Author Archives: John Elwood

Was That Jesus I Saw on Independence Avenue?

The alarm went off at three. It seemed like I had hardly gotten to sleep. But Washington is a pretty fair hike from New Jersey, and Barbara and I – together with two dear friends – needed to be on the National Mall by ten. The Women’s March on Washington was waiting for us.

We could tell something special was brewing even before we crossed into Delaware. Every rest stop in New Jersey was packed with buses. Inside, women sporting pink knit hats were everywhere. Long lines of women snaked slowly into the women’s bathrooms – and the men’s as well. I learned, to my sorrow, that there would not be any real men’s rooms between New York and Washington.

By sunrise, we reached the northernmost station of the DC Metro rail system – usually a quiet spot with plenty of parking. We managed to find one of the remaining spaces for the car, and then squeezed into the station to find a sea of humanity slowly inching toward the dozen-odd ticket machines. Packed trains, packed sidewalks, packed avenues.  Crowds everywhere. Smiles everywhere. The air bristling with excitement.

Independence Avenue and the Mall were jammed from the Capitol to the Smithsonian

The members of our little band were Christians. Christian creation-care advocates for that matter. Coming out of our environmental silo to stand in solidarity with women who had endured a level of misogyny not seen in my lifetime.

We thought that we would be treated to a day full of “women’s issues.” So imagine our surprise as speakers and musicians raised their voices for vilified Muslims, immigrant families fearing being torn apart, the mothers of unarmed young black men gunned down by police. They spoke for climate change action. They spoke for sick people faced with losing their health care.

And, yes, they spoke for gender equity, equal pay, family leave, and access to women’s reproductive services. In my experience, when we come alongside the marginalized, we don’t get to pick and choose from an ideological menu. We had to be prepared to offer solidarity to those raising their voices against the darkness that threatens to engulf their lives – without adding all of our qualifications.

So where was Jesus Christ in all this? As a Christian, I wondered, as I prayed my way up Independence Avenue, where I would see his loving hand at work. We knew of nuns and friars who would be there. We heard some from the podium, in fact. But as we marched toward the Capitol, I looked around me for people of faith. Did God send more than than a few of us into this unnumbered throng?

Suddenly, up ahead I spied a cluster of banners with bible verses on them. Christians! Yes! And they even had their own loudspeaker system! But as we drew nearer, I caught my breath. Something was horribly wrong.

“Murderers!” “Shame on you!” “Murderers!” the loudspeaker thundered. The hateful speech was matched by their banners, now in full view. “Black Lives Matter Are Thugs.” “AIDS: Cure or Judgment?” “Got AIDS?” We hurried on past. We didn’t know what to say. We were ashamed.

The loudspeaker of hate kept going for hours. We could hear it blocks away, despite a crowd around us estimated at more than a half million souls. Around this pocket of condemnation, six or seven concentric circles of women had formed, chanting their own responses: “Love Trumps Hate!” “Black Lives Matter!” “God is Love!” It seems they spent their entire day in an uneven struggle to match amplified vituperation from the handful of religious prosecutors.

Daughter of Latino immigrants addresses the march

I’m afraid that this was what hundreds of thousands got to see of the Prince of Peace that day. This was their image of the Friend of Sinners – sinners like us. Screaming epithets at women marching for their vision of a better world.

No doubt, there were thousands of faithful Christians among our fellow marchers, acting in faith without religious display. But what might the non-Christian world have gleaned about Jesus at the march? Or at least, what did they learn about the kind of people they would have to become, should they ever decide to follow him?

I think that they would be surprised, if they ever read the biblical accounts of the real Jesus. The real Jesus defined his mission in the first sermon he ever preached. “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,” he began, “to preach good news to the poor.” The poor would be Jesus’ people. But he added more: freedom for prisoners; sight for the blind; and release for the oppressed. The poor, the prisoner, the blind, the oppressed. Care for them would be the marks of his mission. (Luke 4:14-21)

After an election campaign that gave center stage to the darkest impulses of the American soul, I had hoped our presence would accomplish something redemptive. The women marching around me had endured a season stained by racism, xenophobia, sexual assault, lust and lechery, demonization of the press, military jingoism, torture, hatred of sojourners and a parallel universe of imaginary facts.

