As we all know, religious leaders find themselves in difficult positions when it comes to endorsing specific candidates for public office. Officially, the non-profit tax status of the communities that they serve can be put at risk when the leader fails to distinguish between a personal opinion and an official teaching of the church. In many cases, and in many churches, trying to differentiate what is a personal opinion and what is an official teaching can be difficult.
One advantage of being in the United Methodist fold is that some of this has been settled for us by the General Conference. No United Methodist, be they a pastor, a General Secretary, or a Bishop, can speak officially for the United Methodist Church. Likewise, while I maintain a teaching and priestly role in the church, I have no ability to make political pronouncements on behalf of the church that I serve. When it comes to personal (non-issue oriented) politics, I am a free agent, speaking for no one except myself.
I generally try to lay low around issues of endorsements for I know that what I suggest below will be seen by some as anathema to the Christian tradition, or somehow flawed in one way or another. It probably is at some level, however I believe that my opinion (not a religious pronouncement) has merit on many levels and I share it with you as a sign of transparency and a desire to help any who are sitting on the fence tonight before Super Tuesday
My decision to vote for Barack Obama as the nominee for the Democratic party is rooted in many sources. One stream is the desire to see an African American in office, believing that event may do as much to improve the status of African Americans in the United States as any event since the Civil Rights movement. Another is my appreciation for Senator Obama’s willingness to move beyond the sound-bite culture of Washington to consider policy issues with the nuance required to make good decisions. Of course, like many, I am buying into the message of hope and inspiration . . . God knows we need it.
Perhaps the deepest reason for my finally making the plunge toward Senator Obama is a continuing belief that the election of Hilary Clinton will do nothing be continue the extreme polarization we currently experience in this country.
I have no doubt that Senator Clinton is a competent and intelligent lady who would be even more of a policy wonk than her husband. I have had the chance to meet her (when she spoke to the General Conference in Denver) and she was a nice enough person to me. In fact, I have joked with some that I almost want her to win because it would increase the value of my picture with her.
Yet, the Clintons represent the shadow side of the Bush dynasty. I truly believe that Bill Clinton and George Bush represent the final gasp of the early generation Baby Boomers, a group who has been politically polarized almost since they came out of the womb. These persons are the final group of hard core modernists, influenced by notions of taxonomy which push people into polarized camps. To elect Hillary is to condemn ourselves to four or more years of backbiting partisanship that might lead this country into abject failure and revolution.
The issue isn’t one of competence and experience. Of all the candidates, Joe Biden and John McCain probably have the lead in those arenas. The issue is one of inspiration. How is it that a leader motivates a group of people to do hard things, to make personal sacrifices for the good of the broader community, or to help persons recognize the common humanity in all of us. Senator Clinton, bruised and battered by years of partisan attacks, simply doesn’t have the moral authority to transcend our political difference and motivate persons to think beyond themselves. Senator Obama, in my humble opinion, does.
So, as we move into Super Tuesday tomorrow, I encourage you to vote and I ask for you to send one more thought Senator Obama’s way. If you prefer Senator Clinton, or John McCain, or even Mitt Romney, then go ahead and vote your conscience, for you have come by those beliefs honestly. But if you are still sitting on the fence, I encourage you to think about who of all the candidates has the ability to inspire and motivate you to new places. For me, that is Barack Obama, and I hope that you will find that to be true as well.