From the Nov.-Dec. 1980 Washington Memo:
It’s only ten days since the U.S. national elections (at this writing) and already volumes have been written about the meaning of the outcome. Does it really make that much difference who is elected President of the United States?
While resisting the notion that the election of any president signals the end of the world or the ushering in the millennium, we can attempt to discern the meaning of this event for our life and mission in the world. The presidential referendum every four years in the United States is one of the few opportunities to assess the national mood and direction as indicated by the voters’ own choices, rather than the pollsters’ analysis. What does the current shift in political power suggest to Christians who are committed to God’s Kingdom movement toward justice, peace, and liberty?
Our response at this time:
- Recognize the ominous possibilities. We live in threatening times. Over everything else hangs the cloud of nuclear weapons. It is very disturbing to hear one of Reagan’s defense advisors insist that we must begin to think about the possibility that the old concept of winners and losers will still apply after a nuclear exchange. The capacity for nuclear deterrence is not enough, according to this advisor. We must actually prepare to fight such a war. These advisors admit that the loss of human life and the disastrous impact on the physical environment will far outstrip the total destruction of all past wars together. But somehow it would be worth “winning!” For the sake of the nation? For democracy? for liberty? To be willing to kill to unimaginable extent of a nuclear exchange in the name of any human value can only be called idolatry and utterly resisted in name of Christ.
There are other ominous trends in our society and they cannot be blamed on any one political party or person. Marcus Raskin recently noted some striking parallels between certain characteristics of the Weimar Republic and conditions in much of the world today conducive to the growth of fascism. As peoples become increasingly frustrated at a world turning out different than they hoped and expected, there is a strong temptation to look for scapegoats and give credence and allegiance to simple answers put forth with authoritarian certainty. Racial and ethnic prejudices and economic jealousies influence the process. In such a world it becomes urgent for the political process to devise just means of allocating resources, protecting the weak and preserving God’s creation.
- Support constructive change. This should be a time of openness to new possibilities. Certainly the old slogans and programs haven’t worked, especially in the economic order. Judgments, negative or positive, based on campaign promised or party labels are increasingly meaningless. Ideological generalizations are useless to tackle specific problems.
If witness for peace is to be fruitful, it must focus on specific issues. This requires knowledge about how power is being used at the local level, nationally, and worldwide. A recent study on political participation confirmed that a decreasing number of Americans vote and more than ever say they don’t care how elections turn out. But at the same time, more are becoming politically involved in other ways—communicating with their elected representatives.
- Pray for the President. The scriptural admonition to pray for those who rule over us is a neglected teaching in many Mennonite communities. It is distressing to participate in a Sunday worship service and hear no prayer or reference to those whose power can intervene so critically in the welfare of the nation and the world. The prophetic imperative to lift up God’s righteousness should be accompanied by pastoral support for the awesome life and death responsibilities that the officers of state must bear.