We are inching ever-closer to the “first Tuesday after the first Monday in the month of November,” and whether you live in one of the five states that vote by post, plan to early vote, or are an enthusiastic wait-in-line, sticker-wearing, day-of participant, our most notorious opportunity for civic engagement is upon us.
Politics, like so many other big, grown-up ideas, are easily organized into false dichotomies. Step into your children’s shoes for a moment, watching you and other trusted adults’ engagement as citizens in your community. What is the tone around elections in your home?
Do they see their adults stomping to the ballot box, flames of anger in their eyes, voting out someone they believe to be insufficient for the role?
Does your child see their parent, enthusiastic to participate, exercise their privilege, and raise their voice in favor of individuals who will represent and govern in a way that’s coherent with other discussed and demonstrated family values?
Are various news outlets (and political opinions) represented on the TV, radio, and social media channels in your home?
How is party affiliation described? Is this discussed as a means of identity? Are labels like “liberal” and “conservative” used as adjectives or more like derogatory slurs?
How does your reality align with what you want them to see and hear?
First of all, let me clarify that I am angry. I am stomping to the ballot box because I am feeling a whole lot of fiery passion about avoidable injustice, the political divide in our country, and the choices made by our elected officials—related both to legislation and the example they are setting for our fellow Americans of all ages. But that anger isn’t why I vote.
Voting is one of many ways we show our boys that we can participate in our community. I feel strongly that our boys learn about civic responsibility, about duty, and about using our vote to promote the collective good. And for us, it isn’t a one day thing. Voting, like anything else with immense value, takes preparation.
Preparation isn’t a new concept for us as members of the Grow Christians community. Many of us are in the throes of preparing to send children back to school (whatever that may look like). In church, we pray to prepare our hearts for worship. We pray in preparation for the Eucharist. Jesus spent some time in the wilderness to prepare for his earthly ministry.
Here’s how our family prepares for elections.
- Prayer certainly doesn’t hurt; always a good place to start. The Book of Common Prayer has some suggestions for just such an occasion. “A Prayer for an Election” may be found on page 822, if you struggle to find words of your own.
- See who’s running in all the races. About 30 days prior to the election, start your research. Oftentimes races are uncontested, so the list may not be quite as overwhelming as it seems. There are several websites (listed below) that provide a sample ballot and voter guide. If you’re a nerd and like clear and tidy data all in one place like me, you can enter each race into a Google Sheet and compile data of all the issues important to you for various races as you come across it. This data could include general platform information, reputation, experience, anything that strikes you as relevant. In a year like this one with a lot of races, band together with some friends (in your various voting districts) who you trust to be objective (NOTE: Trusting someone to be objective is not the same as someone who agrees with you.), and divvy up the various races.
- Now that you have a lot of information, how do you decide? Or, to bring it back to a Christian response, how do you discern? And, how do you talk about this decision with your children? Things that matter in our house originate in our faith. We talk about the collective good and which individuals will look out for the best interests of the most people. We talk about candidates’ experience and reputation for action toward respecting the dignity of every single person or striving for justice and peace. We wonder who has financially responsible and sustainable plans for generations to come.
But the work isn’t over just yet. Just like there is preparation, there is also follow-through.
Our kids are at a fun age when they notice that their family members vote differently. So, my husband and I tell them why we choose the candidates we do and that they’ll have to ask others why they vote for different candidates. We don’t want to presume to speak for them. We also are careful to speak kind words about all candidates and their supporters. “People that love you very much voted for so-and-so” is a common refrain in our house.
We vote as citizens, but we also vote as faithful Christians, who are called to look beyond our own self-interest. How we discern and who we choose to support are important to our common life. But those decisions aren’t the only things that define our common life as Christians. Learning to live with — and love — people with whom we disagree is something Jesus spent some time discussing. That may be especially difficult during an election year, even more so this year.
And bigger than our community and our nation is the Kingdom. A creation where every human being is a beloved child of God. If we’re doing our job right as parents, an election is an opportunity to teach our children this: We get to participate in a political system, and more importantly, we all belong to a heavenly one.