Votes cast, conscience clear

Today’s post is a combination opinion piece and excerpt from my journal. You’ll find the brief excerpts in the captions on the pictures.

Well, it’s done. Today we mailed our absentee ballots from London for the US general election. It took longer than it should have for us to figure out how to meet the Tennessee online and snail mail requirements for receiving and sending our ballots. But thanks to a kind election official in the Washington County Court House, we succeeded. Our votes have been cast, our consciences cleared.

I know what your question is: Who did you vote for?

London's Tower Bridge, a prominent historic site, is just a few blocks from Candy and Michael's flat. They walk across it twice every day to their office in the financial district 45 minutes away. We crossed it once. Took a taxi home. Hard to keep up with the youngsters.
London’s Tower Bridge, a prominent historic site, is just a few blocks from Candy and Michael’s flat. They walk across it twice every day to their office in the financial district 45 minutes away. We crossed it once. Took a taxi home. Hard to keep up with the youngsters.

You’re not alone. Wherever we have traveled (Mexico, France, England, Scotland, Ireland so far), as soon as our accents betray us as Americans our new acquaintances—on a bus, on the train, in a shop, on the street—skip all the usual ice-breaking pleasantries and demand, “What do you think of Trump?” Then they unload. My favorite was the woman in the Snap store in Dublin where I went to have the ballot applications printed, who asked, “Who are you voting for? If you are voting for Trump I won’t do this for you.” Of all the conversations we’ve had since leaving the States, only three persons have not been anti-Trump, and even they were not pro-Trump but were lamenting the difficult choice because they didn’t like either candidate—like many of our friends back home.

They were right, of course. This is a very difficult choice. Both candidates are flawed. Neither party platform has everything we want—but that has been true in every presidential election. I’ve often groused that it didn’t matter whether my candidate won or lost, sooner or later I would be disappointed. That’s the downside of a two-party system in which each party has to try to appeal to so many different voters on so many issues. In order to be satisfied on your one or two burning passions you have to accept several others that are repugnant to you.

All this we all know. In spite of our frustration, though, Joy and I take the privilege of voting pretty seriously. We didn’t feel we could simply opt out. We have read a little history; we know something of the dangers of totalitarianism (Nazism, Fascism, Communism, etc.), are afraid of anarchy, and give thanks regularly that we live in a democracy, though at times—like Election Year 2016—it can scare you.

The Shard is located within ten minutes of the O's flat on the south side of the Thames.
The Shard is located within ten minutes of the O’s flat on the south side of the Thames.

What has disturbed us this year is that with so much at stake—gun control, abortion, civil rights for all Americans, a recovering but still creaky economy, job security, seats on the Supreme Court, immigration reform, international relations (I can keep going, but you get my point)—instead of substantively discussing them our political leaders have created a media circus, and the world is scoffing. It has been no fun watching the candidates or their surrogates sling their mud from as low in the gutter as they could dig it up.

I have been squirming through it all, in large measure because for a lifetime as a pastor I did my best to remain publicly neutral in elections, knowing that if I took to the pulpit to endorse one candidate or another I could split my congregation. My job as the leader was to protect the unity of the body by insuring that every member, regardless of political affiliation or opinion, was treated with respect. Frankly, that’s not as easy as it sounds, and it’s getting harder. Even in church civil discourse can quickly become uncivil. Every large group, not just church, harbors polarizing personalities, control freaks, disturbers of the peace and dividers of the body. One lesson every leader has to learn is that you can’t unify an organization (or nation) by promoting yourself at the expense of others or by taking a stand without regard to how it affects those who disagree with you. That means, of course, that you can’t take criticism personally, either; you can’t give tit for tat, insult for insult. You can’t threaten to get even. Your job is to absorb the pain.

The Gherkin is in the heart of the financial district, near the O's office building. The Hat is watching the window washers near the top and giving thanks he went to college.
The Gherkin is in the heart of the financial district, near the O’s office building. The Hat is watching the window washers near the top and giving thanks he went to college.

Two nights ago I viewed again Stephen Spielberg’s instructive film, Lincoln, based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s A Team of Rivals, my favorite leadership book. Lincoln made his mistakes (he, too, had flaws), but he owned up to them. Historians shake their heads over how much abuse he took without retaliating, how much grace he extended to his enemies, and how in his Second Inaugural he could speak “with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right…” His goal was “to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

The man who killed him believed passionately in the cause of the South and couldn’t stand it that his side lost. So Lincoln must die. (We have heard echoes of this rhetoric this year, I’m afraid.)