And we had hoped in some small way to offer the tiniest dose of healing to a world of people who can no longer recognize Jesus – Jesus of the losers, Jesus of the refugees, of the hungry, the sick and the abused.

Did we hope for too much? Maybe we did. But I cannot stop hoping.

Trump’s Cabinet and Invincible “Doubt”

I’ve been doing this for a long time now. Ten years ago, it was clear enough that human pollution was jeopardizing a livable future for my children. Clear enough to lead me to commit before God that I would dedicate what remained of my life to prevent or mitigate tragedy.

There was no honest debate about the facts at the time. The earth was warming. From a scientific perspective, the pace of warming was terrifying. The graph was, in fact, a “hockey stick.” Worse yet, we were pouring more and more of the gases that cause the heating into the atmosphere. For centuries, the atmospheric chemistry had been well understood. More of these gases would cause more warming. And with thicker and thicker blankets of earth-warming gases every year, we weren’t just committing the earth to a continuation of last year’s warming, melting and disruption, we were accelerating the pace.

CO2 concentrations off the charts.      Source: NASA

Then my grandchildren began to come along, adding new urgency to my task. We began to see new record after new record: a hotter world, year after year; faster polar ice melting; accelerated rise in sea levels; more and more extreme weather events; massive die-offs of marine ecosystems; mass human migration from regions beset by epic droughts; a spike in billion-dollar storm events.

It became clearer than ever that I’d chosen the right fight.

But always, always, there were opponents. And they weren’t a few scattered voices. They were everywhere. Certainly, dominating the Republican narrative. But also, the evangelical movement. You’re an alarmist. You’re a tax-happy liberal. This is a big hoax. How else can scientists get rich? Relax, God is in control.

Pruitt, Tillerson and Perry.         Source: Common Dreams

When I started, the claim was that global warming simply wasn’t happening. It was “the world’s biggest hoax.” Scientists were “cooking the books.” When outright rejection of temperature records became completely untenable, then those same records were selectively cited to argue for the “warming pause.”  Yes, it once was warming, but that’s over now.

Of course, that’s now impossible to argue, given three straight years of off-the-charts global heat and polar melting. So the “doubters” changed their tactic. Sure, it’s warming, they said. But no one knows why. Things go up; things go down. Change is inevitable. No one knows why for sure.

But sooner or later, the scientific community would be heard. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, NASA and NOAA all made it clear, as did every major scientific society in the world: greenhouse gases from fossil fuels are the main contributors to climatic disruptions we’re seeing all over the globe.

For a time, the “doubters” muddled by, insisting that they were not scientists, and couldn’t be expected to answer basic questions on the topic. But this only lasted for a couple of years, till it began to dawn on people that they were also not oncologists, but still got treated for cancer when diagnosed.

And that brings us to today’s new talking points being rolled out by the Trump transition team. Scott Pruitt for EPA, Rick Perry for Energy, Rex Tillerson for State: they’re all reading from the same script:

Sure, climate change is real. Sure, greenhouse gases are a big part of the problem. BUT, we don’t know how much, or what the future will hold. We don’t know for sure the best way to fix the problem. So, we need to keep debating this.

Let’s keep talking, because no one is positively certain what the future will hold.

What’s the common thread in all these arguments over the years? For an economy addicted to fossil fuels, we’ve got wonderful news: We don’t need to do anything. We can stop the global efforts at climate action, while we talk. We can stop the transition to a clean electric grid, while we talk. We can stop helping flooding and drought-stricken countries, while we talk.

And we can talk for a long, long time.

Please, dear friends: Don’t let them talk while our Father’s world – and our children’s only home – flirts with tipping points to runaway heating. What to do? Start by joining Climate Caretakers, and begin to learn, pray and act to protect the creation.

