Election Advice from John Wesley

Election Advice from John Wesley

Today on CBS This Morning, veteran political analyst Bob Schieffer summarized what many of us are feeling about the electoral process: “This is scary.” Indeed, in this presidential election cycle there are many new and surprising entities. Very little in this process seems to be going the way conventional wisdom says it should go, and that can be scary. If we are worried, we might remember that nothing is new under the sun. Elections have long been a time of fear and uncertainty.

I stumbled upon an entry in John Wesley’s journal before the British General Election of 1774. This election came in the wake of the Boston Tea Party and the growing revolt in the American colonies. The former prime minister, Lord North, had dissolved parliament prematurely in the summer of 1774. It was already set to end in a spring general election in 1775, but North and the king believed that Britain was moving into a new phase in the confrontation with the colonies and the election needed to come sooner rather than later so that the government wouldn’t be distracted by general election issues. A surprise election naturally threw politicians into confusion. Charles Watson-Wentworth, the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham and leader of the opposition party in the election, wrote to a friend, “I confess indeed that I think that all politics are now in so low a state and so little likely to revive, that I should feel a hesitation in giving encouragement to an expectation that we can continue long to drudge on in such unsatisfactory and so unthanked a laborious occupation.”

The contention in parliament was mirrored in the public, which retreated into camps around increasingly radical and fear-mongering candidates for parliament. It was in this environment that, two days before the election, Wesley wrote in his journal,

“I met those of our society [i.e., Methodist Christians] who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them: (1) To vote without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy. (2) To speak no evil of the person they voted against. (3) To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

–John Wesley’s Journal – October 3, 1774

This is great advice for any election, but especially in a time of great contention, confusion, and fear. Fear leads us to do and say terrible things toward those we perceive as enemies. How many of us are sharpening our spirits against our political opponents? We might remember the promise of the Scriptures: “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). Each of us has a vote, and it is not only our civic duty to exercise that right, but also it is our Christian duty–and even more than duty, our joy and privilege–to exercise that choice with self-discipline and love, trusting in God’s power to work for good in our lives, regardless of who gets elected.

As Christians we ought to be engaged in healthy, robust conversations around issues that really do matter, but as Wesley suggested, we must, in the end, make our choice based on our conscience and trust that others have done the same.

I want to recommend a tool that I have found helpful in recent elections in sorting through the emotions and the fear associated with elections. ISideWith.com is a non-partisan, independent website that has collected the official positions of all the presidential candidates and put them in a comparison tool. The site walks you through a quiz, asking you questions about your perspectives and how important those issues are to you, and then shows you how closely the candidates’ views reflect yours in terms of percentage. It’s a great tool to figure out, as Wesley encouraged, which person you “judge most worthy.”

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