When Americans go to the voting booth on November 8, 2016, we are facing a choice like we have never seen before in our history. As people of faith in our country, it is the responsibility of Christians to be a light reflecting the value system Christ brought to earth into our nation.
In order to be that light, we need to know what the Bible teaches about the issues we will be deciding in that voting booth. We also need to know how the American government and political system works. If we do not learn these things for ourselves, then we will never be more than pawns being manipulated by the people who we let tell us what to think.
As Jesus famously taught,
“If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
Everyone who goes into a voting booth tomorrow has an American story. It is one thing that unites us all. When we make our choices on that ballot, we are making choices for the kind of American story we want our children to grow up to have. I would like to conclude this series of blog posts by telling my own American story. My story was made possible by the values and decisions of my parents and their generation. In a very large way, this whole series of posts is dedicated to them. I encourage everyone who reads this to think about your own American story and the stories you would like your children and the next generation to be able to have. Ultimately, that is what our vote is about.
My American Story
I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, on the battlefields of the Revolutionary War. When my two brothers and I would play on those battlefields, my parents always pointed out to us that the blood of the soldiers who fought there was the price paid for my freedom. I have always believed it is the responsibility of all Americans to do our utmost to defend and promote the values those men died for.
The building where I went to Kindergarten was adjoining the church where Caesar Rodney was buried. The story was often repeated in my family of how he was on his death bed, but still had people carry him on a stretcher along bumpy dirt roads from Delaware to Philadelphia so he could sign the Declaration of Independence. A painting of Caesar Rodney’s militia hangs on the wall of my office.
We moved from Delaware to Pennsylvania when I was six years old. My best friend lived in a farmhouse that was used as a field hospital in the war. One side of the house still has musket ball holes in the wall from when the British overran their position. I remember playing soldiers in his back yard, hiding behind the old fence dividing the yard from the wheat field behind their house. We pretended to be Colonial patriots defending against the British attacking from across the field. We crouched behind the same embankment the actual Colonial patriots used to defend their position when the British redcoats did charge across that field.
My younger brother had two best friends. One lived in a farmhouse that had been used as a stop on the Underground Railroad. They had a secret room in the attic with blood stains on the floor from the runaway slaves that were hidden there. His other best friend lived caddy-corner on crossroads of the same old country roads. His father was a helicopter pilot in Viet Nam who served multiple tours of duty flying combat missions behind enemy lines.
These are some of the American stories that made me who I am.
My Parents’ American Story
My father served in the Army in the 1950s. He was an officer on an Army base in Germany that manned short range nuclear missiles on the border of Soviet controlled Eastern Europe. My mother was a teacher in the Army school on the base. That is where they met.
Both of my parents were born during the Depression.
My mother was born in a log cabin, the daughter of a tenant farmer in North Carolina. She lived in a Little House on the Prairie style log cabin until she was twelve. It had one room and a loft with a trundle bed. Her parents slept in the main bed and five children slept in the pullout part. I remember as a child visiting the farmhouse her parents had moved into. They still had no running water or electricity. I remember using the outhouse out back and having to crank the handle of the well to pull up a bucket of cold water for my mother to sponge me down in place of a shower.
My father grew up in Brooklyn, the child of immigrants. He worked hard to get scholarships and worked his way through college. After college he joined the Army. Then, through hard work and dedication he worked his way up to become Chief Financial Officer of a multinational corporation.
The Values of my Parents’ Generation
My parents raised my brothers and me to live by the values they shared with most other Americans of their generation. They had very little when they grew up. They taught us to value the quality of our character over the quantity of our possessions. They worked very hard to earn what they had. They never complained when times were hard. They just rolled up their sleeves and worked harder. When times were good, they looked for others who they could help. My parents remembered where they came from. They used countless moments in our childhood as object lessons to teach us never to judge others by what they looked like, by the clothes they wore or by the possessions they owned. They taught us that America is the land of opportunity for everyone.
My mother and father were as different as you can be when they met. But they had something in common. They believed passionately that one of the core values America stands for is that the creed written on the base of the Statue of Liberty is for everyone.
