Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thank God for the laity

A number of my FaceBook friends have been posting things they are thankful for in the days of November running up to Thanksgiving day. Today, I'm posting that I'm thankful for the laity.

Today, the Church of England rejected the women bishops measure in its General Synod. It passed with the required two-thirds majority in the house of bishops and in the house of clergy, but fell six votes short in the house of laity. All three houses needed to concur for passage. It will not come up for a final vote again for another five years.

This post is not really about the ordination of women, per se. But to explain briefly why this is important, sacraments are visible signs of invisible grace and "sure and certain means by which we receive that grace." That certainty is guaranteed by an unfailing use of the same matter, form, intention, and minister (see the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral). By changing the matter and/or minister, the surety and certainty of sacramental grace is no longer guaranteed. If the validity of a priestly ordination is in question, the all the sacraments they administer (save baptism) are in question. The significance of having women bishops as opposed to just women priests is that you can't just go by whether the person in a collar is a man or a woman, you have to know who ordained that person and who ordained that bishop, and who ordained that bishop, and so on.

It is significant that this vote occurred today, on the feast of St. Edmund the Martyr. He was a boy king in ninth century England. Danish armies invaded in 870, burning monasteries and churches, plundering villages, and killing hundreds. Upon reaching East Anglia, the Danish leaders offered Edmund a share of their plundered treasure if he would continue as a figurehead king by  acknowledging their supremacy and forbid the practice of the Christian faith. Wealth, security for his people, a royal throne--and all he had to do was stop practicing the Christian faith. Edmund's bishops urged him to accept the deal. But Edmund refused.

This 29 year old young man gathered his small army and bravely fought the Danish invaders. Predictably, he was captured. He was also tortured in hopes that he would renounce Christ and the faith. He did not. All the bishops urged him to, but this layman said, "No!" He was then shot through with arrows and beheaded for the cause of Christ on this day 1142 years ago.

Thank God for the laity. This wasn't the first time that the laity have saved the day when the clergy failed. If it weren't for the laity, the church would have long ago become Gnostic or Arian or who knows what. St. Edmund the Martyr, pray for us.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Crunching more re-election numbers

Now it is the day after and we know that President Obama secured re-election by at least 303 electors (Florida still has yet to be called--maybe they should have to sit the next one out until they get their act together). Although national polls had a dead heat and swing state polls had him only slightly ahead, it was enough for Obama to pull it off against all odds, historically speaking.

The statistics are not just unusual, they are downright mystifying. Much of the focus on the history of presidential elections is that no president since FDR as been re-elected with employment so high (until now). But the really striking thing is that no president has EVER been elected to a second term by receiving fewer total votes. FDR did get slightly fewer votes in his third and fourth terms compared with the previous cycles, but he was still up 4.5 million and 2.8 million compared with his first election.

Some presidents have gotten more votes and lost, but none had gotten fewer votes and won. Presidents have been re-elected by growing their vote count, usually by the millions in the past century. Eisenhower expanded his total by 1.5 million, Nixon by a whopping 15.4 million, Reagan by 10.6 million, Clinton by 2.6 million, and G. W. Bush by 11.6 million.

I think some votes are still coming in, so the final tally might change, but not by much. And it remains to be seen how the fallout from Hurricane Sandy affected turnout. At this point, Obama received 9.4 million FEWER votes than in 2008 (and only 138,119 more votes than John McCain). And yet the population of the country increased by about 10.4 million in the past four years. That means a whopping 19% of Americans cast a ballot for our next president--a big drop from his previous percentage of 23.5% in 2008, but not nearly as low as Clinton's 17.5% in 1996.

It is historical. It is remarkable. It is, to coin a phrase, unpresidented.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Crunching the re-election numbers

If you will indulge me, I've been looking over the figures for second term presidential elections in my spare time (ha!) lately. To me, the subject is quite fascinating.

If President Obama wins re-election to a second term, it is generally agreed that he will most certainly be the first president in American history to do so without increasing his number of popular votes and probably the first since Wilson narrowly won a second term in 1916 not to increase his number of votes in the electoral college (who dropped from 435 in 1912 to 277 in 1916). Which is to say that an Obama victory 2012 is expected to be much closer than it was 2008.

Although a few presidents have lost a re-election bid while increasing their number of votes (Martin van Buren in 1840, Grover Cleveland in 1888, and Wm. H. Harrison in 1892), none have won while obtaining fewer votes.

Presidents elected to a second terms typically expand their number of total popular votes by a good margin. Eisenhower expanded his total by 1.5 million, Nixon by a whopping 15.4 million, Reagan by 10.6 million, Clinton by 2.6 million, and G. W. Bush by 11.6 million. Will Barack Obama get more votes this time around than he did in 2008? In that election, Obama received 69.5 million votes and 365 electors.

Of course the anomaly in all this is four-termer FDR. In his bid for second term, Roosevelt followed the pattern of expanding his popular votes by 4.9 million and his number of electors rose from 472 to 523. His third and fourth term bids saw dwindling returns, but he did maintain more popular votes than he first received back in 1932.

The silent majority?

In 1969, President Nixon popularized the expression "silent majority" when he appealed to the "great silent majority of my fellow Americans" who were not out protesting the Vietnam War. What intrigues me is that when it comes to the most basic participation in the American experiment in democracy is that there literally IS a silent majority.

This Tuesday (including early votes also), a minority of a mere quarter and no more than a third of Americans will cast a ballot for the next president. Although voter turnout has been up in the past two cycles (61.6% in 2008), turnout has usually hovered just above 50%, and in 1996 voter turnout was actually at 49%.

But that's not all of us, that's just a percentage of registered voters. Now there are some Americans who are not old enough to vote, and there are some who are ineligible because they have not been naturalized as citizens or they have lost the right to vote by committing a felony. But there are also just a lot of Americans who decline to participate and never even register to vote, much less cast a ballot.

In 2008, there were roughly 129.4 million votes cast out of a total US population of 304.3 million. That's means only 42.5% of Americans cast a ballot in 2008; in 2004, it was 41.3%; and in 2000, it was merely 35.9%. In 1996, only 17.5% of Americans voted to put President Clinton back into office!

Do we deserve meaningful change, reform, etc., if the majority of us remain silent?

Saints striving with God

This is my sermon from All Saints' Sunday, given on 4 November 2012 at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Hamilton, Texas.

This scene from The Apostle comes to mind when I think of fighting with God in prayer.