Why I wasted my vote

Last week I voted. At least I thought I did. I voted by fax, and apparently the bottoms of all the faxes got cut off because either my fax machine or the voting office’s fax machine can’t handle paper as long as the Florida ballot (8.5×17). So yesterday I mailed it in from Canada, which means my ballot will count but won’t get there for over a week after the election. I have few illusions that it will swing the vote or that they will still be counting votes ten days after, but crazier things have been known to happen in Florida elections.

I’ll admit I wasted my vote. After all, a vote for any but the two main candidates is a wasted vote, right? Perhaps living in Canada has given me the strange idea that other parties are legitimate votes, and that if you don’t like the two main candidates, you simply vote for someone else. A true wasted vote would have been for my favorite candidate, Evan McMullin. Apparently Florida got tired of counting votes for Mickie Mouse (who will likely have another strong year), and now doesn’t count any write-ins that are not officially registered. McMullin missed the cut, so I decided I couldn’t in good faith cast my vote straight into the circular file.

But I did vote, and I didn’t have to close my eyes and hold my nose as I did it. If enough of my countrymen did the same thing, today could get very interesting.

So why did I vote for someone who has no chance of winning? It comes down to leadership, so I thought I’d explain myself on the Back Row Leader. A few quick factors I considered, and then my primary concern:

  • You cannot be a leader without curiosity. Leaders are readers, and safety is found in an abundance of counsellors (Prov 11:14). Trump has an appalling lack of curiosity.
  • Both candidates are strategic and calculating, and they have a long record of getting ahead in either the political arena or the business arena by negotiating, compromising and telling parties what they need to hear. We don’t often see the real Clinton behind her carefully-scripted responses, and Trump has strung along a lot of dissimilar supporters by the use of innuendo and vague platitudes that they can freely conclude that he is one of them. This includes evangelicals.
  • Thanks to wikileaks and the many investigations, we know more of Clinton than we want to. But the lack of knowledge about Trump scares me. Why won’t he release his taxes? Why won’t he say anything negative about Putin? He hasn’t established any reason for me to give him the benefit of the doubt.

To be honest, all of these are minor factors. My primary concern is character.

In every leadership development program I’ve run, I’ve started with the premise that if you develop someone with bad character, you enable their abuse of power. How much bigger a concern when you’re talking about the most powerful office on the planet!

We know both have failing marks in morality, but there’s one distinction for me. Character is particularly important if there is no track record or experience to tell us how someone is going to lead or make decisions.

And character is critical when one candidate so clearly relies on instincts. That kind of leader can be erratic, wear out followers who jump at his whims and build dependence on him as the sole problem solver. With no clear ties to either party, Trump will chart his own course, whether it was what he said in his campaign promises or not.

That’s why character is my number one factor. A president with bad character who goes with gut instinct is a scary proposition.

Let me close with a word to my fellow evangelicals. It’s one thing to recognize the flaws of both candidates but pragmatically decide you need to cast your vote for one or the other in spite of the character issues. It’s another to change your beliefs because of the candidates. If you spoke out against Bill Clinton’s morality, then you need to do the same with Trump. To decide that character is no longer important because this time the candidate is in your party is disingenuous hypocrisy. I was sickened to see an article in Christianity Today online that says evangelical Christians have been doing just that. Evangelicals are now the single group least likely to vote based on morality! As Ed Stetzer points out, that’s the textbook definition to selling your soul.

I’m praying for our country today, but I’m also praying for fellow believers who are facing an agonizing decision.

Advertisements

A time for repentance

The video footage everyone is talking about since Friday has been a tipping point in more than one way. Setting the political mess aside, it has been encouraging to see many Christian leaders wake from their slumber and silence. I pray that this will be a turning point in the life of the Church – the death of Christendom and a move to embracing our status as a church in exile. It’s a rude awakening to have no candidates that represent our position. Canada experienced it last year; now it’s America’s turn. The good news is that the Church thrives in situations like this.

