When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beer-sheba. Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:1-9 (NRSV)
We are in the throes of an extremely contentious election cycle in both some local races, as well as the big national campaign. In some cases, I’ve noticed that family members are turning upon each other based on tightly held political beliefs. The denominational bodies of churches are lining up on various sides of issues and within various camps, as are other notable bodies of influence, and yet we still can’t seem to work our republican democracy into something of which we can be proud.
This is nothing new. Consider our passage from the Old Testament with which I opened these thoughts. We have a government that has become more about serving those in power as they turn aside after getting what they want, they accept bribes, and “justice” is not necessarily just, so the people complain and they ask for something new. Granted, the prophet is not excited about the prospect of the people asking for something new, but God does something truly noteworthy: God tells the prophet to give the people what they want (an unexpectedly democratic move), BUT the people should be warned about those who would rule over them and have their motives, personalities, and practices exposed to the people so the people know for certain what they are getting.
While on my summer travels this year, I saw the headline published by Kyle Smith in the New York Post: “Americans are about to get the first landslide president we don’t want.” (August 20, 2016) As soon as I saw it, I had to ask myself how we, as a nation, got to this place and time in history and then it dawned on me: we demanded something new because we don’t know how to fix what is wrong, and we didn’t pay attention to the prophets who exposed the “ways of the [leader] who would rule over them.” Americans were entranced by jingoisms (a word I learned in grade school American History and again in high school Civics, but seems to have no meaning to those under 40), and fiery rhetoric based only upon demographic stereotypes and having little to do with actual facts.
We have been given four candidates for president, only two receive any media coverage (known in the industry as “spin”), and so, for the first time in decades, the nation is becoming extremely polarized on the political spectrum.
What this means for those of us who claim the title Christian (and who actually want to live as Christians) is that we must listen to the words of the prophet Samuel from about 3,000 years ago: learn about the people who we would put in place as our leader, discover if they actually support and live by what they say. Once you find somebody who appears to live by the ideals s/he espouses, then cast your vote – don’t be like the Israelites of Samuel’s time and simply demand a leader who makes them feel good, while delivering the status quo in fancy wrapping.
Pay attention to the wisdom given us by God and vote. Vote for the person who most closely reflects your conscience, your personality, your desires for life. Don’t allow yourself to be pushed into voting for somebody you cannot support in your heart because you’ve been told you are wasting your vote when you favor somebody different. Remember what Thomas Jefferson said, “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority of those who participate.” If you are willing to stand-by and let others make the decisions, then also remember the words of 1 Samuel 8:18 “and in that day you will cry out because of your [leader], whom you have chosen for yourselves.” (NRSV)
May we all enjoy the wisdom of God and pay attention to the warnings and signs around us.