American-style participatory democracy being a relatively modern invention, most of the Bible’s original authors did not have voting or elections very clearly in mind when they wrote their advice to kings.
Yet today you and I live in a world where power—beyond what a monarch might have wielded —rests, for one day in November, in each of our hands. In the words of Quaker poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier, “The proudest now is but my peer, the highest not more high; Today of all the weary year, a king of men am I.”
The book of Proverbs is the Bible’s “self-help” book. It’s loaded with handy tips like “lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth” and advice against drinking too much. The book contains not only guidelines for daily life, but also for effective governing. As election day approaches, when we will carry the responsibility of governance, it is right to consider the wisdom given to kings of the past. Proverbs 31:8 reads, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute; . . . defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Recently, the Minnesota Council of Churches announced its opposition to the proposed Voter ID amendment to the Minnesota state constitution. MCC President Bishop Peter Rogness of the Minneapolis Area Synod Evangelical Lutheran Church said, “We stand opposed not because we lean politically left or politically right, but because as communities of faith we lean toward those on the margins of society, those often overlooked by the mainstream, those often left voiceless in the decisions that affect their lives.”
In the case of the Voter ID amendment, it is those citizens on the margins of society—students, our wise elders, people with disabilities, our too-often forgotten soldiers who have made life-changing personal sacrifices to safeguard the rights of all of us—who may find themselves excluded from the communal responsibility for governance. It may be too difficult or expensive for them to obtain the identification documents that this amendment will require.
What used to be a right will become a privilege available only to those with the time and money to secure the additional identification documents—which ones are unknown, because those “finer details” of the law have been punted into the next legislature.
The leaders of the Minnesota Council of Churches, representing more than a million Christians in this state, do not stand alone in opposition to the amendment. An ecumenical and interfaith host of organizations including Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, ISAIAH , and Jewish Community Action are all heeding the call of Wisdom to defend the rights of the poor and needy.
It is my prayer that you and I, on Nov. 6, would not sweep aside those senior citizens, students, soldiers, and people with disabilities who would face additional barriers to exercising their rights as citizens in this democracy in 2014. The right to vote needs your vote! When you complete your ballot will you defend the rights of your fellow citizens to have a say in shaping our shared destiny, or will you risk silencing them?
Please pray, join us and learn more about this amendment by visiting the Minnesota Council of Churches website.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church