Come Tuesday, November 3, 2020 – all of us who in the United States are of age and legally registered, must vote. I have come to believe it is our spiritual and moral obligation. I've always considered myself a conscientious objector when it came to voting. The last time I cast a ballot was in 1992 when Ross Perot ran on the ticket as an independent. Why haven’t I voted since?
As a historian, I have both read and written about heroes who have gone before us and I laud the historic 100-year-old 1920 decision that gave women the right to vote. I don't take that liberty – and privilege – lightly. One of my most profound memories over the years was marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and celebrating the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act that helped so many disenfranchised black Americans further step out of the shackles of Jim Crow Laws and legal discrimination of our nation's history. The right to vote is not something to be taken for granted. I know in my heart and spirit that voting is a privilege, but too often I have been immobilized.
No candidate was ever good enough. While I care deeply about social programs and access to resources and education for people living in poverty, I don’t believe the government is the most equipped or has the best record at successfully implementing such programs. How could I be a social justice advocate and not vote for the Democrats? Growing up as a daughter of a family who owned a small business, I’ve adhered to political perspectives that espouse fiscal conservativism. While being faithful to my family of origin, how could I not vote Republican? My social progressivism and fiscal conservativism could never be reconciled in any one candidate. I felt stuck and also didn’t believe my vote would make a difference. Perhaps that’s how you feel during this election season.
I believe in personal liberty and free choice – that women should have the right to be able to choose how to live in their own bodies, but I also believe the human embryo has the right be protected and the inherent right to life. There has not been one presidential election that allowed me to vote with integrity on issues that I care deeply about while also be attentive to the perspectives of my friends and community – many people of color and people from marginalized communities across the United States.
Since I could not vote with integrity, I didn’t vote. Until now.
Why is 2020 different? This year, the division between people in our country has become so severe some have said it seems like a civil war – numerous battles waging with a strong line between two extremes – white conservatives on one side of the battle field and progressive people of color on the other; or pro-life on one side and pro-choice on the other; or individuals concerned about climate change and the environment against supporters of big business, the oil industry, and other commercial enterprise. The list of divisions could go on and on.
Given different interests, perspectives, party-lines, and concerns for whom should I vote? And how do I vote with integrity? This year, I have become convinced that not only am I morally responsible to vote, but that I have a spiritual obligation as well.
Prior to the 2016 election, I sat beside the mother of a young black man and heard her weep in fear of what the presidency of Donald Trump might do. She told me that if he was elected, she feared for her son’s life. Back then, people might have thought her fear was unfounded or exaggerated. Now in 2020, ask the mothers of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others how the terror of racial hatred being unleashed in our country has affected them? Don’t get me wrong – racism and bigotry have been present since the founding of our nation. But, never before in modern history has the supremacy of white people been so esteemed and lauded by a man in the highest position of our country.
We cannot ignore the damage of this presidency and the devastating impact this president has had on people of color. When we vote on November 3, 2020 may we hold the stories of these families and may we take the cries we have been hearing from the streets with us into the voting booth as they call for police reform, racial justice, and remind the world that black lives do matter.
And as we vote, may we not hold to any party lines – because the issues facing our country are bigger than whether or not you are a Democrat or a Republican. Party loyalty will not get us out of this mess and another four years of this presidency will cause irreparable damage to the lives of individual and to our nation.
Vote for love of country. A country where for hundreds of years immigrants have come with hopes for a better future.
Vote for love of neighbor – and not just the neighbor who looks like you – but the neighbors who are saying “enough is enough” and that they can’t live like this anymore.
And if you are a follower of Jesus, vote because constructive political engagement is one of the ways we can faithfully live out Christian practice. Jesus always responded to the needs of the marginalized and sacrificed his self-interest for the sake of others. For Republicans and white Christians who feel like they would be losing something by not voting in line with the Republican party – more is at stake in the 2020 election than simple party loyalty. The moral rectitude of our nation and the spiritual integrity of our faith is at risk.
If white evangelicals, like myself, cannot stand in solidarity with people of color and say this hatred and bigotry must end, then what witness will we be able to offer to the world? If Christians continue to support the presidency of Mr. Trump, we will irreparably damage our future witness to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon is the author of several books including the most recent Beyond Hashtag Activism: Comprehensive Justice in a Complicated Age and the award winning Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World.