It’s November, and it’s a leap year, which can only mean one thing: we are almost done with the political ads, and it’s finally time to cast our votes. It also means that a whole lot of people are getting messages from their religious organizations telling them how they must vote in order to be considered faithful members of their congregations. Most of these appeals stop just short of explicitly endorsing candidates, but many of them present “voter guides” that would leave the reader with no other choice than to vote for certain candidates based on a particular set of issues.

I rejoice that it is not so with us. We are a group of people who clearly understand that there is more than one way to think, and that good and faithful people can see things differently. This understanding goes far back in our tradition. Since 1788, our church constitution has included the principle that “there are truths and forms with respect to which men [and women] of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other” (Book of Order F-3.0105). I’m very grateful that there is no expectation that I should or will tell you how to vote. That said, please do vote. If you need resources or education, you might start with the Minnesota secretary of state’s information website.

As a citizen, when I vote, I will do so based on some strongly held opinions. At the same time, I have significant misgivings about many of the policies and ideas that would come along with my votes. I have yet to find a candidate or ballot measure I can embrace unequivocally; politics is a matter of balancing competing concerns, even within the same voter. To be honest, I wish I knew more than I do about many of the policy and issue questions we face – but I seek to vote as faithfully and well as I can.

As a pastor, I strongly believe that there is more than one faithful conclusion to reach about most issues. I deeply respect the positions, values, commitments, and ideals of those who disagree with me – even when they refuse to grant me the same respect – and I seek to live out that respect in my interactions. I reject the divisive partisanship of recent political life and the idea that we must somehow separate ourselves from one another based on honest differences of ideals, policies, and ways of living. All the issues we face are more complex and harder to resolve than we might wish, and mutual respect is the only way to live as a country.

There is one particular issue on which I feel the need to point out that there is more than one faithful way to vote, namely on the constitutional amendment that would permanently define marriage as between one man and one woman. Many churches have pointed to one particular biblical interpretation, supported one model for marriage, and effectively closed the door to any further discussion among faithful people. That is simply improper. Not only is the Bible less clear about marriage than we might wish, but there is a distinction between the church’s understanding of marriage as a covenant before God and the state’s treatment of marriage as a contract between two people. My understanding of the Bible and of the state’s interest in marriage leaves room for recognizing lifelong, committed relationships between two people of the same gender. Your understanding may not have that room, and I value that difference. None of us should be bullied into voting a certain way by church rhetoric that insists on just one interpretation. However your core religious, social, and philosophical convictions move you to vote – on this or any of the other parts of the ballot – know that I welcome your views. I would never want honest political differences to limit the welcome we are called to offer in the ministry of this church.

My prayer for the election consists of three things. First, I pray that God will continue to bless our state and country with wise, principled, compassionate leaders and voters. I pray that the election will be free, fair, and properly counted. And I pray that when the counting is done and it’s time to move forward with whatever leadership and policies we’ve voted for, we will remember that we are still all in this together, each and all of us, in the mutual respect, tolerance, forbearance, and love to which God calls us. So may it be.

In Christ’s peace,

Nathan

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