Over two decades ago, when I was serving as the Protestant Campus Minister at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Connecticut, we welcomed George McGovern and William F. Buckley to campus for a political debate. I had the great privilege of sitting with Senator McGovern for a more intimate conversation before the public event. I will never forget him telling us that his best friend in the U.S. Senate was Barry Goldwater. Rarely did they vote the same way, but very often after a vote they would go out for a beer to continue the conversation, regardless of who had come out the victor that day. He also noted (this was in the early 1990s) that this almost never happened anymore. If anything, things have gotten much, much worse. I was saddened to learn of the death of Senator McGovern; the loss of giants like him and Edward Kennedy and Arlen Specter marks the passing of a generation of people who could disagree and yet still find common ground toward a common good.
Recently the Episcopal Bishop of Maryland, the Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton, wrote a pastoral letter to his diocese. He has taken public stands on three important ballot questions that his state is facing, but he also wanted to be clear that he does not speak for all Episcopalians in his diocese: Bishop Sutton wrote:
In all of these matters, I want to assure you that The Episcopal Church considers what and who you vote for in an election to be an act of your personal choice, an expression of your responsibilities as a faithful child of God as well as an informed citizen of the state. We have too much respect for you and your conscience to tell you how you should vote; that to us would be an abuse of power that does not honor the way of Jesus.
It is in that same spirit that St. Francis Church in Holden, the parish that I have served for the past fifteen years, recently engaged in a series of political conversations this past October. On four Tuesday evenings, I led a discussion group on the topic of “faith and politics.” Twenty-five persons representing different points-of-view participated. We began by setting down some simple ground rules for these discussions, beginning with some conversation about our own families of origin and where we get our information. (My theory is that in an age where there is so much information, very often we are fighting about which set of “facts” we accept as “true.”) From there we turned to the topics of how our core spiritual values shape our hopes and dreams for foreign policy, the economy, and social justice.
One outgrowth of this conversation is that St. Francis Church will participate in an ecumenical, grass-roots program that has caught fire from sea to shining sea on Election Day. As of today 559 congregations in 48 states and the District of Columbia are participating in offering an Election Day Communion Service: http://electiondaycommunion.org/. More than twenty-five of these services will be offered in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, including one at St. Francis Church on Tuesday, November 6, at 7 p.m. As the website for this event puts it:
During the day of November 6, 2012, we will make different choices for different reasons, hoping for different results. But that evening while our nation turns its attention to the outcome of the presidential election, let’s again choose differently. But this time, let’s do it together.
Whoever is elected to serve us, we live in a democracy. They will be our President and our Senator—regardless of whether or not we voted for them. This is how democracy works. And they will need our support and our prayers to tackle the difficult array of challenges that lie ahead. All of us have a stake in supporting our elected leaders in their work, and also in holding them accountable to a commitment to finding bipartisan solutions to very difficult problems.
So we will gather at St. Francis on Election Day to break the bread together and share the cup. The service will be no longer than a half hour or so in length, but it gives us a chance to catch our breath and to remember that there is more that binds us together than tears us apart. All who wish to join us are welcome, regardless of political or denominational affiliation.