So, Obama got re-elected last night. Cue spontaneous street celebrations (including fireworks) in my street, and much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth in other places. I arrived in America knowing that I would be here for the election (and the run-up to it) and was both anticipating and dreading what that would entail. The images of American elections and political rallies I absorbed while in the UK involved mass public displays of hysteria and hyperbole. And no doubt all that has been going on of late, but I have been utterly unaware of it. Had I been living in the UK for the past few months, I’m confident I would have been more aware of the circus than I have been right here in the heart of the USA.
There are a number of reasons for that, chief among which is that I haven’t really exposed myself to ‘news’ over here. I haven’t bought a newspaper, I have barely watched TV, neither of which I really did in the UK, but when I lived there I was regularly checking in to the BBC News website, and here I just haven’t. I guess I was expecting more in the way of billboards and things, but as I have been led to understand, Tennessee is “not really” a swing state. Makes sense.
What has been pretty refreshing is that the debates I have heard people getting into have been, for the most part, rational and balanced. I have heard my peers in the school express the full range of opinions on the election and the main political parties. And by peers I mean mostly twentysomethings, for as a single thirtysomething on a “year out” I have more in common with twentysomething singles than I do with married friends of my own age. Some have railed against the pressure they feel to vote, and to vote in a particular way. And I have heard and read many guilt trips that have been thrown onto people who have been considering not voting, or have been unsure of how to vote.
Now, is it important to exercise your democratic right to vote, which is a privilege many fought and died for? I believe it is. But is it also understandable to be unsure who to vote for, when neither main party or candidate fully represents your views on issues that matter? Or, put another way, when both of them support things that you really don’t want to support? I believe it is. And while many seem to think that voting for a particular party (and which party apparently depends on which part of the US you live in) is the God-honouring way to vote, I have never found it that simple. In the UK it appears to be less clear-cut how a Christian “should” vote, as both the main political parties support issues that Christians would traditionally vote against, such as abortion and gay marriage. While that adds confusion, it also to a certain degree releases the pressure that voting in a particular way is somehow betraying God.
The Republicans take views that a large percentage of Christians can get behind. But do they completely espouse Christian beliefs? Is Mitt Romney not a Mormon?
And here’s a question. Should the traditional strongholds of the Republican Party such as the Bible Belt become, over time, gradually less and less Christian, will the Republican Party continue to take a “Christian” view on the big issues? They might, in which case I can only envisage they would gradually slip into political obscurity, and another, more secular party would rise to prominence to challenge the Democrats. Or would they reflect the change in views of their electorate in order to survive? I reckon they would.
Last night my roommate tried to extract from me how I would have voted had I been able to vote here. I successfully bodyswerved the question. For the truth is, I really don’t know how I would have voted.
I write this as an outsider, fully aware of the limits of my understanding of American politics, and conscious of how I receive the opinions of outsiders on Northern Irish politics. I write it not as an observation on the American political landscape but as an opinion on how Christians seem to be press-ganged to vote in a certain way.
When God has moved in power in the past, has it been through godly government? I have not studied revivals enough to know the answer to that, and so it is a genuine question. But I know that whenever the church is persecuted, it thrives. Would God pour out blessing on America if it had a genuinely godly president? He might. Were any of the candidates for the presidency genuinely godly men? I don’t think so.
When I moved to the States, my Scottish friend Boyd, who has lived here for a few years, gave me two pieces of advice.
(1) Be very specific when asking for a haircut.
(2) Don’t discuss politics with anyone.
I’ve managed the first…