Exxon’s Chairman to Lead Us to a Clean-Energy Future?

Really?

We didn’t think so either. So we’ve written every member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Dear Senator:

God’s world is in danger from our addiction to fossil fuels. And so I thank you in advance for your leadership in solving the climate crisis we are causing. I ask that you please subject Rex Tillerson, the Chairman of oil giant ExxonMobil, to the most rigorous questioning on his plans to address climate change, and his plans for leadership in strengthening the Paris Accord and raising our levels of ambition in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Please find from him what he believes about the impact of burning all remaining proved reserves of energy companies; what percentage of reserves can be burned while keeping the climate below 2 degrees of warming; what would be the impact on ExxonMobil if only that percentage of its reserves could be produced.

(Spoiler alert: Only about 20 percent of proved reserves can be produced without tipping the world into runaway overheating. Exxon has $800 billion of proved reserves in the ground today. If they had to leave all but 20% of those reserves in the ground, that would be a write-off of $460 billion, or around three times their total net worth, and 20 years’ worth of income.)

In light of this, would you please find out why Mr. Tillerson has continued spending $23 million per year at Exxon to find yet more un-producible oil and gas?

In the end, it seems impossible to me that the world’s leading oil man could lead the transition to a survivable climate, but I would encourage you to lead the charge in finding this out.

Sincerely, …

 

If you want to write or call, here are the members of the committee, with links to their contact information. Check that: Please, write or call! Feel free to cut and paste this letter!

Republicans:

Democrats:

Oppose Trump’s Appointment of Scott Pruitt to Head the EPA

We have just signed a letter making its way around internet sites stating our opposition to the nomination of Scott Pruitt to become the new Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. This is possibly the worst nomination of any seen in a lifetime. The letter itself explains why:

ADD YOUR SIGNATURE

Dear U.S. Senators,

We … urge your strong, unqualified, and robust opposition to Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s appointment to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt has a record of advocating against any and all protections for our water, air and climate. Allowing him to lead the EPA would not only be a disaster for the environment, but for every person in the United States who drinks water or breathes air.

We could write a book detailing Pruitt’s anti-environmental views – he has bragged about repeatedly suing the agency he is now being asked to run – but here are a few highlights:

  • As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt campaigned in support of a ballot measure that would have made it virtually impossible for the state to regulate pollution caused by factory farms – pollution which poisons surrounding communities’ air and drinking water. Fortunately, Oklahoma voters have the good sense to reject this measure.
  • Pruitt is a climate denier who has said that the link between human activity and climate change is “far from settled.” He is part of an effort to shield Exxon and other energy companies from accountability over years of misleading the public about the science around climate change.
  • Pruitt opposes the ability of the EPA to regulate carbon as a pollutant, something that is essential to combatting climate change.
  • Pruitt has opposed the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rule, which strengthened regulations aimed at protecting water from runoff pollution.
  • Pruitt even opposes protecting the environment around our national parks. In 2014, Pruitt unsuccessfully sued the EPA over its Regional Haze Rule, a law designed to foster cleaner air at national parks by reducing coal-fired power plant emissions.
  • As earthquakes caused by fracking and waste disposal have ravaged Oklahoma, Pruitt has done nothing to protect the people of his state or hold the fossil fuel industry accountable.
  • None of this should come as a surprise, given that Pruitt has accepted over $300,000 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry.

As the above record indicates, Pruitt as EPA Administrator would be a disaster for the environment. But it’s worth noting that environmental harm also means human harm. When water is polluted by factory farms, it means that people living downstream get poisoned. When air is polluted by power plants and refineries, it means people living nearby get poisoned. When water systems are allowed to deteriorate and there is insufficient federal response – like in Flint, Michigan – it means people get poisoned. When fossil fuel companies are allowed to drill and dispose of waste with impunity causing earthquakes, it means people’s homes are damaged and working people have to pay more for insurance. And when climate change is denied and allowed to accelerate, it means more superstorms, which means significant property damage and possible loss of life for people living in coastal areas.

