The Takeaway

     I voted, and I have the sticker to prove it.  Gary and I marched into Breton Downs School last Tuesday with our cheat sheet in tow.  We briefed each other the night before about candidates and issues, including the local school board election, University of Michigan Regents (with 3 UM grads in our family I had to get this one right), Michigan Supreme court judges, and the 6 state ballot proposals.

I’m a sucker for elections.  There is something magical about 120 million ordinary people freely meeting at the polls without anyone harassing or preventing them.  Each one with one vote regardless of age, ethnicity, income, status, or location.  People waiting hours to vote, never giving up because they wanted to exercise their right to have a say in who will lead them.

  • The takeaway?  Don’t underestimate the power of people who are determined to shape the future of their country.

     I voted, but I was also baffled.  The infamous Proposal 6 stared me in the face, “Should voters approve every tunnel or bridge from Michigan to Canada?”  WHAT?  Matty Moroun’s bridge company, which owns the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, put $33.2 million into the Proposal 6 campaign after a potential competitor, the New International Trade Crossing Bridge, was put before the Michigan legislature last year.

Depicting the new bridge as a government pork project for Detroit and a pay-off to Detroit politicians, Moroun engineered the ballot proposal so that Michigan voters would have to approve every bridge project from now on.  Opponents of Proposal 6 claimed that the proposed bridge is critical for economic development in southeast Michigan and that Moroun is afraid of losing the $60 million in annual tolls from his bridge monopoly.

  • The takeway?  Voters aren’t dumb and would not allow a special interest group to control the state Constitution.  The proposal went down.

     I voted, but I also goofed.  It’s pretty embarrassing to make a mistake on a ballot because everyone waiting in line could see me slink back to the desk and beg election officials for a redo.   In my humble opinion, the layout of ballot was difficult to decipher, which was confirmed by others.  I held my head high, waited for another spot, and got it right the second time.

  • The takeaway?  Keep it simple, please.

     I voted, but I also checked in with a few friends from around the world.  My African friend said, “In the Congo it takes months for people to know election results, but in the U.S. you know the same day who is going to be the next President.  In some parts of the Congo, the election is not free, and people are pressured by soldiers to vote for the person they will tell you, especially in the villages.  I also don’t like it that some people get to know who the president is going to be even before the election.”

A friend from the Philippines said, “I trust and pray that President Obama’s second term will make him better and that he will be God’s answer to our prayers because we recognize the U.S. as the world police today.  Let us hope for the best in attaining real peace and deliverance from all social evil.  Your election result is so quick.  Here in the Philippines it will take more than a month before we will know the result.  Consequently, many political losers do not concede immediately, and that divides our people.  Keep us in your prayers, too.”

  • The takeaway?  Much of the world still looks to us as an example of freedom and cooperation.  Are we living up to our reputation?

I voted, but I was also saddened by Maine Senator Olympia Snowe’s decision not to run for re-election after 33 years in the Congress, in part because of incessant partisan bickering.  Snowe, a Republican and one of the few Senators willing to work toward compromise, often provoked consternation in her party by bucking convention and voting her conscience rather than the party line.

In announcing her retirement, Snowe said, “As I have long said, what motivates me is producing results for those who have entrusted me to be their voice and their champion…  I intend to help give voice to my fellow citizens who believe, as I do, that we must return to an era of civility in government driven by a common purpose to fulfill the promise that is unique to America.”

  • The takeaway?  The mandate of our executive and legislative branches is to work together in creative problem solving for the good of our country.  This year I sensed the desire of voters to elect officials who have the will to set aside their own party or personal agendas to achieve unity.  How will we hold them accountable?

I voted, but I also learned a lot about the church by watching the election results.  In an election predicted to be very close, the Obama campaign developed a brilliant strategy and did not waver.  They mobilized thousands of volunteers and targeted swing states that would provide the tipping point for electoral votes.  After both campaigns spent nearly $1 billion on television ads, President Obama carried seven of the nine critical states.

  • The takeaway?  Strategy and execution are everything.  Why is it so difficult for local churches to develop a specific plan for numerical, missional, and spiritual growth?  What is preventing your church from devoting itself to prayer and discernment, doing the necessary demographic research, and then formulating goals for worship attendance, outreach, small groups, and children’s, youth, and young adult ministry?  How will you ensure the necessary follow-up?

If only white people voted in this election, Mitt Romney would have won handily. Romney garnered a whopping 72% of the white vote.  However, 93% of African-Americans, 71% of Hispanics, and 73% of Asians voted for Barack Obama.  Romney won the senior vote by 12 points, but Obama won among Americans under 30 by 23 points, while.  The LGBT vote went to Obama as well.

