Poppies, like scarlet sprinkles on a cupcake, adorned patches of wild grass along the lane. As I drove my youngsters to their Romanian preschool that spring, it wasn’t just another morning. It was the morning after a presidential primary debate in 2016. When we walked into the small school building, grandparents and mothers turned to look at me, expectation creasing their faces. Few spoke English, but the question was clear – So? What’s going to happen? Who will win the nomination?
In this rural hamlet, most people followed the U.S. election. It was primetime news. This phenomenon – non-citizens in countries many degrees across the globe following our elections – is not unique to Romania. I have lived overseas during many an election season. Citizens of earth who do not have American citizenship know that the election will affect them, often directly. It will impact their job, their business and their employees. It will determine their client base and their bottom line. It will determine arms deals, warfighting, refugee crises and funding streams. And it will impact whether or not they can visit family who have emigrated to the U.S. or whether they themselves can pursue U.S. citizenship. I don’t even understand all the different ways people’s lives outside the United States are impacted by the voting decisions of Americans.
Politics is the act of determining how we order and organize society. In many countries, people do not have the privilege of participating in the process of ordering their society. But people know that most American citizens do have that privilege. And when they see me across the room at school drop-off, I feel the weight of that responsibility.
When a friend from the Gulf recently asked my thoughts on the election – a question which people freely ask during election season – I took a long pause. I have degrees in political science. I know how political systems work, and the American system in particular. Policy, representation, polling, the electoral college, character and leadership, the free press – these are all relevant subjects.
The awkward pause continued. Then, in one brief moment, I understood that the results of this election would likely impact her in her unique circumstances far more than it would impact me. She didn’t need me to justify who I was voting for or give a lecture on why the U.S. political system is unique in the world. With instant clarity, I realized my most important witness was not a party platform or defense of a candidate. It was my listening ear that loved her more than my opinions on how society should be organized or how people should be governed this side of heaven.
Like all relationships, we should seek to listen more than seek to be heard. We all want to be heard because we all want to be justified or affirmed as we seek to faithfully steward our citizenship. However, our witness in our relationships will be impacted far beyond the coming election week and future election cycles that are a vital component of our democratic system. And when the next election season comes around – because it will – we will know we’ve walked this path before and our witness hasn’t changed. Whether we live in our country of citizenship or not, a watching world will know if our most faithful witness is to an eternal kingdom, not a human democracy.