I spent the last three weeks "living" this Presidential election, as my family and I have been in Crawford County, Ohio volunteering on the Kerry/Edwards Campaign. When I decided to leave Los Angeles last summer, I thought it would not only be a unique opportunity to spend time traveling and reflecting on life with my family, but also to participate in the democratic process, and work for the values that have been important to me for most of my life.

Interestingly, as time passed and I shared my plans to volunteer in this election, the responses I received from family, friends, and even strangers were as varied as the people themselves.
Many of my friends who are liberal Democrats were excited that I was going to a "swing state" to help defeat the man they consider one of the most divisive Presidents in the history of our country. On the other hand, many of my conservative Republican friends chided me for supporting a "Massachusetts liberal" who if elected would destroy our economy and create the largest, most bureaucratic government in the history of our nation. And since I am an evangelical minister who grew up in a conservative evangelical church (The Church of the Nazarene), many of my evangelical Christian friends couldn't believe I was both a Christian and a Democrat, since many of them seem to think all Christians must be Republicans. Of course there were also many other evangelical Christians, typically silent about their political views, who shared with me their fear to admit publicly that their faith motivates them to reject the Republican party line because it does not represent all the values they hold dear.

Working on a political campaign full-time for three weeks was both a tiring and exhilarating feeling. Our original intentions were to go to Columbus, Ohio and mostly walk precincts and do phone banking. But on the way to Columbus, we received a call from the campaign asking if I would be willing to drive approximately 80 miles north of Columbus to a small town called Bucyrus, to help give leadership to the campaign office they were trying to establish in the final weeks of the campaign.

What we discovered was a county with approximately 50,000 residents, with Bucyrus (population 13,000) as the county seat. Most people here are farmers or work in one of the declining number of manufacturing plants located in the county. It is mostly white, almost everyone is religious and/or attends church regularly, and people seem to genuinely care about one another. In some ways, it is an icon of what many places were like in America fifty years ago.

There had never been a campaign office in the county before, so no one really had any experience doing phone banking or working on campaigns. People were, however, engaged in this election in ways they never had been before. We had senior citizens, housewives, union members, high school and college students, and everyday working people who all joined our efforts to work for change. As the campaign progressed, people became more energized, recruiting their friends and family members to volunteer, to the point where on election day, there must have been 50-60 people working at various tasks to get people out to vote.

It was fascinating to listen to people say they would vote for Bush, even though they disagreed with his decision to go to war in Iraq, his handling of the economy (Ohio lost 230,000 jobs in the last 4 years), and his tax cuts.
And yet, they felt like he more accurately reflected their positions on cultural and moral values, at least on the only two moral values discussed in the campaign (abortion and gay marriage). When you talked with people and explained to them that John Kerry's positions on abortion and gay marriage are not much different from President Bush's, they just didn't believe it.

I think the Democrats have mistakenly abandoned the whole conversation about cultural and moral values. Their silence, or avoidance of language that has the potential to sound "religious," leaves the impression that they lack any concern for moral or cultural values at all. This is unfortunate, since the truth is that many Democrats are driven by deeply held values of faith and justice, including a concern for the most vulnerable and disenfranchised members of our society. It's time for them to show that they are grounded in something larger than their own ideas. Unless they engage people of faith in a conversation about the values that the Republicans talk about, and frame some of their own ideals as moral issues reflecting values and a positive vision, they will have a hard time being anything other than the opposition to the party in power.

The Democratic Party seems afraid to use religious language for fear of alienating people, when ironically I think this election proves that people are hungry to connect these kinds of ideas in the context of a cultural and moral values discussion. Based on this incredible experience and the results of this election here are some of my thoughts to share with my different types of friends.