Civic Engagement as Spiritual Practice

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With Alice Butler outside Governor Newsom’s office, using our political power to enact our faith.

It’s election Session, and Super Tuesday is upon us. The air is filled with excitement and hope, fear and ugliness. Mailboxes are full of unwanted appeals. Misleading advertisements abound. Candidate gossip and commentary are overflowing, as are passionate pleas to consider the potential of particular politicians. Excitement and exhaustion are intermingled, and for a brief moment – at least in the circles I run in – engagement is silencing apathy. This is heartening.

Politics has a well-deserved bad rap. Newpapers are daily filled with political leaders misusing their power and abusing their position; corruption and politicians all too often go hand in hand. It is easy to become cynical. And yet, let’s not forget that Lakeshore’s current representatives Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas and Congresswoman Barbara Lee are wielding their political power to the benefit of many underrepresented constituents. Public servants still exist, even when they are too few and too far between. And indeed, it is we the people of this country who are responsible for holding our politicians accountable.

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Holding people accountable is not a fun job – just ask any parent, teacher or boss. And yet, holding our politicians accountable is not only the responsibility of every citizen, it is also how we enact our faith and express our deepest values. We the people is only a lofty ideal unless we the people use our political power and do our part.

Accountability isn’t even the goal, it’s the threshold. Much more than keeping public servants “in line,” voters are empowered to inspire public officials, to equip them to enact systems and policies that reflect the country we long to live in, one that actually embraces all its residents, provides for all its residents, and ensures that all its residents the ability to thrive. As we celebrated African American History this month, I was inspired once again by the great cloud of witnesses who have and continue to lead the way in not just dreaming of a better country, but putting their bodies on the line to demand this country live up to its declaration of freedom and justice for all.

In January, I had the opportunity to speak to my Representatives in Washington D.C. and was reminded again of the power of exercising my political voice. It was shortly after our President announced his so called “Peace” Plan, more aptly named the Steal of the Century, and I was eager to share my outrage. A shout out to Kyle Cristofalo of Churches for Middle East Peace (where I serve on the board representing the Alliance of Baptists) for setting up the meetings and showing me the ropes.

While visiting Congresswoman Barbara Lee, I witnessed her staff joyously celebrating as her bill to repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed in the House. This was a testament to her courageous lone vote almost two decades ago to reject a “blank check” for the President to wage war. It was a powerful reminder of the ever changing political tides and the power of persistence in fighting for your values. While speaking with her staffer, I thanked her for Rep. Lee’s bold actions, like co-sponsoring HR 2407, ensuring that US tax dollars do not support the imprisoning of Palestinian children. I encouraged her to function as a leader to her colleagues in taking clear, strong stands to support freedom, justice and equality for all people.

I also dropped by Congressman Mark DeSaulnier’s office (I reside in his district). His Legislative Director took time to meet with me, telling me she recognized my name from all the emails I’ve submitted (let’s hear it for even simple acts like signing on to pre-written emails!). When I offered my thanks for Rep. DeSaulnier’s cosponsorship of HR 2407, she told me his decision was easy: while some of his constituents had concerns about this legislation, 3 times as many urged him to sign it. I also asked that he sign on to a letter restoring humanitarian aid to Gaza, which I’m happy to report he has since done. This encounter was a powerful reminder of the importance of raising our voices – through emails, calls, visits and showing up for town halls – to ensure our values are reflected in our government and with our tax dollars.

I know that not all congressional visits are so positive, and not all districts are so open to listen, but that is all the more reason to raise our voices and vote our values. I trust you are planning to vote on (or before) Tuesday – or whenever your election is held. I hope even more that you are empowered to exercise your political voice in any number of ways in 2020. There is power in civic engagement – and our country’s future depends on the exercise of our power! In the words of Robert Reich:

Citizenship is not a passive sport.”


A slight adaptation of Matthew 25:37-40, NRSV

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you voted for policies that provided for one of the least of these who are members of my family, you voted for policies that provided for me.’ 

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