The environment should not be a partisan issue, and someone with Scott Pruitt’s record should not be allowed anywhere near the EPA, let alone put in a position to lead it. We urge you to not only vote against Pruitt’s nomination, but actively use all the power of your office and position to block it. We urge you to lobby your colleagues on both sides of the aisle to oppose his nomination, to speak out in the media highlighting his egregious environmental track record, and use all procedural means at your disposal to block Scott Pruitt from becoming EPA Administrator.

ADD YOUR SIGNATURE

Thank you for signing! But there’s one more thing: Here’s a list of the Senators whose committee will be considering Pruitt’s nomination to the EPA. Please call just two of them. If any are from your state, by all means, call them. But regardless, please make two calls. You’re entitled to make your voice known to committee members. You’ll be leaving a message with a staffer, or on a recording machine. If you’re not certain what to say, try this:

Senator [Name], Thank you for your service on the committee to consider the nomination of Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator. I urge you to vote AGAINST confirmation. Pruitt in the EPA would be the fox in the henhouse. Our communities and our children deserve clean air, land and water. [My own community … provide any personal context.] Pruitt’s history makes clear that he would do great harm to all efforts to achieve a sustainable, clean, safe environment. Please, I urge you, vote against his confirmation, and take all steps within your power to see to it that he is not confirmed. Thank you.

Here are links to every member of the committee that must rule on Scott Pruitt’s nomination before it goes to the full Senate for a vote. Call two today! And thank you!

Majority

Minority

Climate Orphans: What You Did For Fokandraza, You Did For Me

“As Donald Trump Denies Climate Change, These Kids Die of It.”

That’s the title of an article written last week by Nicholas Kristof, op-ed columnist for the New York Times. For the article and related video, Kristof travels to Madagascar, the enormous island off the coast of eastern Africa, pictured as a lush paradise in the popular animated children’s movie series. Now, southern Madagascar is little more than a desert wasteland. Major rivers are reduced to muddy puddles. Forests and farm fields are now dust spotted with cactus, where starving children nibble around sharp thorns to put something in their bellies.

So, meet two little boys, Fokandraza and Foriavi, among the millions now dubbed “climate orphans” – their parents having left long ago to find work and money in desperate hopes of feeding the family. They live with their aunt, who can’t afford to feed her own children, let alone Fokandraza and Foriavi.

“If I were smart, I’d go and find a better life,” says the starving boys’ aunt. “But these kids are so sweet, I can’t leave them.”

Kristof asks the boys: “Have you eaten anything today?”

Fokandraza’s stick-thin arms hang limply at his sides. “No.”

Kristof: “Have you drunk water today?”

“No.”

Foriavi can’t even stay awake during the interview.

Kristof: “I don’t blame the aunt. The situation is more my fault than hers. Here’s the paradox of climate change: It’s mainly caused by affluent people. People like us. And those who suffer the most are the poor and vulnerable.”

So maybe we don’t care all that much about climate change here in affluent America. Our president elect certainly doesn’t, and has promised to gut all global and national efforts to deal with the crisis. But now we know Fokandraza and Foriavi, the faces of a world facing runaway climate chaos.

Remember their names: Fokandraza and Foriavi. We will certainly hear them again, when the Son of Man comes again in his glory. “What you did for Fokandraza and Foriavi, you did for me. And what you did not do for them, you did not do for me.” (Adapted from Matthew 25: 31-46)

How will we answer, brothers and sisters? How will we answer?

What to do? For starters, go to the Climate Caretakers website and take the climate pledge — to learn, pray and act on climate. Every week, you’ll receive an email helping you in your prayers. This week, you’ll be praying for Fokandraza and Foriavi, and for Donald Trump.

Standing Rock Reflections: On Courage, Cowardice and Criminal Activity

Earlier this month, I returned from several wintry days at the Oceti Sakowin Camp of the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota. What might drive an aging Jersey boy from the comforts of home to the frozen buttes of the Dakotas? Pretty simple, actually. I was delivering warm clothing and supplies, praying with those who call themselves “water protectors,” and to serving in any way that the Lakota elders might direct.