The first step in awakening is repentance. I recently rediscovered Job 31, near the end of a frustrating discourse where Job’s friends were convinced that he had brought his immense suffering upon himself; surely it was because he had sinned in some area. So in chapter 31, Job searches his heart with an inventory of sins he had perhaps committed. His list provides a plum line for today’s culture and for us:

  • Did I walk with falsehood and deceit?
  • Did I covet or stray into sin?
  • Did I conceal my sin and guilt as a hypocrite?
  • Did I look lustfully at women?
  • Did I commit adultery in thought or deed?
  • Did I deny justice to employees?
  • Did I defraud or mistreat my laborers?
  • Did I take resources or land without payment?
  • Did I ignore the needs of or fail to share with the poor, homeless, widow or orphan?
  • Did I use influence to take advantage of the unfortunate?
  • Did I put trust in money or boast about great wealth?
  • Did I worship anything but God?
  • Did I rejoice at my enemy’s misfortune or curse a rival?
  • Did I fail to provide hospitality for strangers far from home?

In applying this list to today’s context, it’s clear that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both have much to repent of. No doubt Gary Johnson and Jill Stein do as well. Likewise for Justin Trudeau, Tom Mulcair and Rona Ambrose in Canada. No politician measures up.

For that matter, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party have much to repent of. No party platform is “Christian;” none align with this plum line. Both embrace what the Bible calls sin.

But God doesn’t call nations and leaders to repent as much as he calls believers to repent. The U.S. and Canadian Church have much to repent of. One of our sins is ranking sins and assigning weights to certain ones as if all don’t fall short of the standard (Rom 3:23). This list is obviously not exhaustive, but it is pretty thorough, and it is a scathing rebuke of America’s view of culturally-acceptable sins.

Another North American sin is to put our trust in anything but the Lord our God (Ps 20:7). No political party or leader is our hope. God alone is our saviour, anchor and confidence.

Yet another is to fail to stand in the breach for our nation. In Ezekiel 22:30, God finds fault with the believers of the day when none advocate for mercy for their nation. God is therefore not dissuaded from destroying them. Job was a righteous man who offered sacrifices every day for his kids, in case they had “sinned and cursed God in their hearts” (Job 1:5). Likewise, in the first chapter of Nehemiah, this cupbearer and soon-to-be-governor confessed the sins of his people and then owned his own part in the nation’s sin (Neh 1:5-7).

As Martin Luther put it in the first of his 95 theses,

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

Christians, we need to repent, plead for our nations and stand in the breach for them.

As you pray, I encourage you to use the Scriptures listed above, or any of the following:
2 Chronicles 7:14
1 John 1:8-9
Exodus 32:32, Psalm 106:23


Part 1: A void of leadership

Part 2: A time for repentance
Part 3: An opportunity for Millennials

An opportunity for Millennials

In April we passed the point where the largest generation alive in the United States is no longer the Boomers. For some time, Millennials have been the most influential generation for marketing, television and shopping. Now you Millennials are the largest generation, and you have a power you haven’t really embraced.

I understand that there are at least 75 million of you. I understand that 51% of you voted in 2008. This year, for the first time, all of you are of voting age.

ballot-2It takes about 60 million votes to get a majority in a presidential election. That means that, if enough of you engage, whoever the Millennials vote for will likely win this election. You have clout you haven’t taken advantage of in presidential politics.

I understand from the surveys that you’re not crazy about our two candidates, either of which would be one of our two oldest presidents. You’re repulsed more than average by the corruption and scandals on both sides. You’re savvy enough to question campaign promises, hidden agendas and the power of the parties.

You are also the social media generation. It’s your first language. I’ve watched social media campaigns rally huge support behind a meme or hashtag or initiative. What if you were to direct that energy to Presidential politics?

