In 1630, John Winthrop stood aboard the ship Arbella and addressed the people of the ships that would become known as the Winthrop Fleet. Puritans, they were about to step ashore to form what would become the Massachusetts Bay Colony and before they could, Winthrop preached a sermon to them about what they were about to do.
Using Jesus words, Winthrop told them that the new community they would form would be a like a shining City on a Hill, one that would be looked at by the whole world. He said that because of that attention they needed to be careful that the whole experiment not end in what he called a "shipwreck".
Today we would say "train wreck," but you get the idea: "Don't mess this up because everyone is looking at us."
All these centuries later, in an era of global 24 hour news and the internet, the country that grew from that City on a Hill cannot help but be noticed. We live in one of only a handful of countries that is consistently on the global radar, perhaps more than any other. We are watched, and analyzed, and both loved and hated. And at our best, we are a country that shines our light for good. We are a place of hope and freedom. One that still draws immigrants to our shores because of those promises.
But that doesn't mean that our light is always shining. This fall, in the midst of an election season for which "train wreck" is an apt metaphor, that is particularly true.
This election has exposed an underbelly that has lingered undetected for too long. Any national light we may have has been obscured by the baskets that we ourselves have put over it; baskets like hatred, inequality, violence, intimidation, and more. In our worst moments this fall, we have become a shining example to the world of what not to be.
For those of us who are Christians this election has been particularly perplexing. The religious right ushered in an era in which the phrase "Christian values" often came meant a very specific set of beliefs and priorities, one with which only some Christians agreed. But now, evangelical leaders who for decades have called for a return to "decency" are endorsing candidates whose words are vulgar at best and admissions of sexual assault at worst.
In the embarrassing and disillusioning aftermath it's tempting to want to leave our faith outside of the election precinct . But I'm not sure that true Christian values have explicitly been invited into the voting booths of believers in recent years. So maybe the question for us in 2016 is "What Christian values should matter on November 8th?"
John Winthrop himself had an idea. In his sermon that day he quoted an Old Testament prophet, Micah, whose words we read before the sermon. Speaking to a city in distress, one that had lost its way and was trying to get back on track, Micah asked rhetorically, "What does God require of you?" And the answer wasn't burnt offerings or sacrifices or anything like that. Instead if was just these three things: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.
Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly. It almost sounds too simple. But it is harder than it looks.
Because what would it look like if we all demanded those three things of ourselves in our daily lives? How would we do justice? Would we seek to be more fair to the people we deal with in our businesses? Would we look at people who weren't treated as equals and advocate for them? Would we speak up when we hear someone use words that demean others?
And what about kindness? This same word is sometimes also translated as "mercy", so would we be kind and merciful? Would we live in faith and not the destructive power of fear? Would we look at those who suffer, and choose mercy over words of blame? Would we welcome the poor, the oppressed, the widow and orphan
And what about humility? By this I mean real humility, which is understanding that none of us is any more or less beloved by God's than others. If we walked through the world with that kind of humility, how would it change us? Would we be less judgmental of differences? Would we be more apt to value character over celebrity? Would we be more aware about what was good for all, and not just good for us?
Micah gave us a prescription for what ails us. He told us clearly how to get better. But as much as those three things sound as simple as an episode of Mr. Rogers, that is hard medicine. Justice, kindness, and humility are wonderful things...and they all take work. Every day we have to recommit to them. And every day we have to use them to push aside the baskets that cover our light.
But more than that, if we want to be a City on the Hill, it is not enough that we ourselves commit to these things. We must also demand them from our leaders. What would our national political stage look like if we took this bedrock of our faith, these real Christian values, and made them our non-negotiables? What would happen if we refused to vote for anything less than real justice, real kindness, and real humility?
That may sound naive, especially in a year like this, but if enough of us demanded it, things would start to change. And so would our leaders.
And so on November 8th, here is how we begin to kick over the baskets that hide our light: Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly. And vote.
How to vote
Vote-by-mail ballot request deadline: Varies by state
For the Nov 3 election: States are making it easier for citizens to vote absentee by mail this year due to the coronavirus. Each state has its own rules for mail-in absentee voting. Visit your state election office website to find out if you can vote by mail.Get more information
In-person early voting dates: Varies by state
Sometimes circumstances make it hard or impossible for you to vote on Election Day. But your state may let you vote during a designated early voting period. You don't need an excuse to vote early. Visit your state election office website to find out whether they offer early voting.My Election Office
General Election: Nov 3, 2020
Polling hours on Election Day: Varies by state/localityMy Polling Place