Monday, January 18, 2016

On Elections, Prayer, and William Wilberforce

My Iowa friends have been posting pictures of themselves meeting presidential candidates. 'Tis the season.

It was quite an experience living in the Hawkeye state for the 2012 caucuses. Candidates were everywhere. We simply stopped answering the phone because we got pre-recorded calls from one campaign or another all day long. By the last week, I was erasing 10-12 messages from our voicemail every night -- including the occasional one that sounded suspiciously like it might have been the actual candidate on the phone and made me kind of wish I'd picked up the receiver and asked the man a few questions.

Despite such annoyances, I liked being in Iowa for a presidential election. Frankly, it was the only time I've ever felt like my vote mattered much, like it might actually make a difference in things. But I think I'm grateful not to be there this year because I have no bloody clue who I would vote for.

I hate elections. Admittedly, I would probably hate any alternative even more; they are a necessary evil in a free society, which is where I want to live. But the process of choosing people to represent us in the government has become such an unsavory one. I despair of our being able to elect an intelligent, capable, and moral person to national office unless it just happens by accident.

For Christmas, I got Eric Metaxas' book Amazing Grace about the life of William Wilberforce, the man behind the abolition of the slave trade in Britain. Great book. Great, great book. Highly recommended.

Interesting thing about Wilberforce: he didn't become a believer until after he was pretty well established in the House of Commons. In fact, the man who eventually became the nation's moral compass was something of a moral mess when he was elected to Parliament. And it sounds like he couldn't have been elected if he had been otherwise. Parliament was so corrupt at the time, Wilberforce pretty much had to buy his way into office.

Once he met Jesus and his life turned around, he was convinced he would need to resign, that remaining in his elected position would have to be inconsistent with his new convictions. It was John Newton (former slave ship captain and author of the lyrics to the famous hymn "Amazing Grace") who convinced him that he needed to stay where he was -- that perhaps God had brought him to this place "for such a time as this." And the rest is world-changing history.

Reading about Wilberforce convicted me in so many ways. But it also changed my approach to and my attitude about elections and government.

As I said, I despair of our electing a righteous person to the office of president -- rightly or wrongly, that's where I'm at. I fear the the election process has become such that it requires things of our potential leaders that make them decidedly less than righteous, moral, or ethical.

But Wilberforce's story reminds me that God isn't hampered by that fact. God is in the life-changing business, and our elected officials are not beyond His reach. If God can change an 18th century British Parliamentarian and use him in such a mighty way, He can certainly do that with a 21st century American president.

So while I will still vote my conscience this year, hoping for a candidate that has the moral direction I want in a leader, I will not be discouraged at my lack of choices or my apparent impotence in the matter. I am not impotent. I am a pray-er. And God still uses pray-ers to move the world, perhaps even by moving the moral compasses of the ungodly people in power.

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