When my father was in college, at Cornell, he was a member of one of the first inter-racial fraternities in the country, the Water Margin. It was started by Black and Jewish World War II veterans. When they returned from the war, they found the equality they had experienced on the battlefield was not what they experienced when they came home. The GI Bill paid for these veterans to go to college. When they got there, they carried the commitment to one another they had found in wartime onto the campus. Americans often forget that the US Military was one of the first champions in the battle for Civil Rights. Following their patriotic lead, my father was an active member of the NAACP, as a white man. That was two years before Martin Luther King Jr. would lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott that started the Civil Rights Movement.
My mother was the first person from her town to go to college. If you can call the patchwork of small family farms a town. Some of her neighbors chipped in from their life’s savings to help pay her way. At that time it was illegal in many Southern states to even have an inter-racial dinner party. Still, somehow the pastor of a college group she was involved with planned an inter-racial camping trip with a local black college. After she returned, my mother and her roommate (who I call Aunt Laverne) were riding the bus one day. They decided to integrate the bus by sitting in the back. She told me how the man who she sat next to jumped up and said in fear, “I can’t sit next to you miss.” As a black man, he could have been dragged off the bus and beaten just for touching a white girl. That wasn’t as daring as what Rosa Parks would do two years later. But it does show the stuff my mother is made of. It also shows some of the American values my parents imparted to me.
Two stories I told at the start of this series are worth repeating.
My uncle, my Dad’s only brother, has a very close friend who has a number tattooed on his arm. It is from a concentration camp. He is a world-class physicist who invented a key part of the technology that makes a superconductor work. I was invited to their home a few years ago. The American values of my parents’ generation and the words on the base of the Statue of Liberty say to me that we must be willing to stand up not just for our own freedom, but so nobody ever has a number tattooed on their arm again.
My father has a favorite story he likes to tell about his days at the Army base in Germany. This was just a few years after World War II had ended. Before he met my mother, he went on few dates with a German girl who worked on the base. One evening, she invited him to have dinner with her family. After a short time of conversation with her father, my father realized he was talking to an officer from Hitler’s SS. My father especially enjoys telling the point in his story when he tells the ex-SS Officer that he is Jewish. He says the man was quite cordial. Sill both of them knew just a few years earlier his life mission was to kill all of the Jews. Because this foreign religion was seen as the source of all his nation’s problems.
Germany was the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation. Just like the USA, they prided themselves on being a Christian nation. And yet, a spirit of fear and anger came over the German people that made them take out all of their frustrations on a “scapegoat.” They allowed themselves to blame their problems on a religious minority who seemed alien and on immigrants who had darker skin and were poor. The soldiers who came home from WWII had seen first-hand where this kind of “us vs. them” thinking leads when they liberated the concentration camps. They taught their children that we must never let that happen here in America.
What Made the Greatest Generation Great?
Tom Brokaw famously named my parents’ generation “The Greatest Generation.” They grew up in the Depression. They lived through World War II. Then they re-built the modern world from the wreckage of a worldwide economic collapse book-ended by two world wars. During the Depression, and then after World War II, Americans all came together to build a nation where all had the opportunity to prosper and share in the American dream. Government of the people, by the people and for the people was a force for good in the country and in the world. It was not just a distant bureaucracy. It was a helping hand in the lives of every American at time when we needed one.
For my father’s fraternity brothers who started the Water Margin it was the GI Bill. For my mother’s family it was Rural Electrification. They eventually did get electricity and running water. For many it was the Depression Era programs that put people to work and built the infrastructure that empowered America’s post-war economic boom. As a nation, we did all these things, and much more, because we had come through immense challenges together as a country. Coming through those challenges together gave us a spirit of unity that made us glad to all chip in together and help each other. These things were hand-ups not hand-outs. These government programs and the spirit of unity behind them are a big part how the Greatest Generation made America Great.
