Sitting on the Fence

BY MARY BREFFLE

Politics. The very word makes people like me want to throw a blunt object at someone. In spite of my distaste for the inefficiency of governmental bureaucracy, I wholeheartedly believe in civic engagement. I’m proud to say this: I care. And I can safely say that I am part of the demographic that both McCain and Obama are pursuing. I am the undecided voter. I enjoy the view from the fence; I can see aspects of both parties that align with my outlook. The dilemma of being a “fence sitter,” or a moderate, is readily apparent when one must make a decision about who to vote for in the presidential election. Describing it as a challenge would be a gross understatement. I cannot be confined to one color, much less one party. There should be a specific section for those of us who feel purple, who want to be a part of the “Can’t we all just get along?” party, and who want to laugh at Jon Stewart’s Bush impressions. It is important to understand the person who does not take sides.

Both extreme conservatives and staunch liberals dismiss moderates as indecisive, but this inaccurate stereotype discredits an important segment of the American population. Some of the most passionate, thoughtful people are those who wrestle with political issues. In an attempt to examine many aspects of “hot” issues before making a decision, moderates often become unsure of how to cast their ballot. This isn’t to say that those who are “blue” or “red” do not take the time to formulate decisions, but those of us who do not see a path clearly laid before us must comb through countless websites, newspaper articles, and television broadcasts, gleaning bits of pertinent information in order to sculpt an opinion, or at least an opinion we can accept for the time being.

I recently chatted with a friend about how he will attempt to make sense of the election, and he frequently used the word “apathetic” to describe himself. I never anticipated dealing with this word. When asked questions about current issues, he never failed to supply a thoughtful opinion, and I concluded that he could not be further from apathy. I listened for his approach to reasoning, his logic, and often felt as though I was listening to myself: there is a general opinion on any given issue but a clear disconnect between the belief held and the application of this belief in terms of political decisions. There is no lack of concern, but rather, a feeling of displacement. There seemed to be some obstacle between point A and point B; this obstacle is a Christian perspective.

How do we deal with applying our beliefs to a nation that may or may not agree with our religious views? How far is too far? The way we perceive the world is largely influenced by our upbringing. It seems logical to apply the rules and ideas that work for us as children to the rest of the country, but when our perception involves Christian morals and values, it does not always dovetail with modern ways of thinking. A secular nation doesn’t always agree with Christian tenets. As my friend and I talked, I learned that we both come from strongly conservative parents, and thus find living in the liberal hotbed of Berkeley to be an interesting situation. Exposure to each extreme leaves us questioning: what place do we have on the political spectrum and how will this placement manifest itself in the November election? Being undecided indicates that we recognize both sides of any issue, and find each “side” to be logical to some degree. With conservative values, liberal ideals, and a furrowed brow, I was left with more questions than answers.

Unlike some politicians, I do not feel as though I can speak for Jesus; from my perspective, biblical teachings cannot be directly translated into government rules and regulations. Our postmodern society could never accept a direct application. Translation is the pivotal part of the process. How can we, as responsible citizens, weave our faith into our decisions concerning American politics? Should the two intersect at all?

The story of the Queen of Sheba is extremely applicable to our modern-day blessed burden of being a citizen in a democratic republic. Her approach is admirable: “When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon…she came to test him with hard questions. Arriving at Jerusalem with…large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind” (1 Kings 10:1-2). A simple comparison can be drawn between Solomon and the soon-to-be president of the United States: they occupy the highest positions of power within their respective societies. The queen of Sheba recognizes the importance of personally investigating Solomon, and presents him with valuable, tangible gifts. I am not suggesting that you FedEx your great grandmother’s diamond ring to John McCain or that you relinquish your next pay check to Barack Obama, but rather that you put forth your most precious gifts: an open mind and a willingness to vote.

Those who donate money or time to campaigns are considered dedicated citizens, but in the end, the most significant actions involve becoming informed and casting a ballot. We can “talk with” candidates indirectly by reading newspapers, watching televised debates, researching senatorial voting records, and discussing pertinent issues with friends and family. It is vital that we “ask” those “hard questions,” that we truly question the intentions, motivations, and viewpoints of the candidates. In addition, we must ask ourselves “hard questions:” are we choosing this candidate because of the impression he gives or possibly even because our friends and family support him? The more we question, the more solid our decision will be. We need to be discerning. We may even come to a conclusion that mimics the queen’s: “when the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon, and the palace he had built…she was overwhelmed. She said to the king,…“I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes”’ (1 Kings 10:7). It is critical for us to discern who “our Solomon” is in the midst of this political hoopla.

It is important to note that at no point in this story does the queen declare that she completely agrees with Solomon, but she takes the time to consider his qualifications and recognize his strengths. In my quest to determine who shall receive my vote, I believe I have thoroughly examined both candidates. In all honesty, I like the senatorial experience that McCain possesses, but at the same time, Obama’s youthful vigor and desire for change is equally appealing. I support a woman’s right to choose, and yet I struggle with gay marriage. I find universal health care to be unrealistic, and yet I believe a woman’s right to choose cannot be eliminated. As you can see, I am not clearly “red” or “blue,” and this means that it is likely that I will not make a decision until I have my ballot in front of me. Simply because the “answer” is not clearly before me does not mean I will discontinue my search. At a certain point, like the queen of Sheba, I will know when I have seen or heard enough to make a decision.

I can hear Berkeley College Republicans sighing and see Cal Democrats rolling their eyes as I write this piece. Do not be misled; I am not advocating apathy or indecision. I am challenging every college student to determine the issues, causes that lie closest to their hearts; it’s likely that the complexity of a issue/concern cannot be boiled down to a party stance, but it is important to identify where your opinions align with party platforms. Find solace in knowing that there is a good decision and a better decision: it’s up to you, no matter where your allegiance lies, to decide upon the issue that is of utmost importance to you. God does not call us to be all things to all people in that a Christian viewpoint will never be well received by all. There is no guarantee that drawing on Christian knowledge will provide happiness or provide all the solutions for various political issues. Knowing that God is in control is key. If nothing else, be thankful that salvation does not involve a voting process. Jesus prayed, enjoyed meals with others, shared his values and opinions, and accepted the fact that the world was never going to agree with him. This is an extreme example, but he did take a stand, and he did realize the limitations of human consensus.

Pray that God guides the entire nation in the voting process for this election and the many elections to come. The task of deciding how to vote is enough to make even the most enthusiastic citizens want to scream. Do not forget to be thankful for this system of democracy; in spite of all its absurdity, complexity, and ambiguity, it provides all of us (from all areas of the political color spectrum) with an opportunity to express what is important to us. Go to the polls knowing that you or anyone else cannot speak for God, but that God can speak through you. He designed us all differently; you may be as passionate about environmentalism as someone else is about the death penalty. In order to be a vessel through which God speaks, it is imperative that we, as Christians, look to scripture, engage in debates and discussions (both peaceful and heated), pray about that which weighs heavy, and to educate ourselves about those in positions of power. It is our duty to look to the future by being an active participant in the present. We should have the country’s best interest at heart, and this involves a willingness to accept ambiguity and to seek out clarity.

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