By Jennifer Halteman Schrock
Recently, I spoke with a millennial who told me she’s not going to vote. She doesn’t really know the issues, she said. What is more, she doesn’t like what politics does to people and therefore she doesn’t want to participate.
I am sympathetic. I would rather be birding than debating national issues. I am by temperament a person who recoils from political sound bites and the rhetoric of debates. The ugliness of American politics at present should cause all of us to reflect on how we might participate with integrity.
But I do vote. I have trudged off to the polls plenty of times, always with a detached cynicism and the knowledge that we have a comfortable income, we do not live in a forest fire zone and my sons aren’t at risk for being shot because of the color of their skin. This year is different.
This year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report predicting that the catastrophic effects of climate change previously expected in the hazy future are more likely to hit by 2040. This year, I can’t sit through a children’s time at church without pain because I’m doing the math. How old will Isaac be in 2040? Ana Sofia? Ellie? None of them will have cracked thirty.
This year, I’ve sat with pastors as they wrestled with the spiritual numbness that makes us look away when our neighbors on this planet face hurricanes and drought and forest fires. This year, I’ve read the list of environmental policy changes during the past two years on the National Geographic website. They range from relaxed methane standards to reduced climate monitoring. This year, I’m bracing for a Holocaust of extinctions and voting like our lives depend on it.
I am left with the puzzle of how to vote for all God’s creation – and all creation yet to come – when climate change is only beginning to make its way into the average voter’s consciousness. None of the people on my ballot have made the environment central to their platform. Neither blue people nor red people have a great track record of boycotting gas pumps.
I’m voting for the least-worst option. I suspect many Anabaptists don’t vote for the same reason that many environmental advocates don’t vote. No one lives up to our standards. It’s hard to get excited about any politician when we follow a leader who preached love of enemies and got crucified rather than elected.
But either this person represents our district or that one does. My opinion has been requested and I have one. As Peter Sawtell has so aptly illustrated, the least-worst option can be a lot better than the worst option. I have read League of Conservation Voters score cards and chosen my politicians the way we marry, parent our children and argue at church: making the best decisions we can with limited information, unknown consequences and a little hope.
I’m spending Election Day in prayer. On Tuesday, I am taking the day off to mourn the griefs of our tattered nation and the ways we waste our resources and lives. I will dress in black and fast until dark. I will recite the Lord’s prayer and the names of all the countries of the world. I will pedal my bicycle to the polls and leave my tiny testimony in a voting booth. I will lock myself in the basement and wail for salvation like an abandoned toddler. No wave of any color is going to satisfy me; I’m praying for a flood of justice and a hurricane of wisdom. I’m begging for a tsunami of God’s mercy.
I’ll do my best to vote every day of the year. I called a special meeting of the Creation Care Council that gives guidance to Mennonite Creation Care Network last week. One by one, their faces blinked in on the Zoom Chat, bringing with them decades of dedication to creation care, environmental justice, rural revival, teaching, science and simple living. Just seeing their faces reminded me that I am voting from a place of hope; that there are pathways out of despair.
“What shall we say to our people on the eve of an election?” I asked them.
Their answers had as much to do with voting every day as with voting on Tuesday.
They reminded me that we are in the middle of a multi-faith, global, sustainable living campaign that will require plenty of heavy lifting. “It’s our job to call people to faithfulness,” they said. The goals on the MCCN website spell that call out: to a renewed understanding of our biblical and theological roots; to interconnectedness with all creation, to confession and locally appropriate action.
If you’re looking for an action to take, we have a suggestion for you. Plan a conversation about climate change with your young people. Ask them what they know and what they fear and how they hope the Church will respond. We suggest quarterly shared practices to our congregations, and we just chose this as our focus for the winter. Ask them.
Jennifer Schrock is the leader of Mennonite Creation Care Network.