by Joy McDonald Coltvet
You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. Any case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it. (Deuteronomy 1:17b)
In the animated film A Bug’s Life, a huge colony of ants are used and abused by a few big, bullying grasshoppers. As the ant colony says, “they come, they eat, they leave,” and this way of life has gone on forever. Until one day–the usual pattern is disrupted by a crash. The grasshoppers are about to wreak havoc on the ant colony when one ant, Flik, confronts the grasshopper-in-charge, Hopper. Flik speaks up: “It’s you who need us! We’re a lot stronger than you say we are.” As he is speaking, Flik sees Hopper blink nervously, and says in surprise, “And you know it, don’t you?”
Words like this are interwoven all through our scriptures. For people who are pressed down, persecuted, and used for others’ selfish gain, the prophets and gospel writers and letter writers keep proclaiming this word of hope and resistance. Not only are we called to speak and act; we are called to do it boldly. We are drawn into community to do this work together, because no one of us has the power or wisdom or unconditional love to do it alone.
You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice. You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. Exodus 23:2, 9
These are interesting words of wisdom from Exodus. Don’t just go along with the crowd, the commentator, the campaign letter. Bear witness–put yourself in a situation where you can see and hear and speak with your neighbors, the neighbors you avoid as well as the neighbors who think as you do. Do justice. Try to be fair and don’t hold back the justice due to the poor. Don’t oppress those you call outsiders because in your heart and history, you are one, too. What a different set of values to take with us as we enter into conversation in community, not to mention to the voting booth!
What if we engaged in conversation across the lines drawn in the sand? What if we didn’t avoid possible conflict in talking about candidates and important issues with our neighbors, our families, our congregations? What if in these conversations we were less concerned about winning, about being right? What if we were more concerned about everyone having a voice than whose voice was loudest? What if elections were more about communities coming together in all their God-given diversity, around their common interests, for the common good?
As he prepares disciples for his leaving, Jesus promises to send the Advocate.
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27)
As followers of Jesus, we have received the Holy Spirit. We are called to be advocates because of this relationship, because of the presence of the Advocate. This is the One who calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies us–and not only us. This word is a challenge to those who live with the right to vote, have voices to advocate and privilege to use on behalf of others in need. May we use our freedom to set others free. May we use the gift of voice to do justice and love kindness and walk together with God.
Joy McDonald Coltvet is pastor at Christ on Capitol Hill in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She has also served in congregations and other settings in Chicago and the Milwaukee area. Joy has a Doctor of Ministry in Practical Theology: Spirituality (Spiritual Formation), and is filled with wonder frequently.
This article first appeared in the October 2006 issue of Cafe.