We talked about politics.
Last Wednesday, our student executive board hosted an all-staff training that looked at some ballot initiatives that relate to our office’s main four focus areas. This Wednesday, we followed up on the same in another meeting. And on the Friday in between, in a small group I’m leading, we looked at Old Testament law related to the poor and compared it to the national rhetoric about how to alleviate poverty.
I think it’s very difficult to care about poverty, justice, and oppression and not get political. Not because government is the solution, although they are part of it. Not because there is one right way to vote if you care about these things.
In fact, it’s precisely because you can share a commitment to Christ and his kingdom and vote totally opposite of another dedicated follower of Jesus that is gets so hairy. Throw in the fact that far too many of us have been involved in a conversation where one side will say to the other ‘You can be a Christian and vote X,’ and you’ve got a minefield to navigate just to have a conversation.
Sometimes I feel like my students are able to navigate all this better than the average bear. Maybe it’s because their environment encourages questions and curiosity. Or maybe they’re just tired of hearing people throw out polarizing statements without considering others.
Either way, in this week’s conversations they got some things right:
1. For the training, they created a non-partisan structure for the conversation. Our office works across four issues areas–hunger and homelessness; education and literacy; health and wellness; and environmental justice. It’s not a comprehensive list of causes, certainly, but it’s where we focus.
Instead of looking at every intersection between social justice and current politics, they found 4 items on the California ballot that related to our four issue areas. So the conversation started by saying, we all care about these four things, and here are just a few places that the election will affect the people we serve with in these areas.
2. They focused on understanding the issues. It is not easy to unpack the layers of jargon that surround the California propositions. The devoted more of their time to actually understanding how a proposition would play out than deciding which way to land on it. Shockingly, they didn’t use any commercials to help with this.
3. They asked questions. Good ones. Like how you weigh out competing values that seem to pull you in opposite voting directions? That’s a much better question than what is the right way, the Christian way, the just way to vote? And people who had thought through one question or another shared how they processed that in a way that did not require the other person to do the same.
It is nothing earth shattering to suggest we move away from party loyalties, focus on content, and ask questions when it comes to voting. And maybe it’s not earth shattering for a group of college students to actually pull it off. But if my news feed after the debate is any indication, it’s no small thing either.