First Tell Them What You Are For
Before the week just past fades away, I want to make a comment on last Tuesday's runoff special election in the Mississippi 1st Congressional District, won by a Democrat named Travis Childers. This is big news. I know it because the national commentators have been talking about it all week long. Let me put it this way. It's big news because a Democrat won in a district that is about as solidly Republican (at least in national elections) as you can get. If I counted right, last Tuesday was the fourth election so far this year in this district, things having been thrown into an uproar ever since Senator Trent Lott suddenly resigned, then being replaced by Representative Roger Wicker of Tupelo. But the big news is that a Democrat beat a Republican last Tuesday.
So what does that mean? Well, among other things, it says something about the unhappy nature of the American electorate. People are frustrated, that's no secret, but it's big news that a "safe" Republican seat suddenly switched to the Democrats. As a result, all week long I've been hearing and reading about our congressional district. People are talking about places like Columbus, Holly Springs, Southaven, Oxford, and, of course, Tupelo. We made the national news when Toyota decided to build a plant nearby, and we show up on the radar whenever anyone mentions Elvis. But this week Tupelo has been in the national news because even though Roger Wicker is from here, we voted for Travis Childers.
The best analysis of the election I've seen comes from this column by Stuart Rothenberg. He essentially says the Republican lost because he went negative too soon. I don't know if that's the main reason because there was a lot of going negative on both sides, but the point is worth noting. (A Sunday column by Lloyd Gray makes many of the same points.) At our Thursday night men's Bible study a few weeks ago, one of the local Republican leaders predicted this would happen. "I keep telling them (the national leadership) that people are sick to death of this negative advertising," he said. Most voters would agree with that.
I'm no expert on politics so I can't say for sure why the election turned out the way it did. But I think there is a lesson here for all of us, and it doesn't have anything to do with politics. It's a lesson especially for pastors and other ministry leaders. People want to know what you are for more than what you are against. Where you start makes all the difference. There is a place for the negative, and sometimes we must be negative in contending for the truth, but if the negative is the first thing people think about when they think about you, they probably won't vote for you, and if you are a pastor, they probably won't attend your church either.