Saturday, November 12, 2016

2016: The lowest voter turnout in 20 years & what can be done about it

I guess you'd assume that the most contentious and bitter campaigns since at least 1968 would have elicited big voter participation, people anxiously lining up behind one or the other of the candidates. But, preliminary indications are that 45% of eligible American voters didn't cast ballots this year.

That's appalling when you consider all of the sacrifices made--from veterans who fought in war to civil rights campaigners who demonstrated peacefully for civil rights--to secure the right to vote.

Were 45% of the eligible voters in this country saying that having the right to vote was unimportant to them? Some, maybe. A recent study showed that something like a quarter of all millennials in some western democracies don't believe in democracy in the first place. ("Replacing it with what?" is the logical question.) 

But I think that there's a simpler explanation, well articulated by Pastor Jeff Schultz when I asked Facebook friends to offer up their theories for the low turnout this year. Jeff wrote: "Two candidates with the highest disapproval ratings ever."


Most people didn't like the two major party nominees. (They also didn't like the two most prominent minor party nominees.) And so, disgusted with their choices, people stayed away from voting. (Even when many of them, like those of us in Ohio, could have voted in the privacy of their homes.)

Both major party nominees were so disliked that I told my family a year-and-a-half ago, when Donald Trump was polling less than 10% among Republican voters and it was becoming clear despite all of there political and financial advantages that Hillary Clinton was going to have to fight to get her party's nomination for president, that Donald Trump was the only Republican nominee who could make Hillary Clinton president and that Clinton was the only Democratic nominee who could make Trump president. Given that fact, the whole business was an uninspiring race to the bottom.

It's pretty clear that most of the 55% of eligible voters who did cast ballots were less than enthusiastic about it. "I can't wait for this to be over," many told me as the campaign wore on. "Yes," others would agree, "but then one of these people will be president."

So now we have a president-elect. His job will be to do what no president since 1974 has been able to pull off: restore Americans' trust in the government and the presidency, even if they disagree with some of the president's policies. There are many structural and cultural elements that will work against accomplishing that goal, it should be said. And even the honorable people who have served in the Oval Office since Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace have been less than successful in inciting Americans to trust their elected leaders or our constitutional system.

But for a President Donald Trump, working to restore trust in the presidency, the federal government, and the Constitution is Job #1. There are reasons to doubt that he's the person for the job, of course. (Just as there would be reasons to doubt whether Hillary Clinton, had she been elected, was the person for that job.) But, if Trump isn't going to take on that goal, he may as well stay in Trump Tower for the next four years. We need a president who will keep that goal at the forefront of their thinking.

But there are hints from US history on how the president-elect might pursue that aim.

When George Washington came to office as our first president, the United States was a rag tag collection of self-interested former colonies that viewed the new Constitution with wariness and sometimes, overt hostility. Washington, of course, had an advantage on Trump (and most presidents) on taking the oath of office. Washington was a hero. But Washington's #1 goal was earning the trust and support of the new nation for its government.

One way he did that was by undertaking a strenuous (and sometimes life-threatening) tour of the thirteen original states, letting people see their president, ask their questions, hear his perspective.

The new president could take a page from that playbook. He should make a point of going to the places where people are most wary of him: mosques, African-American and Hispanic communities, universities, women's groups, the Pentagon, and so on. Above all, like Washington, the new president should listen. (Check out T.H. Breen's book on how Washington forged the new American nation with his tour of the thirteen states.)

This would be a good way for Mr. Trump to proceed, I think.

Like now.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Friday, November 11, 2016

Ann Althouse and "lightweight religion"

I happened to look at Ann Althouse's blog today, just because she usually posts things about newly-deceased musicians and Leonard Cohen passed away yesterday.

True to form, Althouse had embedded a video clip from a Leonard Cohen press conference, one held last month to promote the release of his last LP, You Want It Darker.

In the clip, Cohen explains how Biblical language and imagery was part of his "vocabulary" and that, while he tries to avoid being too obscure for general audiences, he leans on the Biblical landscape in his lyrics.

Cohen then goes on to explain that he's experienced "grace from elsewhere," but that there's no "structure" to his religious impulses and that there was certainly nothing along religious lines that he dared to share with anyone.

It sounded like mush, the kind of pablum, unoffensive and unexceptionable fluff, that some people try to palm off as thoughtful spirituality--along the lines of the oft-repeated refrain, "I'm spiritual, not religious," whatever that means. (Hint: It means nothing. People who say it may as well be talking like the adults in a Charlie Brown TV special.)

I laughed out loud when I saw one of the labels Althouse gave to the post with the Cohen embed: lightweight religion. Althouse demonstrated here that you can even use labels to say something. I was sure that this must be the only post in the Althouse archives that bore the label lightweight religion.

Actually, no. Althouse has applied the title to quite a few of her posts. They make for somewhat interesting light reading. I haven't looked to see if she's got a heavyweight religion label.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

All This for a Piece of Fruit by Dogs of Peace

Kristallnacht: May we never forget

Antisemitism and other forms of bigotry are a blight on the human race. We must remember the horrors unleashed when people pick groups to marginalize, menace, and kill. It is always wrong, more dehumanizing to perpetrators as well as victims.

Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass, should remind us of these grim and important truths.

Each of us is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

Each of us has been carefully crafted in our mothers' wombs (Psalm 139:13-14).