It sounds so mundane, doesn’t it? Prayer, warm clothes and a bit of labor. There was a problem, however. It was – I was told – a criminal enterprise. I was on my way to commit a crime.

There could be penalties for my misdeeds. But I could deal with them, I thought: a few thousand dollars of fines, a couple days or so in jail, some spots on my record. I’ve been arrested before. Not serious problems. I’m old, and white. In America I’d be okay.

But in the days leading up to my visit, reports began to surface of brutal police tactics. Militarized units were training water cannons in sub-freezing winter conditions on unarmed women and men in prayer. Pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets were being fired at them. A concussion grenade nearly blew the arm off of a young woman, who, like me, had come from afar to support the resistance. As I felt my way across South Dakota through bitter winds and unremitting snowfall, I began to picture myself under the boot of the men in black Kevlar.

Police fire tear gas point-blank at water protectors in river ceremony.

North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple had just issued an executive order mandating evacuation of the very encampment that I was struggling to reach. Not only that, his order threatened criminal penalties against anyone heading for the evacuation zone, or even “encouraging” others to remain. Word was out on Facebook that the county sheriff was fining incoming helpers $1,000 for carrying supplies to the camps. My car’s trunk was packed with scores of winter hats, gloves, thermal socks and more. This would be hard to explain, I was sure.

I told myself that Gov. Dalrymple’s order couldn’t really be legal in a free society. It’s a crime to bring help to unarmed people? Impossible. Furthermore, some of the encampments were actually legal, located on the Standing Rock Reservation. Who could say whether I was headed to a legal camp, or an illegal one?

I began to rehearse the denials in my head. “I’m going to the Sacred Stone Camp of the Standing Rock Sioux. That’s perfectly legal,” I muttered to the silence of the car around me.

It was totally unconvincing. Maybe I was lying. Maybe I really would opt for the legal encampment. How could I know for sure?

My musings were suddenly shattered by the flashing strobe of police lights in the rear-view. Oh God. Here we go. The tires crunched as I pulled over into the thick snow on the shoulder.

“You know, sir, you were doing 43 in a 30 zone?”

“No officer. I’m sorry. I guess I lost my concentration.”

Speeding. A mere traffic violation! I sighed deeply with relief. $85 and a ten-minute delay, and I was on my way again. Of course! This is still SOUTH Dakota. They’re not really gunning for us down here, are they?

I stopped for gas and a sandwich. Rumor had it that these places were on the lookout for people like me. Strangers with coastal accents and out-of-state plates. They would be sending word to the local sheriff. I came and went quickly, and spoke to no one.

Several hours later, I made it to the Standing Rock encampments. Tents, teepees and sheds stretched as far as I could see. My first stop was Sacred Stone, the legal camp. The entrance was down a steep embankment, glazed in ice from a three-day blizzard. I looked at my rental car, a small two-wheel-drive sedan, and then back at the chute into Sacred Stone.

“Is there easier access anywhere else?” I asked the gatekeepers. They pointed to the far side of the bridge across the Cannon Ball River.

“Oceti Sakowin. The main camp.”

I figured I’d never make it back up the slippery bank out of Sacred Stone. So I pulled slowly across the bridge. I was now breaking the law. Trespassing on Army Corps land. I was going where Governor Dalrymple had forbidden. Oceti Sakowin, the illegal camp, was now my home.

Unarmed Standing Rock protesters shot with water cannons in sub-freezing conditions.

On the ridge ahead of me, the reddish glare of construction lights cast an eerie glow on the low clouds and relentless snow. I was at the very edge of the Dakota Access Pipeline construction. This was the front line of resistance. Helicopters crossed the camp overhead, and returned to re-cross every few minutes.

After dark, I huddled alone in my tiny tent to the voice of the local sheriff on his loudspeaker. “You are breaking the law. You say you are peaceful, but you don’t know the definition of ‘peace.’ You can’t be peaceful while you defy the law. You are lawbreakers.”