You have an opportunity. There are only two candidates on the ballot that have a real chance of winning, but the record disapproval rates of those candidates likely mean a record number of write-in votes. But without coordination, those votes will be distributed.

Bottom line: with a little social media coordination, you Millennials could pick the next president and get him or her into the White House. Who’s willing to step up and get your generation behind a new candidate? You’ll have my vote, and I suspect a lot of my fellow GenX voters will follow suit.

There’s not much time, as almost 500,000 votes have already been cast.

Part 1: A void of leadership
Part 2: A time for repentance
Part 3: An opportunity for Millennials

A void of leadership

This has been quite the year for leadership. Near the end of July, in the middle of violence between black men and police, Stephen Collinson nailed my thoughts in this CNN headline:

Who can make it stop? Is there a leader who can stop the chaos and heal America?

For a student of leadership like me, it was a summer chock full of case studies from all of Canada’s neighbours. I realize I’m a little late to the game, but I want to weigh in with the back row leader’s perspective in a three-part series.

Full disclosure: I’m a dual citizen, and a former Republican who is planning to vote absentee in the U.S. election, not because I like the choices I’ve been dealt but because I don’t want to abdicate on my responsibilities as a naturalized American. I’m also a child of Europe, in possession of an uncompleted Irish passport application and with similar eligibility in Britain. I really don’t see a need for four passports, but I can’t hide the fact that I do feel loyalty to all four. That said, I’m an observer of much of what I’m commenting on, so I recognize I may have missed some nuances. Anyway, let’s jump in.

1. Populism is a form of leadership.
We’ve seen populist revolutions in the U.K. with Brexit, the U.S. with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, and in Colombia last week with the people’s rejection of a peace deal referendum. Populist movements have multiple influencers and an inertia of their own. It’s hard to pinpoint the leader of a movement, which has its weaknesses but also offers some protection from political pressures. In The Starfish and the Spider, Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom use the metaphor of a starfish to discuss movements, pointing out that scientists still don’t know how starfish move in concert when they’re essentially an organism by committee. Without a head, the starfish is less vulnerable to damage and still manages to move and feed itself, but I suspect it sometimes surprises itself with where it ends up.

But isn’t Trump the leader of his movement? Attempting to read the trends and making adjustments to stay in front of the mob makes a good surfer but a poor leader. Trump has had a remarkable ability to see a wave building and to harness it without being knocked off his board; consider the strange bedfellows who resonate with “Make America Great Again,” and his flirtations with David Duke’s endorsement.

2. The most challenging part of leadership is to figure out how to get “there.”
It’s easy to be a critic, and even to lead a group away from “here.” But the wilderness beyond is full of regrets, uncertainty, and leadership pitfalls – where followers turn on a leader when their expectations aren’t met. Just ask Moses. Or Nigel Farage, who decided he “did his bit” in leading Britain out of Europe and wasn’t ready to take the mantle any further. As Bill Hybels is fond of stating, leaders move people from “here” to “there.” Leaving isn’t enough; it’s only the beginning of the need for good leadership.

It takes real courage to take on the wilderness ahead of Britain. You could argue that Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson had a lot of wisdom in backing away, but they lacked the courage — or perhaps the specifics — to back up their vision. Theresa May remained in the game even though she hadn’t supported the Brexit decision. It’s now up to her to help define the vision for what “there” is going to look like.

3. There’s a hunger for thought leadership.
Back on this side of the pond, there’s a failure of imagination. Dialogue is non-existing and creativity fails to get a hearing when well-defined camps hold long-established lines. Civility is lost, and the President skirts legislative approval while Republicans even resort to suing the President to prevent action. Too many Americans have believed the lie that the other candidate or party is wrong on 100% of the issues. And so there is no nuanced thought or open-minded discussion about tackling healthcare, immigration, gun violence, racism and terrorism.

When someone decides ahead of time that one party has the right position, it undermines their ability to think honestly. Even worse, it neutralizes their voice to speak into the issues.