The Hat studying a yacht in the Thames near the Tower Bridge. This is how he really intended to spend his retirement years, cruising the world in a boat like this one. Maybe if he'd had studied a little harder...
The Hat studying a yacht at anchor in the Thames near the Tower Bridge. This is how he really intended to spend his retirement years, cruising the world in a boat like this one. Maybe if he’d had studied a little harder…

Lincoln’s stance toward his enemies comes very close to the essence of the Gospel. The world still marvels that Jesus didn’t threaten to get even with his enemies. He didn’t turn to power plays to accomplish his goals. His harshest words were for those who mistreated the powerless. He didn’t kill. He chose to be killed instead. The Apostle Paul called Jesus “our peace” because he “has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility….He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.” You see, this love stuff preachers talk about has political consequences. Love unites, hate divides, even in the body politic.

Old London, new London. This Walkie Talkie makes the old architecture look pretty good, don't you think?
Old London, new London. This Walkie Talkie makes the old architecture look pretty good, don’t you think? Both of these structures are visible from the O’s living room.

So what is a pastor to do? Which candidate offers the better possibility of leading us to peace: international peace, domestic peace, peace among the very diverse people groups in the United States (white, black, Asian, Native American, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, gay, transgendered, male, female, privileged, underprivileged, Mexican-Americans, Cuba-Americans and other hyphenated Americans)? Neither candidate can guarantee peace; both should try. As president either candidate would have huge obstacles to overcome (some of their own making). A real leader accepts responsibility for his or her mistakes–sometimes for the mistakes of others. It’s cowardly to blame everybody else.

One of the candidates has a lifetime record of public service while the other boasts about how rich he made himself, as if that’s a qualification for leading a country. One has excelled in polarizing us, appealing to our suspicions and fears and hatreds, bringing out our worst traits.

OK, I’ve just answered the question. We voted for Mrs. Clinton.

I said above that in all my years as a pastor I tried to remain neutral. If I were the pastor of a church this year, I’m afraid I’d have had to speak out. The task of the church, as the prophets said of old, is to care for widows and orphans, the strangers in our midst, the marginalized and powerless. The rich and powerful can take care of themselves. In this increasingly hostile and complicated world, the poor and powerless simply can’t compete. The playing field is not even. I’d have had to say something about this. I have some preacher friends who have done so and got themselves in trouble.

I may be also.  You may now want to unsubscribe to this blog. That’s OK. We’re going to love you anyway. Joy and I have been schooled in a religious tradition that taught this slogan: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.” This slogan is not a bad one for politics, either.  We don’t consider fair and respectful treatment of our fellow citizens a non-essential, and some of them have been treated very badly lately. But if you will tolerate what you think is our misjudgment in this vote, we’ll tolerate yours. We’d like to believe we can still love one another. We’d also like to believe we can learn to love others who are different, even quite different, from ourselves.

Jesus taught his disciples to love one another, and his message was so threatening he was killed for his effort. An American president expressed love for those on his side and those on the other side. He was killed also. It’s risky politics, this thing called love. But not as risky as the alternative.

The family goes out to dinner. Note how tall Michael and Roy look. Candy and Joy have learned how to make us look tall. It's one of many reasons we like to have them around.
The family goes out to dinner. Note how Michael and Roy tower over the ladies.. Candy and Joy have learned how to make their men look tall. It’s just one of many reasons we like to hang out with them. That’s the Tower Bridge in the background.

35 thoughts on “Votes cast, conscience clear”

  1. Bob Alexander; well said. took the words right out of my mouth. Yes, Booth couldn’t stand for his ‘team’ to lose.

    1. Roy, just add my name to Jack’s comment about your blog. Can’t decide which I miss most… you or your conversations…both personal and from the pulpit. Love the blog!

    2. Jack…sorry, I did not realize that my reply to your comment went only to you. In any event, you took the words right out of my mouth and used them better than I would have. Hugh

  2. You mean there are things *more* important than which political party we identify with (end sarcasm)? That’s easy for me to say, since I share your political views. But kudos for taking your stand while also recognizing it’s OK to disagree. I might just stay in this family (uh, I’m sure that wasn’t exactly your goal).

  3. I agree to disagree with you on this. I agree that Mrs Clinton has a history of public service, but I think it is all bad. I also find it interesting that Mr Trump owned his bad words and apologized for them, something i have never heard Mrs Clinton do.

