Religious liberty under girds the Baptist tradition. It’s one of the reasons the English Separatists pulled away from the Anglican Church and started something new. People are free to believe and live out their beliefs without unnecessary interference from governments. People can practice their faith or not practice. Religious liberty was a novel concept when Separatists like Smyth and Helwys left England for Holland in 1609. Today, it is ingrained in the DNA of American culture.
2020 is a significant election year because it falls on the four-year cycle of U.S. Presidential elections. All members of the House of Representatives will face their constituents, and there are thirty-five Senate races. In addition, there are many state and local officials running for a seat or reelection. I would be tone deaf if I ignored the significance of the Presidential election, though. The Presidency of Donald Trump garners various superlatives. Both inexplicable adoration and unwavering disdain follow him with almost no one feeling ambivalent about his Presidency.
2020 also includes a world-wide pandemic. Countries around the world jumped into action and controlled the spread of the virus. Yet several, including the U.S., did not. The U.S. federal inaction and inability to unify the country created the environment we now face. Despite clear instructions from public health officials, wearing a mask has somehow become political. The death toll is rising.
Relating the elections to religious liberty usually makes sense. We participate based on our conscience, not on party affiliation or political favor. During a pandemic, connecting the dots becomes more challenging. If the current elected officials do not allow safe elections, then participation becomes a health gamble. Do I vote and risk getting the virus? Or, do I not vote and concede political participation to others who care less about disease prevention? Is this a false binary? Are there other choices?
Some states allow nearly universal mail-in voting. Even that topic has become politicized. Baseless accusations of voter fraud cast doubt on the election outcome. To keep religious liberty, we need as much participation as possible. When a local election does not meet CDC guidelines for safety, we can put on masks and gloves, try to hold our breath, and vote.
Hopefully, there will be a future when we the people begin finding common causes. When that day comes, unity will seem less like a distant aspiration and closer to reality.