4. The Church has lost its voice.
The issues America is facing have spiritual roots and spiritual implications. Only the Church can speak to heart issues like hatred; the State’s hands are tied. So the Christian must be able to work between the parties to challenge the extreme edges of gun freedom, to address roots of poverty, to seek equality and remove profiling in the application of law, while also seeking religious freedom for believers to operate in their sphere to address heart issues. No political party has a corner on solutions for these issues.

When the Church marries itself to a political party, as the black Church has largely done with the Democratic Party and the evangelical Church with the Republican party, they are taken for granted and their voice is silenced. When Donald Trump thinks he has evangelicalism firmly in his camp by offering them greater influence, power and friendly Supreme Court justices. Many no longer criticize his character or other policies, because they’ve heard what they need to hear.

5. Any void will be filled.
This is not an election as much as a referendum on the direction of the country. If the Republican party can’t fight off its hijacking, a void will certainly beckon for a new party to represent the conservative, immigrant-loving spectrum in a merger with the disenfranchised #nevertrump social and economic conservatives. If ever the United States could tolerate three parties, this seems the time.

However, I submit that the leadership void will not be filled by a politician. The Christian community must rise up to defy hatred, challenge racism, love the unloveable and defend the vulnerable. Spiritual leadership is needed, and it must come from voices that are not power-hungry and bowing the knee to any political party. To some, such meekness and humility will look like weakness. Some might call them losers. But the last will be first, and the first last. The meek will inherit the earth. The one who loses the world will gain his soul. That, more than anything else, is what America needs to find again.

On July 7, when Micah Xavier Johnson ambushed police officers in Dallas in the middle of a public firestorm focused on police brutality toward black men, it was not a politician who stepped up to lead with fresh vision. The world noticed when Dallas’s black police chief found a platform to address the craziness. David Brown had just the right combination of empathy with black minorities, identity with the uniform and Christian compassion, and his leadership drew praise from all parties.

That’s the kind of leadership we need.

Part 1: A void of leadership
Part 2: A time for repentance
Part 3: An opportunity for Millennials

Leadership lessons on the Alberta election

Not sure how many of my readers are from Alberta, so let me quickly summarize the “Orange Crush” that happened while I was out of town this week. For my American readers, skip to the end quickly for an abbreviated primer in parliamentary government.

Bottom line: the Progressive Conservative party that had ruled Alberta for 44 years lost an election Tuesday that seemed a sure thing when called a mere 30 days before. They lost so soundly they came in third, and their party leader and incumbent premier resigned on the spot. For the first time, the NDP, which has been largely irrelevant in Alberta politics, has won a majority, their leader Rachel Notley premier-elect. The Wildrose Party came in second, returning to its familiar role as “the official opposition,” but in a much stronger position than it was before then-leader Danielle Smith tried to merge it with the Conservatives in December.

I was in Ottawa meeting with leaders on Parliament Hill as the results came through, and my views were challenged and inspired as MPs reacted to and tried to interpret what had happened. I’m going to attempt to avoid political bias while steering our attention to the leadership lessons we can learn from this week in politics.

Hubris

Premier Jim Prentice wanted it all. In the Calgary Herald, Graham Thompson theorized,

Prentice thought he had it figured out — undermine the Wildrose with a mass floor-crossing, appoint his favourites as candidates, call an early election — but it all backfired.

He goes on to call it “hubris.” That’s an excellent description of the overreaching we saw in the last six months. Prentice wasn’t the only one. Danielle Smith could have been premier today if she hadn’t reached too far. I suspect both felt they could do something historical, uniting the right, squashing the opposition and winning an unprecedented mandate. Such a move could perhaps launch at least one of them on to federal prominence.