If only men had voted, Mitt Romney would have won the presidency, 52% to 44%.  However, Barack Obama was reelected with 55% of women’s votes and 45% of men’s votes.   This is the second largest gender gap (10%) in presidential voting recorded by the CNN exit polls, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.  The Democratic party was much better able to connect with the new face of America.

  • The Takeaway?  Embracing diversity strengthens the whole.   Does the make-up of your church reflect the constituency of your neighborhood?  In politics as well as the church, we ignore the burgeoning ethnic diversity of our country at our peril.  Is God calling your church to become a church for all people?  If your answer is yes, as I hope it is, then how will you be intentional about transforming your hearts and minds, practices, and worship style in order to reach people who are not like you?  Don’t just lament the lack of young people or racial/ethnic diversity in your church.  Be intentional, be humble, have a passion for connecting with their language, needs, hope, and dreams, and prepare to be blessed by their presence.

Voters will not normally cast ballots for someone they believe is not concerned about the general welfare.  Although they want politicians to understand their own needs, even more so, they desire liberty and justice for all people.  Voters don’t want privileges at the expense of others, and they don’t want money thrown at them.  Rather, when voters believe that their leaders demonstrate fairness and authenticity, they will come together to accomplish amazing things.

  • The takeaway?  Making collective responsibility toward others our default mode creates unity.  Psalm 86:11 says, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.  Give me an undivided heart to revere your name.”  An undivided heart displays integrity toward others and consistency in thoughts, words, and actions.  The church is called to lead the way in proclaiming that when faithful people rally together for righteous causes, we can and will change the world.

We may have red states and blue states, but we do not have to have a divided nation.  We may have a Congress consisting of two parties, but we do not have to have divided hearts.  We may have different religious and political beliefs, but we do not have to be divided in our desire to join hands to create a country where 100% of people count.

     I voted, and I have the sticker to prove it.  But it’s the takeaway that ultimately matters. 



We the People

What happens when organizations begin to flounder and lose their way?  They go back to basics, don’t they?  If a football team loses 5 games in a row, the coach will focus on fundamentals in practice.  If a business starts losing profitability, top management will analyze every system and process to determine what’s not working.  If a congregation loses vitality over a period of years, church leaders assess attendance and giving trends as well as spiritual health and participation in mission and outreach.  In every case, leaders of struggling organizations must start with their mission.  

  • Does their mission statement still express the core values and vision of the organization?
  • If the mission statement is outdated, how does it need to be tweaked to reflect current reality?
  • If the mission statement is still appropriate, how do current practices need to change so that all departments align their practices with the company’s mission and vision?

Did you know that a week ago today was the 225th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution?  On September 17, 1787, 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention voted to approve and sign the final draft of the Constitution, which was then sent to the state legislatures for ratification.

Why is it important to know that bit of trivia?   First, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution contains the mission statement of the United States.  Second, with presidential, national, state, and local elections looming, it behooves each one of us to assess candidates according to how their views align with our country’s mission statement.

It is embarrassing that we allow political campaigns to degenerate into name calling, exaggeration, and outright lies, catering to special interest groups, and soliciting enormous amounts of money for negative advertising.  The elections on Tuesday, November 6, are not about Republicans or Democrats, left or right, conservative or liberal, Obamacare or Romneycare.  They are about which candidates will best be able to fulfill our country’s mission statement, the Preamble to the Constitution:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to:

form a more perfect Union             

establish Justice,

insure domestic Tranquility,

provide for the common defence,

promote the general Welfare,

and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,

do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Because the general welfare of our country is always in flux, the U.S. Constitution is a living document.  Over the past 225 years the Constitution has been continuously interpreted by Presidents, Congress, the Supreme Court, and ordinary people.  Although the Constitution has been adapted to changing times, it remains committed to protecting the rights of all people.

For example, the Supreme Court ruled in 1896 (Plessy vs. Ferguson) that separate institutions for black and white citizens were legal as long as the institutions were equal in power (separate but equal).  However, in 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned this doctrine in Brown vs. Board of Education by declaring that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

As we prepare for the November elections, what does it mean to align our voting with our country’s mission statement as well as our Christian faith?

  • This election is not about what’s best for me or you or anyone else’s personal welfare.  It’s about the general welfare of We, the People. 

Over the past 225 years our country has moved away from an emphasis on the collective good to a focus on individual success and the acquisition of wealth.   “Pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps” has become synonymous with the American dream.  In reality, no matter how much we achieve in life, others help us along the way.  Our country’s growing edge is to move beyond entitlement, status, ego, and power to a genuine desire for all people to enjoy quality of life.

