Never in my life have I been so joyous to see the return of a CGI lizard selling car insurance or numerous ads selling unhealthy carbonated and caffeinated beverages than on Wednesday, November 7th2018 after the mid-term elections. The onslaught of ads for and against candidates seemed particularly onerous this year both online and on the television. However, I was touched by one story, which became the impetus for this blog post.
I stumbled across a story about two Vermont politicians running for the Vermont House of Representatives in rural Lamoille County. Lucy Rogers, a Democrat, and Zac Mayo, a Republican, both were vigorously campaigning to win the seat, with both of these candidates visiting almost all of the 2000+ homes in this small district. They both had significantly different views on the issues that they debated one evening in a small library in front of dozens of interested citizens. At the end of this vigorous debate, they both unexpectedly asked the moderator and audience for a few more minutes and quickly cleared out the tables to set up for something quite unexpected. Lucy on the cello and Zac on the acoustic guitar performed a duet together singing to the words of a song called “Society.” As their duet ended, the audience (and me at my computer after the event) were moved to tears by this act of civility in what has become an ever more contentious political world.
This led me to reflect on one of the talks that I attended in September at the BYU Humanities Center’s Annual Symposium, “On Being Vulnerable: ‘Crisis’ & Transformation.” The speaker at one of the talks, Kevin Hart, mentioned the concept of the Imago Dei. As with most things with which I am not familiar, I quickly went on Google to see what this meant in the context in which he was talking. Imago Dei (Image of God) refers to the realization that we are created in the image of God and that our recognition of ourselves as being created in His image allows God’s plans and purposes to be actualized through us as humans. Moreover, since we are created in His image, this endows us with the freedom and ability to make choices both good and bad. I would add one element to this as well and it is that as we realize that we are created in the image of God and that we have been endowed with certain divine attributes, we are also capable of realizing that every other human is also created in His image and possess these same attributes.
What would the political world be like if more people saw their rivals as not only political enemies to be destroyed but as beings who reflect the Imago Dei? Would how they treat each other change? Would politics take on a more civil tone? What would television commercials look like? Could people have differing opinions, debate those ideas, and yet at the end of the day go out together to buy one of the unhealthy carbonated and caffeinated beverages now available on the BYU campus? Would more touching duets be performed by candidates who looked into the faces of their competitors and saw the image of God? I would like to think this is possible as demonstrated by these two candidates from Vermont.
Now, returning to these candidates, what was the impact of this sign of civility on the election? Throughout the region where they campaigned, lawn signs could be found supporting both candidates in front of the same house. During the elections, there was over a 60% voter turnout from the small towns where these candidates diligently knocked on almost every door. The winner of the race? You have probably guessed it already. I think we can all agree that society and civility won this race because I think that these candidates were able to see the Imago Dei in each other.
This post was written by Greg Thompson, Humanities Center Faculty Fellow.
Thanks for a touching reminder that in some corners of this country civility, respect, and music bring a kind of harmony to political debate where there is usually mostly partisan cacophony.