Column: Wisdom for Elections

By Rev. Carol Bloom

Jesus often taught his followers using parables – short stories used to illustrate a spiritual or moral lesson. In the Gospel of Luke, we find Jesus telling a story about two people who went to the temple to pray – one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. (Luke 18:9-14, CEB) The Pharisee was considered a righteous person, knowledgeable of the law and living an exemplary life, whereas tax collectors in Jesus’ day were reviled. They worked for Rome, often collected more money than was due, and pocketed the excess. They were considered traitors to their own people. They were two very different people.

Jesus tells us that the Pharisee went to the temple, lifted his eyes to heaven and prayed mostly about himself: “God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else – crooks, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.” The tax collector went to the temple, stood with his head bowed, and beat his chest as he prayed, “God, show mercy to me, a sinner.”

The scriptures go on to tell us it was this man, the tax collector, who recognized his own sinfulness and humbled himself before God, who went home justified. The humble will be lifted up and those who exalt themselves will be brought low. It was an unpopular lesson then and it is still an unpopular lesson today.

The lesson is especially difficult during election season since the outcome of an election depends, in large measure, on how successful the candidates are in promoting themselves. It is obvious to anyone who makes even a passing visit to Greenwich that we are in the midst of an important election season. There are yard signs everywhere you look; promotional materials arrive in the mailbox every day; there are news articles, letters to the editor, and public debates. I attended a couple of the debates and was pleased to see that the candidates participating in them conducted themselves with dignity and treated one another courteously.

Sadly, I could not say the same for some of the attendees. As I was leaving one well-attended debate, I heard a group of people talking about how evil and horrible ‘Candidate A’ is. I walked on a little farther and encountered another group of people saying similar things about ‘Candidate B.’ Each group was adamant – not just that their preferred candidate was better but that the opposing candidate was vile.

How did we get here? When did we lose our ability to differ on an issue or solution to a problem without denigrating those with whom we differ? When did we become like the Pharisee, setting ourselves up as righteous and judging others to be unworthy? When did we become so certain that we alone possess not just the right answers but the only answers? When did we become so glad that we are not like them?

We can find some solace in knowing that elections have brought out the worst in us for a long time. John Wesley, Anglican priest and founder of Methodism, wrote the following in his journal on October 6, 1774: “I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them:

1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy;

2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and;

3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

These are wise words of advice that are just as relevant today as they were when they were written 245 years ago.

Yes, this is an important election season in our town. Yes, there are big issues to consider and different approaches to addressing them. Learn about the issues, learn about the proposed solutions, decide what you believe is best, then vote. It is important that you vote and, by all means, vote your conscience. Use your best judgment to decide how to mark your ballot. But do it without speaking evil of the opposing candidate or “sharpening your spirit” against those who voted differently.

I pray we can spend the next few days leading up to the election not puffing ourselves up like the pharisee in the parable; but in humility, seeking wisdom and discernment.