When the economy was dragged down by the Depression, over a third of the American workforce could not get work. The government came along side and gave them a helping hand by investing in infrastructure that provided them with jobs and built America. It was a good investment. The WWII veterans my father looked up to needed a college education. The government gave them a helping hand by paying for college. It was a good investment. Farmers across the South were scraping out a living without electricity or phones or paved roads. The government came along side and gave them a helping hand by building these things for them. It was a good investment. All of these things made America more productive and made the people prosperous, healthy and happy.
We look back to the 1950s and 1960s as a time when America was great. Those were years when Americans believed in their government. It was a partnership between the people and their government that made America great in those post-war years. Both Democrats and Republicans believed government was a force for good to be used wisely to help us make positive change. They differed in how much government can and should do. But neither side saw government as the problem. They saw the real problems we faced as a country and saw government as an important part of the solution.
My Contribution to the American Story
I became a Christian in the 1980s as part of a college campus ministry that was swept up in the Charismatic Renewal. As a student leader, while revival was sweeping across the country, I ministered the Gospel to hundreds of people and trained many in campus ministry. The revival of the 1980s brought a wave of young Evangelical Christians who heard a call into politics. In my case I took the road to a Master’s Degree in Public Policy. My degree taught me the nuts and bolts of how to practically solve the nation’s problems. Many of the other young Christians who heard that call at the time focused on Politics. Some are Republican lawmakers today.
While in graduate school for Public Policy, I worked as a policy analyst on Community Development Block Grants during the first Bush administration. At the time block grants were being pioneered as the Republican alternative for helping relieve poverty in low income communities. I went on to work in Environmental, Safety and Health policy, also during the George HW Bush administration. Those were years when a Republican was calling himself “the Environmental President” and pioneering free-market based approaches to environmental protection.
My path has been a winding road since then. After finishing graduate school in 1994, the entire state of California was in a recession. There was a hiring freeze on all the public policy jobs I was looking for. On my birthday, in November 1994, I got a job with Toyota and became a team member building the back-end technologies behind Toyota’s first corporate website. I found myself part of the Dot-Com Boom before anyone knew it was booming.
Toyota had one of the first corporate websites in the world at a time when few people even knew what a website was. The website and digital marketing program we built won nearly every award in the industry and was featured in textbooks. I went on to lead email and onsite marketing at one of the top 50 Dot-Coms on the Internet. That lasted until the Dot-Com Crash in 2001. After the Dot-Com Crash, I led strategic planning analytics and digital marketing for a Fortune 500 company. Then I was part of the team who built the vote counting system used by American Idol and most other TV voting shows.
The story I have lived is deeply tied to the American story and deeply involved in supporting the growth of America’s capitalist economic system. The reason I share it is because many Evangelical Christians today have become convinced that anyone who believes government is part of the solution must be un-American and on a slippery slope to Socialism. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Our Vote for the Next Chapter in the American Story
My parents were a part of the Greatest Generation. I was raised to believe in the values of their generation. Those values formed a vision of what America can and should be. It is a vision of the best version of ourselves. We knew we did not live up to that vision. But if every generation rolls up their sleeves and works together we will continue to come closer and closer to it.
In the past eight years, I’ve watched as the country I love has been torn in two. The United States used to be the most optimistic place on earth. When I finished my Master’s Degree, just over twenty years ago, I started my career at a time when everything seemed possible. That is what Americans have always believed. In the 1990s it was a reality.
Americans were the pioneers in a new digital industry that changed the entire world within a decade. We did it through partnership between private sector and government. Al Gore has famously been ridiculed for claiming to have “invented the Internet.” What he actually did was sponsor the bill that provided research and infrastructure funding that laid the foundation for the growth of the Internet. Without help from government, the Dot-Com boom never would have happened.
By the end of the decade America had balanced the federal budget and had a budget surplus. We did it through bipartisan legislation that combined the best of both Republican and Democratic ideas. Senators and Representatives from both parties worked together and compromised to pass laws promoting fiscally sound good government. By working together and compromising, the two parties raised taxes on the wealthy, cut taxes where it could be proven to create growth, cut spending and increased efficiency in government. Neither side got everything they wanted. But together they gave us one of the most prosperous decades in American history.
