Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An Absurd Vote


We learn early in life how painful it is to have our worth determined by a vote. On the playground, when the two most talented kids got to pick the teams, it was agony to be the last one chosen. Especially if the phrase “Do I really have take him?” corresponded with the selection.

School dances were another nightmarish, social setting if you spent the evening lingering in the shadows wondering if anyone would approach you. Nothing feels quite as Darwinian as a middle school dance where the cool kids select each other for partners and the rest of the crowd prays that a hole will open in the floor beneath them so they can disappear. 

There is a finality to a vote that can produce agony or relief. I know. I have been voted on many different times.

In my former life as a Baptist minister I went through this process repeatedly. Baptist churches are democratic in nature. The entire congregation is allowed to vote on the minister. No bishop or other hierarchy can tell the people who to take as their pastor.

I went through this process more than half a dozen times. As a young minister still in graduate school the small, country churches would have “preach offs” where they would invite several student ministers to preach and then take a vote. I lost a couple of those and won a couple. Losing always felt like an indictment on my abilities and would cause me to question my future potential.

Later, when I began applying for jobs in larger churches, the process shifted. I would meet with search committees who would take an initial vote on my worthiness to be considered by the entire congregation as the candidate for the job. On two occasions churches that I thought would be a great fit for me decided otherwise. I didn’t even make it past the search committee part of the process. They voted and found me lacking.

On five occasions I was voted in as pastor of a church. There was great relief each time that I had been deemed worthy and granted the position. Yet, even on those occasions I sometimes became aware of individuals who had voted against me (usually because they told me so). It never felt good to hear someone announce “I didn’t vote for you because I didn’t think you were the right person for this position.”

Playgrounds. School dances. Job hiring experiences. These are just a few of the many settings in life where we feel a vote or judgment is being taken about our abilities or qualifications. There is anxiety when we are put in this position. There is pain when we are rejected. There is sweet relief if we are selected.

On May 8 the state of North Carolina will take a vote that creates this dynamic a thousand times over. In fact, several hundred thousand times over. By seeking to amend the state’s constitution to make marriage between one man and one woman the “only domestic legal union” recognized in North Carolina, a clear message is being sent.

If you are in one of the 222,832 domestic partnerships, the state is voting on whether your relationship should have any legal recognition. If you are the child of one of those partnerships (89,537 such couples do have kids), the state is voting on whether you deserve the same social safety net as other children. If you are one of the estimated half million LGBT people in North Carolina who loves someone of the same gender and hopes for the opportunity to marry that person, well, you already know that is illegal. But on May 8 the state is taking a vote so that your love will be permanently condemned in our constitution.

If it is scary and painful to be voted on in the playground or a job interview process, can you imagine what it feels like to have an entire state asked to vote on whether your relationship, children, and love are worthy of acceptance? To say this amendment is cruel is an absurd understatement.

As a citizenry we should vote on leaders, bond issues and referendums that affect our common life. We should never be asked to vote on whether whole groups of people are acceptable and deserving of equal rights and responsibilities. Yet, on May 8 that is exactly what we are being forced to do.

So, go to the polls and stand up to those in our society trying to divide us and demean us. Stand up for those whose relationships, children and love are as sacred as any others. But most of all realize that regardless of the outcome on May 8, no person’s value or importance will be determined that day. Some things just can’t be decided by a vote.

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About Me

former pastor who is now a pastoral counselor and consultant (mckinneycounseling.org); married with two teenagers; progressive in my politics and theology