Witnessing on Election Day

In the volatile and often virulent political climate of this election cycle, followers of Jesus would do well to remember times for quiet, peaceful and graceful witness.

Already, there have been some problems with early voting. In North Carolina, college students have been questioned if their campus addresses did not match the one on their driver's licenses, or they have been given misleading information if they lived out of state prior to attending college. There has also been some confusion about voting a "straight ticket" in North Carolina, which excludes a vote for president in a national election.

Long lines and computer glitches have been reported elsewhere. There is hope that early voting will relieve some of the expected congestion on Election Day. It seems more likely, however, to prepare for at least some measure of frustration when we wait in line to exercise our fundamental right as American citizens.

Consider the plight of the election workers. "This is a tsunami for all election boards," says Richard Bauer, the assistant director of the St. Louis County Board of Election commissioners in Missouri. I am sure many of them have never seen a day like the storm of people looming ahead.

Anticipating 1,300 guests inside our church got me thinking. I wondered if we could offer parking assistance or umbrellas for voters in case of bad weather. Perhaps a group of church volunteers could be organized to offer seats for the elderly or infirmed who waited in long lines. Even some kind of beverage service might be a friendly and warm welcome for those entering our building for the first time.

Speaking with our local Board of Elections confirmed the initial fears I had about my plan of hospitality. Only election officials were allowed any contact with the public as they assembled to vote. We would not be required to take down any signage (as long as it was not political in nature), but the welcome from our church to our community on this day would be limited to a silent witness.

This restriction is a reasonable safeguard against the potential for abuses and the protection of privacy we honor when casting our votes. These priorities outweigh the potential intrusion or offense we tempt, even with honorable intentions, when we inappropriately welcome the stranger among us.

But there is no law against the smile, or the peaceful and patient spirit or the kind gesture or deference of honor we extend to those around us. Hospitality is not limited to what we say and what we do. What matters more is how we do what we do and how we say what we say.

Hospitality requires us to understand the context of our interactions and the far greater impact our actions and words have when they are offered at an appropriate time. In the volatile and often virulent political climate of this election cycle, followers of Jesus would do well to remember times for quiet, peaceful and graceful witness.

This Tuesday, Nov. 4, we honor a treasured privilege of our American experience. If you haven't already done so, please vote, even if you find yourself waiting in a long line. Who knows? You may even be witnessing.

Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.

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