North Dakota’s incarnation of Tokyo Rose carried on this dystopian serenade for about an hour. But he was armed, in the dark, and I had no idea how near.

I have been reading a book titled “Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow,” a fascinating account of Christian pastors in the Third Reich who stood up to the Nazis. Some survived the war. Many did not. Their bravery is deeply inspiring to me. I had assumed that bravery comes naturally.

It does not. As I lay in my tent, my spirit wavered. Am I really a criminal? Why did I decide to cross the Cannon Ball, anyway? Do I really have to confront the pepper spray and rubber bullets tomorrow? Can’t I help in some, you know, more appropriate way? After all, I’m way older than most people here.

Most conservative Christians I know take a dim view of law-breaking resistance. We are okay with the rebels of an earlier age. John Adams, Paul Revere and George Washington – we practically idolize these icons of our nation. And we have no quarrel with Corrie Ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as they stood against the murderous Nazis. But Rev. Martin Luther King, or Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, or Fr. Daniel Berrigan – these contemporary outlaws of conscience – make us a little uneasy. Don’t they know about “submitting themselves to governing authorities?” This is a democracy; why don’t they change things from the inside?

And yet, even a cursory reading of the Gospels confronts us with a Savior who, time and again, paid little heed to the prevailing law. He violated the Sabbath; he dined with traitors; he proclaimed a kingdom in direct challenge to the emperor of his age. He even declared that he had a counter-weapon that would overwhelm the power of tyrants: You may think you can kill me, but I will rise again from the dead. Your one special trick – the power to kill – has now been rendered obsolete.

Is it really surprising that virtually all of his disciples ended up on the wrong side of the law?

Pepper spray victim receiving treatment from Sioux camp medics

And now, we consider the phalanx of powers arrayed against much that is sacred in our day. What will soon be the presidency, the Congress, and the judiciary – all aligned against almost anything resembling “good news to the poor,” Jesus’ self-proclaimed mission. All committed to the unfettered exploitation of God’s creation. All intent on casting off constraints on polluters. All eager to undermine global efforts to resist ecological chaos.

And against this massive force, can we possibly maintain a degree of loyalty to Messiah without risking the wrath of our nation’s law? Can we be faithful to God and neighbor while always playing by the rules of those in power?

In earlier days, pioneering leaders have modelled for us new methods of peaceful resistance. Gandhi, MLK, Mandela and Walesa have shown us what is possible when courage displaces violence. Today, I believe that the Standing Rock Sioux have taken their place among them in the pantheon of peaceful resistance.

Prayer, courage, compassion and kindness as tools of change. It’s on display at Standing Rock. Can we find a way to bottle it for use among the rest of us? By God’s grace, we must try.

Prior Standing Rock posts:

Why is the Electoral College a Concern for Earth-Keepers?

What we Americans think about the Electoral College is – now as always – almost certainly driven by what it does to our party’s electoral prospects. This year, Trump won the Electoral College, but millions more people voted for Clinton. So it’s almost certainly predictable: If we went for Trump, then we’re for the Electoral College; if we preferred Clinton, we hate it.

But for earth keepers, the arguments for and against Electoral College are pretty serious concerns. That’s because a strong majority of Americans are concerned about God’s creation and threats to its health and survival. About two-thirds of us now say we’re worried about climate change. Lopsided majorities of Democrats feel strongly about climate action. About half of Republicans agree. And yet, our electoral system has given us a president elect who calls climate change a hoax and “bullsh**.” He’s sworn to reverse his predecessor’s environmental policies, and to disrupt the global climate agreement sealed in Paris last year among 195 nations. He’s stacked his cabinet with fossil-fuel advocates, even picking the chairman of the world’s biggest oil company for its most powerful position – Secretary of State.

So no matter which party we might like best – or dislike least – it’s worth asking honestly if this is really what democracy looks like. Does the Electoral College really make sense? Much has been written about the Electoral College’s roots in slave-holding states, and these accounts can be useful for historians. But let’s not even go there. Today, does a system like the Electoral College make sense for any of the world’s democracies? Here are some factors to consider.