  • Will you vote according to what candidates promise to do for you or how they promise to promote the general welfare?
  • This election is not about coddling the desires of special interest groups or using religion as a weapon.  It’s about We, the People, advocating for those who do not experience liberty, justice, and tranquility.
  • In the gospel of Luke Jesus begins his ministry by preaching in his hometown of Nazareth and citing the words of the prophet Isaiah as his own mission statement, “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 and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
  •  Most of human history has been written from the perspective of those in control of the dominant institutions.   The Bible, however, is an alternative history written from the perspective of the poor, the outcast, and the oppressed.  Following in the footsteps of the prophets, Jesus spoke truth to those in power but was eventually put to death by those whose status and privilege were threatened.  Jesus always took the side of those under domination.
  • If both the Bible and the U.S. Constitution agree on the primacy of liberty and justice, how do we hold candidates for political office accountable for platforms and policies that protect human rights?   How do we need to work on ourselves, knowing that most of us are those in power?  We are those to whom much has been given.  How do we move from being the rich who are invested in keeping others under control to bringing in the kingdom of God as expressed in both Jesus’ mission and the Preamble of our Constitution?
  • This election is not about rhetoric that divides and labels that separate.  It’s about We, the People, forming a more perfect union through collaboration, cooperation, and fulfilling a common mission.

Did you know that the terms “left” and “right” originated in the French Revolution?  On the left side of the Estates General of 1789 sat the common people, and on the right side sat the nobility and the clergy(?!).   It’s most unfortunate that “left” and “right” are political terms today because the concerns of those sitting on the left or supporting those on the left go far beyond identifying with Republicans or Democrats.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is much larger, broader, and deeper than any political party.  In fact, if we follow the teachings of Jesus, we’ll be attacked by both the political “left” and “right.”

  • Are you willing to move beyond stereotypes to model civil conversation, work together to form a more perfect union, and fulfill the mission of our country by always advocating for We, the People?
  • God calls us to another way. 

The temptation is great for candidates to succumb to vitriol and damaging remarks, with the justification that it’s just politics, it’s expected.   But there is another way, and it involves you and me.  What will it collectively take for We, the People, the common people, to rise up and say, “No more outrageous lies.  No more negative commercials.   No more running against.    Only running for.”

Which candidate will one day have the courage to say, “I will not say a word against my opponent.  I will simply share with you how I intend to work toward the fulfillment of the mission statement of the United States as expressed in the Preamble of the Constitution.”   Do We, the People, have the will to break the cycle?

  • Will you pray for all leaders and candidates to promote the general welfare?

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high places, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.  This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” (1Timothy 2:1-3)

We are the People.  We are the ordinary people, the justice-seeking people, the people who seek tranquility, a common defense, the general welfare, liberty, and a more perfect union.   We, the People, All the People, will vote on November 6.  May God help us all.



Rights and Responsibilities

“As a U.S. citizen and voter I have a right to know which candidate’s views reflect my best interest. Unfortunately, all I heard during the campaign was how the other candidates were unqualified rather than what the candidates will do for me.” These sentences came from a Michigan citizen who used Facebook last Tuesday to reflect on the Michigan Republican U.S. Senate primary. Peter Hoekstra defeated Clark Durant and Randy Hekman and will face incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow in November.

Most Americans are already dreading the next 3 months as yet another presidential election dominates the news. Not only will the candidates go up against each other day after day, with the media recording and commenting on every word, but social networks now provide a platform for anyone to weigh in, offer unfiltered opinions, and spew venom. Politics can easily degenerate into an unfortunate game where money, power, and influence eclipse the sole purpose of government, which is to serve the public good.

That’s why I was fascinated with the Facebook posting. When candidates focus on slandering their opponents rather than offering well thought-out perspectives on the issues, the political process is diminished. At the same time, when the primary criterion of voters is how the candidates will make their own lives better, liberty and justice for all becomes a mockery.

When students receive degrees in higher education, the president of the college or university usually says these words, “I confer upon you the bachelor’s degree (master’s, doctor of philosophy, etc.) with all the rights and privileges thereof.” Rights and privileges go together and are earned as a result of achievement. Sometimes, however, we hear another word slipped in with deliberate intention. “I confer upon you the bachelor’s degree with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities thereof.”

What a difference a single word can make. The purpose of a degree is not to receive but to give back. A degree holds little value if the recipient does not use it to make the world a better place. Likewise, a vote means nothing unless it is cast with the desired outcome of creating a country and world where every person has enough food to eat, shelter over their head, clothes to wear, and the opportunity to receive a good education and a rewarding job.

“Responsibility” means “the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something.” Public service is not about becoming rich or catering to the powerful and influential. Nor is it about increasing the already terrifying gap between the haves and the have-nots. Political leadership is a responsibility to govern in a way that levels the playing field so that all experience wholeness and shalom.