  4. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

    Winston S Churchill, speech, House of Commons, November 11, 1947.

  5. Well said, Roy. Very tough decision to make here. I always vote and I will not vote for a 3rd party candidate or write in a name. Doing so might seem like a protest to some, but no one cares about your vote if you do this. I will vote in this election, too, for one of the two candidates. Our right and privilege to vote is to precious to throw away.

  6. I hope that your world tour can someday include Indianapolis! We are so thankful for you! Thank you for this post! ! Miss you and Joy!!! Much love, Amber Burleson

  7. Thank you, Roy. In an election in which we’ve given ourselves only hard (if not bad) choices, I’ll go for competence and a campaign that was not launched by slandering entire nations and ethnic groups and has not been built on fear and rage.

  8. What an articulate analysis on a potentially controversial subject. Now I know I am in the company of some pretty special people in finding A Team of Rivals as one ( if not the) of the best books on leadership. I love reading from you, my friend. Please say hi to Joy.

  9. Thanks for your wisdom and transparency in approaching such a polarizing topic. Beautifully written. In this no-win situation, I respect your integrity and honesty when it would be more convenient to remain quiet. Far too many leaders today are trying to have it both ways.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, I have reached the same conclusion as you. If this message board is no better than what you would read on the Internet than we are not following Christ’s example and being the church. We can not resort to insulting each other online. There is a way to disagree without insulting

  10. I am blessed to be able to read the words of someone so wise and devoted to following Christ as Dr. Lawson. His wisdom is even further proved by these comments, because just as he predicted there is division here on whether or not Dr. Lawson has good sense. Well no matter where you fall on this issue I hope we can all agree that his service for the kingdom of God has left our world in a better place because of this man.

  11. Thank you for emphasizing love! Thank you for being brave enough to state your choice in this most-pitiful-choice-of-candidates. I appreciate your reasons.

    I cannot get up on a soapbox for either candidate. We have survived “less than great” presidents before and hopefully will again. Some presidents have even changed for the better in office (Chester A. Arthur’s move from Collector of the Port to being a president who championed civil service reform comes to mind)

    But….there are differences in the flaws each brings and in the possible effect of those flaws on the country and the world. Not an easy time to be a voter!

    My strongest hope is that we can all just get along in the midst of it all.

    Jesus didn’t come to overthrown Rome….He took on a much more important task!

  12. Dr. LAWSON, Who knew you could still be imparting words of wisdom and influencing my life from such a distance. Thank you for this wisdom and perspective. I have not yet decided for whom I will vote. Your words represent my turmoil at the very core! Great read! Hope you guys are enjoying your journey. We miss you at FCC.

  13. Where, for me, this became a self indulging piece. “A lifetime of public service” is not a particularly convincing point when evaluating a person , with said service , who used public service as a means toward personal gain at the expense of the public good. Nor can it be so confidently stated that a platform built on identity politics does not actively participate in the utilization of fear, shame, and intimidation. The complexity of this election cycle was, in this way, treated -not simply-but simplistically.

    1. I’m with Brett on this point. Your argument was stronger before you tried to convince me that Mrs Clinton was a noble servant. 🙂 I concur with much else in your assessment — as usual.

  14. Supreme Court justices are long-serving and influencial. They are a very important part of the Judicial/Administrative/Legislative balance.

    Perhaps there will be more than one opening in the next four years
    Perhaps Mr. Trump will continue with his relatively new stances on important issues.
    (However, presidents do sometimes change in office, some for the better, some for the worse.)
    Perhaps he will nominate candidates that are acceptable to Trump voters and perhaps those justices will be approved and serve.

    If Mr. Trump is elected on the basis of possible openings, possibly being filled with justices that follow a voter’s set of values…..is that enough?

    For four years, on the basis of possible supreme court justices…..what will we have in the Administrative branch, one leg of the three-legged stool?

    For four years we would have a man who has shown traits with which I am uncomfortable. A couple of examples:

    He is critical and often mocking of people as groups and individuals…….however, when he is the one the receiving end he calls it “unfair” or “lying” etc.

    He ask us to “trust him” that he knows better than anyone else how to handle serious issues includng defense.

    Will criticism and intimidation work well with our allies? with other countries? Of course, many think it will. Teddy Roosevelt did speak of “a big stick” but he also tied it to “speak softly” Reading how Trump is viewed by many of our long-time friends and allies gives another angle to how the 4 years might go.. Bluster is not the same as toughness. Toughness and tact are both important in the Oval Office.