The Electoral College makes Presidential voting almost meaningless for most Americans

“Sure I’d vote, but I’m from California.”

You’ve heard something like this from your friends in solid-Red or solid-Blue states before, haven’t you? What difference did it make if I pulled the lever for Hillary or Trump in New York, Texas, Indiana or Illinois? Let alone California? All those states are going solidly one way or the other. In fact, 30 states representing 320 Electoral College votes are all considered solid for one party or the other (see complete list below). Presidential candidates don’t campaign in those states; they don’t listen to voters there; they don’t bother getting out the vote there. And once elected, they don’t lose much sleep over the interests of those citizens either.

Real Clear Politics highlights president-deciding states in gray.

If you’re among the huge majority of Americans living in one of these non-swing states, presidential democracy is a spectator event for you. You’re not part of the conversation. Instead, you’re just watching voters in 14 “swing states” to see what they’ll do to choose the next president. Thanks for your interest, but voters in Florida will handle this one for you. And in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia (plus seven other small states).

So we lament low voter turnout in our country, but ignore the obvious: Our system removes most of the incentives for going to the polls. It’s the Electoral College, folks.

The Electoral College makes my vote count more than your vote

In the U.S. we have about one elector for every 600,000 people. Californians have a somewhat worse deal. Their 38 million people have only one elector for every 692,000 people. Those extra 92,000 Californians for each elector simply don’t count. With 55 electoral votes, that’s about five million Californians who really don’t matter. Too bad for California.

But North Dakota has a much sweeter deal. Of course, their tiny population – smaller than the cities of Charlotte or Columbus – gets to send two Senators to Washington. Good for them. But their presidential votes also have an outsized impact. They get one elector for every 250,000 people. That’s huge. One vote in North Dakota is worth about three votes in California. (Actually, about 2.7 votes.) But would anyone ever design a system like that in a modern democracy?

The Electoral College hands unelected officials the keys to the presidency

On Monday, the Electoral College convened to cast their votes, sealing the win for Donald Trump, as expected. But Trump and Clinton weren’t the only ones who tallied votes. John Kasich got a vote. So did the aging libertarian, Ron Paul. Retired Secretary of State Colin Powell got three votes, even though he was never a candidate. Finally, Bernie Sanders and tribal leader Faith Spotted Eagle each notched a vote.

The electors who cast votes like these have traditionally been called “faithless electors.” They may be faithless, but there’s nothing illegal or even reprehensible about what they’ve done. In fact, many Americans were hoping for a revolt this year, banking upon the Electoral College to nullify the election results. It didn’t happen, of course, nor has it overturned an election during our country’s history. But this year’s election warns us that precedent means very little in our day. We could easily see the day when large numbers of electors decide to thwart the will of voters. This would be perfectly legal.

It will take a transformation of heart among Americans for us to take our place among the nations in caring for God’s creation. But for starters, why don’t we take another look at how we choose our most important officials? Maybe we should consider something a little more like, well, democracy?

Solid Blue:

  • California (55)
  • New York (29)
  • Illinois (20)
  • New Jersey (14)
  • Washington (12)
  • Massachusetts (11)
  • Maryland (10)
  • Hawaii (4)
  • Rhode Island (4)
  • Vermont (3)
  • District Of Columbia (3)
  • Delaware (3)

Solid Red:

  • Texas (38)
  • Indiana (11)
  • Tennessee (11)
  • Missouri (10)
  • Alabama (9)
  • Louisiana (8)
  • Kentucky (8)
  • Oklahoma (7)
  • Mississippi (6)
  • Arkansas (6)
  • Utah (6)
  • Kansas (6)
  • West Virginia (5)
  • Nebraska (4)
  • Idaho (4)
  • North Dakota (3)
  • Montana (3)
  • South Dakota (3)
  • Alaska (3)
  • Nebraska CD2 (1)