In How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins offers 5 stages of decline:

  1. Hubris Born of Success
  2. Undisciplined Pursuit of More
  3. Denial of Risk and Peril
  4. Grasping for Salvation
  5. Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death

Sometimes, Collins says, you can be well into decline when you appear to be at the top of your game. The Alberta Progressive Conservative Party demonstrated the incredible speed with which everything can fall apart. As the Amazon review of that book says, “By understanding these stages of decline, leaders can substantially reduce their chances of falling all the way to the bottom.” All leaders can learn from this week’s object lesson, but the first warning sign is hubris. The solution is contentment, as I’ve blogged about before.

The bird in the bush

They say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. But Thompson’s analysis suggests that, though many didn’t know much about “Notley’s Crue,” they preferred a bunch of rookies to the current set of politicians.

Change theory says for change to be successful, a leader has to explain why a group needs to move from “here” to “there.” It’s not enough to paint a picture of what could be; you also have to create what some call the “burning platform,” the rationale behind leaving what’s known and comfortable. Leaders like Bill Hybels have argued that many change initiatives fail because a leader failed to establish why we can’t stay “here.”

But what happens when an entire group decides they can’t stay “here” without really knowing what “there” looks like? Alberta apparently reached the tipping point, where the pain of sticking with the party of 44 years was higher than the pain of change. They moved en masse into the unknown. Change theorists will be paying attention to the outcome.

But can she lead?

At the beginning of the Invictus film, Mandela’s security detail are offended by a headline that reads, “He can win, but can he lead?” Mandela dryly responds that it’s a fair question. Over the last few months, we’ve seen a lack of leadership from Danielle Smith and Jim Prentice. Smith admitted this week that she had been “very very naive.” The void created an opening for leaders like Brian Jean and Rachel Notley. The latter rallied the vote of frustration and anger. She proved she can win an election. But can she provide leadership in a province that’s looking for it?

Notley’s stunning NDP-orange victory reminds me of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s “Purple Revolution”  in 2010. He rallied the young vote and the frustrated vote into a winning combination. He turned out to be a competent leader who became a bit of a superstar after the flooding of 2013, leading to February’s over-the-top selection as the world’s top mayor. I suspect that’s overstating it, but it’s a demonstration of the  combination of popularity and leadership rare in today’s politicians.

All eyes in Ottawa were on Alberta this week, and few politicians are making plans beyond this October. It’s too early to see how it will all turn out, so I won’t join in any prognostications. But this week wasn’t just about politics. The earthquake of Alberta was also about leadership, and it is a case study on a number of fronts. Let me know your thoughts about the leadership lessons and implications.


An abbreviated primer in parliamentary government
(Canadians, if I get any of this wrong, I’m sure you’ll correct me in the comments.)

For my American readers, this will help you understand both our elections and the British election that just happened this week. On the federal level, the prime minister functions like your president, but he is actually within the legislative branch and first among cabinet members (aka “ministers”), therefore “prime minister.” As a legislator, the prime minister is also a member of parliament (MP) representing a specific district, called a “riding.” On the provincial level (kind of like states), this same function is called a “premier” rather than a governor, and he or she is a member of the legislative assembly (MLA).

Incidentally, as in the US, there are two legislative bodies. The prime minister comes from the House of Commons, made up of “commoners,” who represent the people of Canada. The second body is the Senate, made up of appointees who are not elected and have no terms. Unlike the UK, senators are not nobility. No earls and dukes in Canada’s Senate.

In Canada, the premier or prime minister is the leader of his or her party, and there are numerous parties. The potential swings from an irrelevant party with very few seats to an upset win (and vice versa) are astounding. I’ve quickly learned that you can never count out a party. The premier or prime minister has a 4-year window to call the next election, and it makes sense to choose the most optimal time rather than wait for the deadline. Once that election is called, the vote will happen 30 days later. It’s refreshingly quick! Even better, the candidates have 24 hours to take down all their signs or face fines.

For a more complete primer, try this guide to the Canadian Parliamentary System.