    Some have said that Mr. Trump must be viewed as a “baby” Christian and his actions seen in that light and basically excused. Perhaps he needs time to grow before holding high office? Does it make a difference that Paul warns that we not make a new convert an elder? A new convert is not to be a leader in the church….is there any carry over of the concept?

    We all see through our own lens and so the picture is not the same for everyone. While there are issues with both candidates, for me they are more serious issues with one candidate. I know others see it differently. Family values candidate? Good business practices candidate?

    I have never clearly stated a political opinion in an even semi-public forum before. I have chosen to state my views here. These are just some of the things that I have been mulling over and considering as I have been coming to my decision…..probably the hardest one in my voting life in many ways. Yes, the other candidate is flawed. Do I wish either major party had a better candidate, yes. Have I thought about a write-in, yes. But my vote will only matter if I chose one of the two. I cannot base my decision solely on what might happen with Supreme Court nominations. I cannot in good conscience be a part of putting Mr. Trump in the White House with all that that entails.

  15. Thanks so much for this post, Roy. As our dear friend and mentor, you don’t disappoint; you are who we always hope you to be. Much love and hugs to you and Joy xoxo Chip and Teri

  16. Roy, a very good and brave blog given the tone of this year’s political season. One of the many things I can’t handle are unsubstantiated conspiracies. Must be the Critical Thinking professor in me. I understand disagreeing with Mrs. Clinton on her policy but to promote rumors and plain old lies is just bizarre behavior especially for so many Christians. Well, I could say more but I will save it for my own blog (which I don’t have). Enjoy the world!

  17. Roy, thank you so much for your accounts of your travels. We enjoy seeing the pictures and reading your thoughts about what you and Joy are seeing and doing. I want to thank Jack Knowles for writing my very thoughts about this blog. Rochelle and I miss your conversations…both personal and from the pulpit. I reached the same conclusion as yours about this election for basically the same reasons as those you wrote. Thank you for your exposition of many of the issues in this difficult and divisive election.

  18. Roy. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this. Helpful to us all. You say, however, that if you were in the pulpit today you would speak up and advocate your candidate. The contentious divisiveness within the body of christ in this cycle is precisely why I don’t believe you would. Rather, I suspect your would be sorely tempted, because of your disdain or sense of urgency or wondering if this situation calls for it. But then you would remember that your most weighty and crucial task as pastor is to be a steward of the gospel. And while there is much at stake in the election relative to the gospel, you would not want half of your city to have a barrier in hearing you proclaim the good news in all its counter cultural beauty and strength because you settled instead for the shorter term satisfaction of campaigning for your candidate — and in so doing placed a hurdle between you and the very ones you were sent to pastor. You would remember that by identifying with a politician they can’t trust, you give one more reason for the people not to trust their preacher (whichever candidate you were tempted to publicly endorse). And we don’t need any more of those — preachers who have discounted their voices with vast groups of people because of political postures they take. You would remember the scandal of the gospel is barrier enough without us creating increased political chasms to cross in order for one to find Jesus in the church as well. If the church is to remain free to steward the one thing we are charged to steward, we must be very cautious about selling ourselves out for a current candidate, pretending that the purposes of Jesus come out on top. It never does. It is merely playing into the thinking that the kingdom of God comes under the kingdoms of this world — like it or not, a pastor sharing his vote is endorsing a candidate and endorsing a candidate. That is the right of every preacher. But it comes with a cost I’m unwilling to pay — why? Because there Is an outside chance that there may be someone who needs to hear me preach the gospel of Christ who just might be willing to hear me who would NOT be willing to hear me once they know I work for their political opponent and they disagreed with my voting preference.
    I suspect your blog is you doing what many of us still in the pulpit would like to do, and are tempted to do, and would feel some better after doing — but in the end, I’m guessing the Roy in the pastorate would wisely realize his better investment is to decline the temptation to speak his mind for the greater good of speaking the Truth. Love you my brother. Enjoy your travels.

  19. Hi Dad, thank you for doing this, sometimes I’m just stinkin’ proud of you. If anyone is interested in the international viewpoint (well, at least Australia and London), I can tell you that for whatever failures Hillary has made – and she’s made some corkers – the world is terrified of a Trump presidency. It’s safe to say that a lot of damage has already been done to our international reputation, and as an indicator the financial markets have gone down as he rises in the polls. But the overriding sentiment is that Trump will disrupt the world economy, break with traditional allies, use his position of power to destroy perceived enemies (something until now that has been a marker of banana republics), and create an atmosphere of fear and persecution for minorities of all kinds (which we’ve already seen). It feels like we are fighting for the future of our country. The decent Republicans that I know have decided that they prefer to wait another four years for a win.

