It had been an ordinary day despite the extraordinary that took place. It had been an exceptional day, despite the mundane that filled it.
It was becoming dark when I got there, close to the closing-time deadline. Apart from a handful of officials – wearing identification badges on their lapels and official-looking expressions on their faces – the hall was empty.
- I was alone as I entered this strange venue in a strange part of a less-than-familiar city. - I was alone as I clutched the papers I had been given and walked unaccompanied towards the isolated place to which I was directed. - I was alone as I left that unfamiliar place and that exceptional experience and wound my solitary way home. I had gone through that incomparably wonderful experience alone.
As usual, the day had started with my taking our son to the nursery school that morning, thinking on the way that what was extraordinary about that day for me would always be normal for him as he grew up. I had returned from that pleasant errand and allowed myself to become caught up in the usual administrative tasks which befall a divisional youth leader. I understood that, although the rest of the Divisional Headquarters staff were aware of the extraordinary that filled my day, it was so commonplace for them that they couldn’t possibly grasp how beyond belief it was for me.
It was Wednesday 27 April 1994. At about 7.30 pm, in a school auditorium somewhere in Oslo, Norway, I cast my vote for the South African elections. I was 37 years of age and, for the first time in my life, I was voting in the country’s elections. As I passed through the door of that auditorium, having exercised my democratic right to vote, the sound of my footsteps in that empty hall resounded in my ears and I thought about the images I had seen on news broadcasts of thousands of people queueing outside polling booths, all over South Africa, waiting to vote. I discovered, to my surprise, that I could not tap into my emotions. Intellectually, I was blown away by the import of what I had done, but I could not understand what I was feeling emotionally.
All these years later, I am still unable to understand – it lies too deep. Because, as I made my way home, I reflected on what I had become a part of by my vote. I acknowledged that it had been on the back of a struggle which had started long before my birth, and which had cost the lives of many, with multitudes more giving up their freedom as the fight for the right to vote continued. I could not feel anything, but, as I flicked through the news channels that night and watched those queues of dancing South Africans patiently, joyously waiting for hours for their turn to vote, I knew it had been a momentous day. It had been a memorable day. It had been a miraculous day! And, it had happened in my lifetime!
Although it lies buried much deeper in the past, the United Kingdom also has its momentous, memorable, miraculous moments in history, where barriers were broken down after a period of struggle. But, today, the right to vote is so commonplace here that many do not even give it a thought. In fact, many choose not to exercise that right. As the leader of The Salvation Army in the United Kingdom Territory with the Republic of Ireland, I am not advocating that it is compulsory for all Salvationists to vote. To vote – or not – is a matter of conscience for the individual, as much as who one supports when voting. However, I am suggesting that it is a privilege we should appreciate – there are many Salvationists around the world for whom this right is not as clear.
Election day is 7 May 2015. I have been following the campaign as, indeed, I have been following the political scene since my arrival here. I can understand those who have become exasperated with politics and politicians – with the carping and personal attacks, the broken promises and the apparent disconnect with real people in the real world. I also understand the scepticism about whether one’s vote has any bearing on the outcome at all. If one manages to hurdle past these questions, an even greater hurdle presents itself: Who deserves my vote? Again, that is not my business. However, with the election around the corner, I want to offer three pieces of advice:If you have not been one who has considered voting to be an important issue, take the time to reflect on the privilege you have as a British citizen and the responsibility you have as a Christian to engage in the political life of the nation. Ensure that, if you vote, you make an informed decision. It is relatively easy to discover what parties are saying about pertinent issues, who your local candidates are and what they stand for, and to engage with politicians about issues that are important to you. You will discover that politicians are very keen to engage with the public during an election campaign! Our website has very helpful material related to the election for your information and reflection. If you are really interested, I know that our Public Affairs Unit at Territorial Headquarters would be more than happy to engage with you to provide further food for thought. Employ the J-o-y principle when thinking about who deserves your vote – you know, from the Sunday school chorus:
Surely that must be:
And others in between.
So, before you make your decision, ask yourself:Does voting for this person or party seriously compromise my relationship with Jesus? Does voting for this person or party help the ‘Others’ who were the focus of William Booth’s engagement? Does voting for this person or party reflect who I claim to be?
You see, for the believer – including Salvationists – voting should be pure J-o-y!