The 1990s was a time of tremendous optimism in the United States. It was a time when Democrats and Republicans worked together. It was a time when private sector companies worked together with government. That seems like a mythical past that could never happen today. But that was the way America always worked in the past. That is how the Greatest Generation made America great. That is how the Dot-Com generation re-made the entire world around the digital exchange of ideas and commerce.
Somehow we have lost that very American spirit of unity. Somehow we have lost our American optimism. We still had them less than 20 years ago.
Somehow we have let two of the most important things that make us American begin to slip away. We have let them be replaced with a spirit of division and a cynical fear that everything is falling apart. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
America is still as great as it ever was. We still have the world’s greatest economy and strongest military. We are still a light to the world for our freedom, generosity and entrepreneurial spirit. The world still looks to us for leadership and stability. Our country and our president are still respected around the world. In the past eight years, voices have been rising up out of the darker corners of American politics telling us these things are no longer true. Those voices have become louder and louder. They have won over a larger and larger share of the American people. They are false voices.
We must resist those voices that tell us America has become weak and disrespected around the world. We have not. We must resist those voices that tell us our government is working against us not for us. We have always had, and still have a government of the people, by the people and for the people. We must resist those voices that tell us to distrust one another and see political opponents as enemies. They are our friends and neighbors who we must work together with if America is going to remain great. Even if those voices drape themselves in the flag, those are not American voices.
Anyone who is 18 years old or above can vote in the United States. The loss of our national spirit of unity is not a story from our mythical past. It has happened in the lifetime of every single American who goes to the voting booth tomorrow. Even the youngest voter going to the polls for the first time was born at a time when Republicans and Democrats respected each other and worked together. It is not a mythical past. It is the essence of how American government works that we are in peril of losing, perhaps forever.
If we are to survive as a nation, we MUST bring it back.
As Jesus famously said, and as Abraham Lincoln famously quoted,
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
A Plea to Keep the United States United
Every year, my father takes his Boy Scout troop on a camping trip to the Gettysburg Battlefield. For two days, he walks them through the battlefield, reliving and narrating the entire battle, skirmish by skirmish. He starts with the Railroad Cut, where the battle began. He gives a blow by blow narration as he leads the scouts through Devil’s Den to Little Round Top. The most emotional moment comes when he stands on the very spot where President Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.
The country was being torn apart by war. Lincoln knew that it would fall to him, as president, to heal the wounds and bring the country back together after the war was over. He needed to remind the people of the most important things that make us a great nation. Even today, people go the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC for inspiration as they read his words carved into the walls.
My father stands on that spot, where President Lincoln stood in 1863. He gathers the scouts around him and reminds them of the American story about the time we almost lost our Union. Then he recites the entire Gettysburg Address from memory. As a proud son and an American who loves my country, it brings tears to my eyes as I remember hearing my father speak these words.
November 19, 1863
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
I will bring these words in my heart with me when I enter the voting booth tomorrow.
I pray that anyone who reads this will find it in your heart to rise above the voices of division, of fear, of prejudice. I pray that as a nation, we will each find the ability to rise above the voices telling us to arrogantly take sides and view our fellow Americans as enemies. I pray that we find it in ourselves to heal the divisions and once again elect Senators, Representatives and Presidents who rise above party and work together for the betterment of all Americans.
That is the vision of the America I love. That is the American story I pray we are able to pass down to the next generation. Then they will be able to become an even greater generation than any who have come before. Then, when they write their stories, government of the people, by the people and for the people will continue to be a light to all the people of the world.
Day 10: America is Great Because America is Good
Day 9: Nine Biblical Principles in Public Policy
Day 8: Two Things Americans Should Never Do
Day 7: Ten Key Issues in American Politics
Day 6: Which Side Should Christians Take?
Day 5: Of the People, By the People, For the People
Day 4: Which Policies are Most Biblical?
Day 3: Clinton vs. Trump in 2016
Day 2: A Vision for America
Day 1: My American Story
Election Day: VOTE!