  20. As a non-American, I should qualify my comments by saying I am an outsider and have lived through this election vicariously through my American bride. That said, I wanted to share what I think the rest of the world is thinking as I’ve observed in Australia (where I live), the UK (where I spend half my time) and now France (where I’m holidaying with the Lawsons). And what do the foreigners I’ve spoken to think?: Unilaterally ABT (Anyone But Trump).

    Why, you may ask? Well, largely for his behavior and outright intolerance, obviously. But why do we foreigners care so much? Here I will give my own perspective. See, while we “other-worlders” are not top of mind to most Americans, you Americans are top of mind to us. Not only are we awash with your movies, music and fast food, but you are still the shining light of democracy. You are the leader of the free world. It is a fortunate thing that the 3rd most populous country is also the unsurpassed global superpower and a free-market, functioning democracy. When the Don talks down old alliances with fellow democratic, free-market, tolerant, civilized societies, we get kind of worried. My country, Australia, for instance has the proud (or dubious) record of being the only country who has joined you in every war you’ve been in since the start of the last century (excluding those little excursions that required no assistance, like Nicaragua). So, how the USA sees the world and its place in it matters. In addition to the potential negative impacts the Don could have on global security, I’m also worried about simple economics. His antagonism towards free trade could create havoc. The TPP was widely viewed in my country as heavily weighted towards the USA so if you don’t go ahead with it, most Aussies probably won’t be too fussed. Talking tough about foreigners and promoting protectionist ideas has always been a good way to win votes (that’s true everywhere), but never an efficient way to run an economy. If you close your markets to foreigners, they will close theirs to yours. It has always been so and we will all be the poorer for it.

  21. Roy,
    You have always been a man that I personally have had a lot of respect for. I have known you since I was a teenager and I watched how you lead your family and a growing congregation. I never once saw fear in your eyes or in your determination to speak the gospel of Jesus Christ along with love and forgiveness, those things I learned from you and am grateful for your spiritual influence in my life.
    But after reading your blog I honestly have to say that I believe you are going to be siding with at least 50% who agree with you and hope you are right, I myself believe she will be facing criminal charges and will be the wrong choice for this country
    though I respect your choice I am dismayed at the same time. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and forever God Bless you and your wonderful family.

  22. Roy, great post. I find it really hard to read past your references to Jesus, because I stumbled upon your blog through a friend’s social share where there was no backdrop for your own religious following. While I fully hold your own values for protecting those in need and at risk I can see the same blog post having more impact without needing the religious backdrop. It diminishes your impact a bit and makes me feel like you feel you need to justify some very rational and commonly-held human principles. You could reach millions who don’t share your beliefs if you didn’t pin your (very articulate) rationale to your faith. Your points would be valid regardless of religion – from a Muslim, Buddhist or Jewish perspective the message is the same. For me to feel strongly enough to write this is, in itself, odd! It’s how you act not what you say that defines your purpose. If you, too, act with the same principles as you write then your faith will be a back story for others who read and ask simply “how can I start to think like this guy”. Then they will read that you are a man of faith in your bio, not your posts. Just my humble thoughts… 😳

  23. Roy, I expected your post on this subject to generate a lot of enthusiastic commentary (from many different perspectives), and it did! I, too, have weighed the issues in this election, and have decided we have the worst choice of candidates for president of any election since I reached the state of political awareness.

    So this year I’m a write-in candidate for president . . . and also for U.S. Senator from California. I’m sure I will get at least one vote! [Sometime in the unforeseeable future someone will be writing my obituary, and that note should provide a bit of mirth at my memorial service.]

    The California electorate is so overwhelmingly Democratic that, at the national level at least, a vote for anyone except a Democrat is a throw-away, so I have the luxury of this insignificant, quixotic protest gesture, knowing it will make absolutely no difference in the outcome. As for the Senate seat, the law was changed in recent years so that the two highest vote-getters in the primary election compete in the general election, even if they are of the same party, which is the case this year. I don’t care which party they belong to; I think it’s a power grab and bad electoral policy.

    So, here I stand–wait, someone already said that, didn’t they?

    Like so many others, I’m enjoying the stories about what The Hat is seeing.

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