The Sacredness of Voting

From the September Issue of PNCUCC News:

I was 26 years old and living in Dayton, Ohio when I met Kelvin Sauls. Kelvin was from South Africa and attending school at United Theological Seminary. During the time I knew him in the early 1990s, South Africa was going through an amazing, tumultuous time. The freedom struggle was at a fever pitch. Nelson Mandela was freed from prison. All races were getting ready to vote in a general election for the first time. It seemed as though the whole country could either enter a new multiracial era or explode into violence at any moment. Every day brought news of potential hope or potential disaster.

In Kelvin’s conversation with fellow faith-based activists in South Africa, it was clear how much fear there was and how much was at stake. White nationalist South Africans were organizing in new ways, arming themselves, and threatening violence against anyone who wasn’t white or wasn’t “on their side.” There were even threats made internationally to those who were voting at polling stations set up in different parts of the world. 

We pulled together a couple of things in response to Kelvin’s colleagues’ requests. The first was something called “The Prayer and Pen Campaign.” African-American churches that had been involved in securing the right to vote for African-Americans were invited to write letters of support that were distributed to and read from the pulpits of Black South African churches every Sunday before the election.

Columbus, Ohio was only an hour or so away from Dayton and happened to be one of the international polling stations for South Africans in the US. We decided to pull together a press conference at the state capital and march to the polling place in solidarity with those South Africans who were planning on walking miles to the polls in South Africa.

On April 26th, 1994 we gathered for speeches, songs, and singing the South African National Anthem with dozens of citizens who were getting to vote for the very first time and supporters from all over the state. We took an excited walk to the polling place. I remember hearing from behind me the conversation between two people whose every other sentence seemed to be some version of “I can’t believe this is actually happening!” As we got to the polling place, those preparing to vote grew silent. No one but South African citizens were allowed into the polling place and, one by one, they nervously entered.

Then… One by one, they emerged. The first person came out with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen and a tear or two. Then they kept on coming and as they did the cheering grew and the laughing grew and tears flowed and the songs began and the dancing started and Freedom itself seemed to weep, laugh, sing and dance. It was a holy, sacred moment of exuberance…

Voting has never meant the same to me since that moment. I think I’d had some idea of voting as a responsibility and a right but, until that moment, I’d never seen it as a sacred act of stewardship. Voting is not just something I have the right or responsibility to do but it is something I give. It is not just about what I want but what I am called to share with the world.

As I write this, it is just a little less than two months from election day. I won’t tell you who or what to vote for but I would remind you that your vote has within it power, responsibility, service, love, and freedom. Those things are sacred. We are stewards of sacred things; never owners. As Christians we are called to use these sacred things for sacred purposes. 

How will you show love to God and God’s people when you vote? How will you encourage others to do the same?