As the South Carolina primary approaches, faiths remind us that every vote matters

January 19, 2012

Yet again, the recent Republican caucus in Iowa put on bright display the fact that “every vote matters.”   In that case, a handful of voters out of more than 60,000 determined an election.  

But there are deeper reasons why every vote matters.   When we vote, of course we’re taking advantage of the gift of being American citizens, and stewarding well the fruits of our forebears’ sacrificial fight to ensure this right.   Even more deeply still, however, when we vote, we affirm a fundamental truth that goes to the core of our purpose as human beings.  When we vote, we affirm how humankind has been made and what we’ve been made for – in the image of God to be like God.  

It’s a beautiful and powerful thing when the laws of man and truths of God sing in harmony.    John F. Kennedy spoke of this beautiful song when he argued for the moral imperative of Civil Rights and said, “It is as old as the scriptures and as modern as the Constitution.” 

In our freedom and opportunity to cast votes in an election, this song is loud.

The Judeo-Christian faith teaches unequivocally that human beings, every one, are made in the image of God.  We are the crown in God’s creation of all things.  Of the many ways this manifests itself, one aspect of our nature shines like a jewel in the crown: our freedom.  In that God is a being free to make choices, to be made in God’s image implies the same freedom given to us. The teaching of the Christian church picks this up, as does our own Declaration of Independence.

“God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. ... Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being ... ‘true freedom is an outstanding manifestation of the divine image.’ ”   That’s the Catholic Catechism.

From the Declaration of Independence comes the same asserted fact: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Martin Luther King Jr. heard this song, this harmony of God’s design and man’s laws, as clear as a bell in that timeless sentence from the Declaration.  He reflected on it at length in his speech “The American Dream” in 1964.   “It says that each individual has certain basic rights that are neither derived from nor conferred by the state. They are gifts from the hands of the Almighty God. Very seldom if ever in the history of the world has a socio-political document expressed in such profound, eloquent and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality.”

It was King who called our country to finally and fully get in tune with this great song when he fought to protect the right of African Americans to vote.  We remember that this month when we honor him in an election year.  

To cast our vote is to affirm our dignity, people made in the image of God to freely choose, and whose freedom is to be protected and exercised.   When we don’t vote, we miss the opportunity to steward the privilege of being in a country that protects our freedom to be free, and free to vote.   But deeper still, when we don’t vote, the tragedy is less that we’ve abdicated our say in who leads us and more that we’ve missed an opportunity to celebrate and exercise our “Godlikeness” in being those who have been created for freedom.

It seems a large percentage of us don’t mind missing out on these opportunities, given the less-than-inspiring voter turnout every other year. That’s too bad, but this year may it be different.   To vote is not only to decide our leaders, it is to live into our dignity.   With that in mind, waiting in line to vote can turn from tedium to worship.

The Rev. Bill Haley is associate rector at The Falls Church and director of formation at The Washington Institute.

    
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