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Covid19.  George Floyd.  A contentious national election.  Just one of these would be enough, but this year we’ve experienced all of this, and more.

The First Amendment grants Americans the right to peacefully assemble, and over the course of 2020, many people have done just that.  Regrettably, some protests have seen outbreaks of violence, very often against the wishes of organizers, but disruptive and dangerous all the same.

One of the three simple rules attributed to John Wesley’s practical theology is to do no harm.  As United Methodists, we support the right to peacefully protest, but we cannot affirm violence.

We remember that Jesus stopped the violent response of one of his followers in Gethsemane, saying, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)  As followers of Jesus, we are inspired by the peaceful movements of Gandhi and MLK, who demonstrated the awesome moral authority of peaceful demonstration.

Many are concerned about the upcoming national election in our country’s current political climate.  I invite you to join me in praying daily and constantly for a peaceful election, with our prayers grounded in a Wesleyan theological understanding of God’s goodness and love for all humanity.

Remembering our call to grow in love with God, we can trust in God’s presence and faithfulness, rather than letting fear and anxiety control us.

Remembering our call to do no harm, we can remember to honor the image of God in each person, even and especially in those with whom we disagree.

Remembering our call to do good, we can model respectful conversation and peaceful participation in the election process.

And we can live joyfully, giving thanks for the deep well of democratic tradition that guides our nation’s politics.  Our system is far from perfect, but it has helped us to meet many grave challenges in our nation’s history.  I believe it is enduring enough to help us meet present challenges too.

Many of our churches in the South District serve as polling places on Election Day.  I invite the pastors, leadership teams, and Trustees in the South District to talk now about how to handle campus security concerns during this contentious year.  Developing a good safety plan now will help you if any unfortunate circumstances arise on campus during this election season.

A few words of advice for church leaders: talk as soon as possible with city and county election officials, as they can help you find the local resources you need to keep your campus safe.  Talk with your neighborhood association about how the neighborhood will respond if there is trouble.  Research non-partisan fair elections organizations ahead of time to see what help they can give you in responding to concerns. Develop a safety plan to follow in the event of trouble, with clear lines of decision-making authority ahead of time.  Persistently communicate the need to for church members and leaders to quickly lead others to a safe place if violence occurs.  If something of concern does happen, please contact your District Superintendent and Conference Communications Office as soon as possible so conference leadership can assist you in your response.

Some churches are being creative in how they encourage a safe and fair election.  You could, for instance, organize volunteers who are willing to accompany others to go and vote on Nov. 3rd.  There is safety in numbers – socially distanced safety in numbers during this season of Covid19, of course!

Even as we make these plans, let’s remember to call upon God in prayer.  In the few weeks before November 3rd, I will visit and pray over each church campus in the South District that I know will be serving as a polling site. If you go to one of those churches, or know of one nearby, perhaps you could find your own time to go there and pray for the safety and protection of all who come onto campus before, during and after the election.

Let’s ask God to bring out the best in our neighbors, to bring out the best in our country as we do our civic duty.  We are richly blessed.  May we work together to peacefully elect our leaders and to realize a vision of liberty and justice for all people.

Thanks for listening –
Matt

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