of the 1960's and in the 1980's got involved for the first time in politics. Uner President Bush the social conservative took over the GOP and drove that party far to the right.They maintained power because of the electoral system that give inordinate political clout to the less populated (mostly southern states). For example: Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Alaska, Montana has 18 senators (16 currently GOP) who represent maybe 6 million citizens. California and New York have 4 senators representing 80 million citizens. At the height of the GOP's electoral clout in 2004 they had 58 senators who represented 42% of the population.
If you look at tonights Electoral map you might be able to make the argument that the Republican party is no longer a national party. It is becoming a region party that is mostly southern. After tonight they quite possibly will have no congressmen from the 6 New England state, only 4 of 29 seats in the New York state delegation and maybe only 3 of 10 in New Jersey. My question is this: will they change and become a naational party when they face the reality of their second straight crushing defeat? I think people learn more from defeat then victory.
I listened Sunday night to singer Bruce Springsteen talk to a Cleveland Obama rally. Bruce said he has spent the last 35 years as a songwriter (an incredible body of work) sining about America. His songs usually lament the gap between "our the values we aspire to and the current expression of those ideals." He is looking for change because the tolerance and equality and commitment to freedom and justice has reached a disturbingly low ebb. Bruce laments the loss of the American dream and the diminished hopes n the faces of the people who attend his concerts. Bruce is hopeful. I share his hope.