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Local elections make national news in Ohio and Texas

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Buddie, the mascot for the pro-marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio, holds a sign during a promotional tour stop at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, October 23, 2015 (Credit: AP Photo/John Minchillo)

While the national elections are still a year away, local elections occurred throughout the country on Tuesday. While most were of little consequence beyond their respective cities and states, a few of the issues drew national attention. In Ohio, for example, voters were asked to decide whether or not their state would join the growing number that have legalized marijuana. In a move that surprised many, 65% of residents chose not to support the proposition. That is surprising in large part because surveys showed that roughly 54% of voters supported legalizing the drug in the weeks leading up to the vote.

However, the primary reason that the bill did not pass has little to do with the moral or social implications of legalized pot. Rather, the bill stipulated that only ten pre-determined farms, mostly owned or financed by those that helped craft the bill, would be allowed to grow and sell the marijuana. As the law would have represented a constitutional amendment, it essentially threated to create an oligopoly (a monopoly where a few dominate the market rather than just one) for an industry that many expect could generate upwards of $1 billion annually.

As a result, many of the national marijuana advocacy groups that have been instrumental in helping to legalize the drug in other states either opposed Ohio’s proposition or gave it only tepid support. Most experts still expect pot to be legalized in the state eventually but with a less institutionalized and more economically diverse framework.

The elections in Houston have garnered equal, if not greater, attention over the past several weeks. There, voters decided to overturn the controversial Human Equal Rights Ordinance (or HERO) that was passed by the city council in May of last year. The ordinance has since been referred to as the “bathroom bill” by its critics because it stipulated that transgender people could use either the men’s or the women’s restroom in public venues.

While it actually did far more than that for securing equal rights, the restroom portion understandably generated quite a bit of opposition and became the focal point of the campaign to overturn the law. More than 60% of residents voted to do just that on Tuesday and the bill that had only been in effect for three months before legal challenges were brought against it is no longer law in the nation’s fourth largest city.

Since the vote, much of the discussion has centered on the strategy used by those opposed to the bill. Many of HERO’s advocates, such as presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have described the arguments used to oppose the bill as scare tactics. They say that there is little evidence to support the claim that the bill posed a threat to public safety in restrooms, particularly for women.

However, others have pointed to the fact that the law was opposed by the majority of Houstonians long before it was initially passed by the city council, showing that resistance to the bill was not the result of political manipulation or fear mongering. I was living in Houston when the bill was initially passed and the predominant thought at the time was that it was introduced by the city council rather than by popular vote because its advocates knew that it would not succeed otherwise.

Ultimately, in both Ohio and Houston, the elections worked the way they were supposed to, as popular vote was the deciding factor in which laws would pass and which would not. Whether you agree or disagree with the outcome of those votes, that’s the way a democracy should work. That said, we must be careful not to equate a properly run democracy with an effective one. Sometimes giving the people what they want is not ultimately in their best interests and that is the potential downfall of democratic societies.

We see that truth modeled in ancient Israel where time and time again they asked God for things that were not in his plans. Most of the time he was gracious enough not to meet those requests, such as when he kept them in the wilderness instead of allowing them to go back to Egyptian slavery (Exodus 14:4). However, there were times when he allowed them to see the fruits of their selfishness and mistrust.

When the people cried out for a king so that they could be like the other nations, God initially resisted. However, as their pleas continued he decided to grant the request and, though there were a few good ones like David and Josiah, most led God’s people further away from him and into the arms of pagan gods. That disobedience and spiritual adultery was eventually the cause of their exile from the Promised Land and the loss of their independence. They would never again reclaim the glory and standing God intended when he called Abraham to be the father of his chosen people.

Will their story be ours? While Christians around the world are God’s chosen people now and we do not, and never have, lived in a nation that has the same kind of covenant relationship Israel had with the Lord, if we ever make the mistake of placing our trust in governments, economies, or anything besides God then we run the same risk of missing out on all he wants to accomplish through our lives.

Over the coming months, much will be said about how the next president (whether a Democrat or Republican) can get our nation back on the right path to prosperity and greatness. The truth is though, none of it will matter if we aren’t living lives that God can bless. Thankfully, our ability to do that has nothing to do with who is president or which political party is in power. It is and always will be a decision that is solely between you and God.

While politics are important and the identity of the next president will have an impact on our lives, it will never be more important or potentially influential than our faithfulness to the Lord. So the next time you are tempted to criticize the government or complain about all the things that are wrong with this nation, ask first whether or not you are living in such a way that God could use you to do something about it. How you answer that question will be far more important than any political debate you will hear between now and next November.