And God took on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ in order to accept our rightful punishment for sin, death, so that in rising, He could give life to all who turn from sin and trust in Him (John 1:14; Romans 5:7-9; Romans 4:25-5:1; 2 Timothy 2:11-13).

In other words, every human life is precious to God and every other human being is our kin, created by God.

And every human being is someone for whom Jesus, God in the flesh, died and rose, able to receive freedom from sin, death, and darkness through faith in Jesus Christ (John 8:36; Acts 2:36-39).

Bigotry and the violence it incites are abominations to God and stains on the human race. Kristallnacht happens again every time the humanity of others is disdained simply because they don't look or believe "like us."

There is a horrible irony when it comes to antisemitism, Kristallnacht, and the Holocaust. The whole human race, in fact, owes the Jews a special debt of gratitude. And Christians, saved by their faith in Jesus, God, Who came into the world a Jew and a rabbi, owe the Jews their eternal lives!

As imperfect and fitful in faith as all of us when it comes to following God and obeying His command to love Him and love others, the Jews nonetheless returned again and again to God, recorded and maintained God's Word of promise, and family into which God in the flesh was born and nurtured in His humanity. The first Christians, the first to share the Good News (Gospel) of new life for all who believe in Jesus--Paul, Peter, John, Luke, Mark, Thomas, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Nazareth, Stephen, James, Philip the Evangelist, and others--were all Jews who understood that in Christ, God was giving Jews and Gentiles a new covenant predicated and built on the old one that God made through Abraham and Moses.

Kristallnacht was an early indicator of what Hitler and the Nazis were about to unleash on the Jews and the world. Today, bigotry and the discrimination, persecution, and violence they spawn still exist. May we learn the awful lessons of Kristallnacht and the Holocaust and let God reign over us through King Jesus so that we learn to truly love God and love others.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Life goes on (post-election thoughts)

Clearly, I turned out to be a poor political prognosticator. I'm as surprised as most people are this morning.

But a few points to ponder...

(1) Our leaders need our prayers. We need to ask God to give them wisdom and the openness to God's wisdom. I pray for all presidents, irrespective of party; this one will be no exception. In the first century, the apostle Paul wrote to the young pastor, Timothy: "I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior..." (1 Timothy 2:1-3)

(2) If you voted for Mr. Trump, he isn't the grand elixir for issues confronting America. If you voted for Secretary Clinton, the world hasn't ended because of her defeat. I love the wisdom of Psalm 118:8-9: "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in humans. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes."

To put our faith in human beings is idolatry, a violation of the first of God's Ten Commandments.

Much of our political rhetoric, particularly in this election season, can be apoclayptic, rooted in the false notion that presidents are deities who can wave a wand (or wield a pen) and "make all our dreams come true." Not only does this misunderstand our Constitution, it overestimates the capacity of human beings to accomplish anything worthwhile. Presidents, defeated candidates, and voters of all stripes should daily remember the words of Jesus: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

(3) This, in fact, is a great time for all Americans to acknowledge our own sins and our need of God's saving grace. The call God issued to the persecuted and shunned Church of first century Asia Minor through Saint Peter seem particularly appropriate for all of us on November 9, 2016: "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." God can handle your anxieties and He can handle the anxieties of the nation. He can swallow them all up in His amazing grace.

God told His ancient people Israel: "...if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).

The healing of our land--and the healing of our own souls, the destruction of separation from God into which you and I are born and from which condition we fail to love God or love our neighbor--is available to all.

As Jesus says famously: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son" (John 3:16-18).

(4) There was a lot of speculation before yesterday as to whether Donald Trump would accept the results of the election. This was all predicated on the notion that Hillary Clinton would win.

But of far more concern to me over these past few weeks was whether, whoever won the election, ordinary voters would accept the results. Would Trump voters accept a loss? Would Clinton voters accept a loss? Would Trump or Clinton voters accept wins?

However we all voted in this election, we need to be gracious. We need to avoid hatefulness and embrace mutual respect. We've just come through a grueling and not especially satisfying eighteen month mudfest. It's time for us to live our lives. The best thing we can do now is obey God's command to love God and to love neighbor.

And if that's more than we can muster--as it always is, when we're honest, then we need to turn to God and ask in Jesus' name for the power of the Holy Spirit, to help us live not like political idolaters, but as human beings made in the image of God, saved from our sins, from death, and from darkness by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

That's the whole ballgame.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Monday, November 07, 2016

An election prediction...and a reminder

There will be an election tomorrow. I used to be involved with politics a little and I've had a longtime interest in history and the presidency. (Starting when I was about four.)

Here's how I think the electoral college map will look tomorrow evening.

Click the map to create your own at

Of course, the winning candidate must receive 270 electoral votes. If my math is correct, Hillary Clinton will be our president-elect by tomorrow evening.

This doesn't constitute an endorsement. I don't do endorsements, as I've come to believe that it's wrong for pastors to do so.

An early election night indicator of how things are trending will come with the votes from North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio. Donald Trump must win all three of these states to win. Without all of them, he has no chance of knitting together a winning coalition of states.

Whoever is elected, as a follower of Jesus, I'll be praying for the new president and for all leaders. God's Word tells Christians:
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior... (1 Timothy 2:1-3)
Believers in Christ owe it to God and to our neighbor to pray for our leaders, including those with whom we agree, those with whom we disagree, and those of whom we're skeptical.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]