In the same way, voting is not about casting our lot with politicians who cater to our own self-interest. Voting is a corporate responsibility to select leaders who demonstrate the qualities of compassion, honesty, respect, and a passion for service.

I wonder what would happen if we took responsibility seriously in the church. What if we taught our children, youth, and adults that each one of us is a “little Christ” and therefore responsible for carrying on God’s redemptive work in the world? What if we tried to actually live as Jesus lived by pointing away from self to the common good? What if we were always conscious of how our thoughts, words, deeds, attitudes, and motives represent Christ?

What if the church insisted that everyone has a right to be loved by God – enemy and friend, lost and found, rich and poor, forgiver and forgiven, leader and follower?

Actually, becoming a Christian will not give us any rights that we don’t already have, except perhaps to vote on church business if we are a member. However, being a disciple of Jesus Christ will confer upon us great responsibility. How might our churches look if we acted upon our responsibility to throw open the doors of grace and hope to a hurting world?

• Our major focus would be to share the good news of Jesus Christ and make disciples

• We’d have as many opportunities for spiritual growth as we have committees and task forces

• The goal of every single program and activity would be to connect people with God through learning, service, community, and outreach

• Worship would become an exciting multi-cultural experience where the Spirit moves mysteriously and freely in our hearts, convicting, converting, and encouraging

• Servant leadership, rather than hidden agendas or power plays, would be the standard

• The church building would become a launching pad for outreach and mission to neighborhoods, communities, and the world

• The broken and the outwardly successful, the confused and the called, and the searching and the sure would experience healing and begin to look beyond self to a hurting world

• Pledging responsibility to support the breaking in of God’s kingdom in our world by our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness would become the most important promise we ever make

At the Yale University commencement in May 2012, President Richard Levin conferred rights, privileges, and responsibilities upon graduates by reminding them of their duty to contribute to the welfare of our world. Levin quoted a speech by Abraham Lincoln from Yale professor Steven Smith’s recently published book The Writings of Abraham Lincoln. Although President Lincoln is most often remembered for his opposition to slavery and courageous leadership through the Civil War, he was also an eloquent writer and speaker who emphasized corporate responsibility for the country’s health and prosperity.

In September, 1859, Lincoln gave a speech to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Association in Milwaukee where he made the argument that the nation’s abundant agricultural resources were one of its most precious assets. In the midst of increasing tumult over slavery, Lincoln did not lose sight of the fact that enhancing innovation in the use of our most valued resources would become a source of productivity and abundance in the United States.

Lincoln’s speech focused on infrastructure development and the education of farmers and ended with a stirring call to responsibility, “Let us hope … that by the best cultivation of the physical world, beneath and around us; and the intellectual and moral world within us, we shall secure an individual, social and political prosperity and happiness, whose course shall be onward and upward, and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away.”

Within 6 weeks of Lincoln’s election in 1860, the U.S. moved toward civil war. Yet, as President Levin pointed out, even as Lincoln guided our country with God’s help and a steady hand, he was able to work with Congress to approve a transcontinental railroad, the Homestead Act, the establishment of farms in the western territories, and the Morrill Act, which granted land for colleges (the precursors of our state universities) that taught agricultural and mechanical arts. It was these far-sighted and responsible decisions that set the stage for the explosive growth of the United States after the Civil War.

It is not possible for the President or Congress alone to “fix” our country. Nor is it their task to act in our personal best interest. However, it is their responsibility to create systems and structures that provide sustainable foundations for individual, social, and political health and happiness through an equitable distribution of wealth and resources. Our public servants are charged with calling out the highest and best in each citizen to embrace their rights and privileges by assuming responsibility for each other’s welfare.

It is also not possible for bishops, general boards and agencies, and annual conferences to “fix” our denomination. Nor is it their task to act in our personal or local church’s best interest. However, it is their responsibility to create systems and structures that foster the health and vitality of our local churches. Our leaders are also charged with calling out the highest and best in each local church, pastor, and lay person to embrace their rights and privileges by responsibly transforming our world into the kingdom of God.

The next few months will, indeed, be interesting as we prepare for another presidential election. The good news is that each one of us has the right to let our voice be heard. But as disciples of Jesus Christ we also have a responsibility to frame political discussion in the positive light of the gospel and to act in Christ-like ways toward one another.

Remember, this election is not about what is best for us personally. It’s not about the candidates. Nor is it about our country. It’s about Abraham Lincoln’s hope “that by the best cultivation of the physical world, beneath and around us; and the intellectual and moral world within us, we shall secure an individual, social and political prosperity and happiness, whose course shall be onward and upward, and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away.”