When I was thirteen, I outlawed slavery.
It was probably my proudest jr. high moment (not that it had a lot of competition, because jr. high). Our history teacher declared a session of the Continental Congress to frame the Constitution. We would take two days to debate issues, and each person received a state, a character, and a list of how that person voted that you were supposed to follow.
My history teacher chose what he thought was the perfect role for me, the awkwardly quiet homeschooled kid in the back row: Roger Sherman, the meek, mild-mannered delegate from Connecticut who basically only spoke up in a significant way once during the convention.
(If you’re laughing right now, then clearly you know me better than my jr. high teachers and classmates did.)
My role sheet spelled out my task: I’d deliver the Connecticut Compromise allowing slavery (but restricting the power of the South) like I was supposed to, it would pass, and that’s all I’d have to do.
Guys, compromise isn’t really my thing.
I actually wrote the speech, two paragraphs of cool-headed assessment of the politics behind slavery and the need to make the choice that was best for the survival of our young nation.
And then, during the actual event, staring out at pimpled and brace-wired faces who I didn’t really know and who didn’t really know me, I completely ignored it. “Gentlemen,” I said after being recognized by George Washington, “I’d like to address the sectional concerns we’ve been discussing.”
“I object!” cried a bombastic Southern senator with a makeshift thrift-store colonial costume. He actually leapt over the tables arranged in a crooked circle to confront me, even though I hadn’t said anything objectionable yet. “The South has a right to have its full population counted!”
He towered over me, this passionate roleplaying kid who—full disclosure—I secretly had a crush on. In that moment, I seriously considered backing down and reading my speech like I was supposed to. It would be so much easier. Everyone was watching me, and I could feel my face turning bright red.
Instead, I stood. “Do you want your slaves to be counted as full people in the census?”
“Of course. That’s what I’ve been—”
“Then treat them that way.”
The dignified assembly of delegates did a little background hum of “Oooh, burn.”
I went on to make a passionate plea for the outright abolition of slavery. I don’t remember what I said, but it was convincing enough, because it passed by a slim margin. Apparently other people voted against their script too.
“That wasn’t exactly what you were supposed to do,” my teacher said to me after the tables were pushed away and we settled into the proper century. And he smiled and shook his head. (Take that, educators. Never underestimate the quiet kids.)
I got a free pizza out of the deal as a prize, and the satisfaction of looking up at our posterboard Constitution for the rest of the year and seeing our renegade amendment in permanent marker.
And I remember wondering: Why wasn’t slavery killed in the cradle way back in the 1700s instead of ending in a war that left hundreds of thousands dead, brother against brother? It was so simple.
Now I know: it wasn’t simple. Then and in the years leading up to the Civil War, there were thousands of interconnected threads: economics, gradual emancipation, votes in the Senate, settlement of the West, state’s rights, desperation to avoid war until it came anyway.
I’m not saying the Continental Congress did the right thing. Heck, I’m not even saying Abraham Lincoln did the right thing.
What I’m saying is: politics is complicated. I want to be very clear to affirm that good people now and then asking the question, “What is best for this nation?” come to different conclusions.
But I think thirteen-year-old Amy has some wisdom for us: political choices are complicated, but we have to take a stand somewhere.
And here’s an addition that I personally believe to be true: it’s better to risk negative consequences while voting your conscience than to justify a choice you don’t believe is right.
Welcome to 2016.
I’m not telling you to vote for. That’s not my style. I just want you to tell you the story of my struggle.
Because I’m fairly conservative politically and very conservative theologically, I was given a role card that tells me how to vote. I can write the speech in my sleep, two persuasive paragraphs on a few key issues.
For the first time, I’m planning to wad it up because I can’t affirm Donald Trump in any way.
Yes, I’ve heard arguments about the Supreme Court, religious liberty, abortion, checks and balances, and all other legitimate reasons other conservative friends are planning to vote for Trump. This is part of the complicated, difficult choice I mentioned earlier.
But someday, I believe I’ll be held accountable before future generations and God himself not just for the end, but the means to the end. In some way, my vote is an endorsement that I think this candidate is a good choice to lead our nation.
I’ll be clear: I’m fine with voting for an imperfect candidate because I always will be.
I am not fine with voting for a candidate whose actions don’t match his platform, whose rhetoric is divisive, ugly, and dangerous, whose personal integrity is low enough to make me sick when I think of him being leader of America.
You may choose differently. I don’t write this to change your mind or start a political argument about how to balance fears and policies and future evils to make a right choice in the voting box.
It’s complicated. I recognize that in a way thirteen-year-old Amy did not. That admission means I’m more cautious when I talk about politics. It robs me of my jr. high arrogance. It encourages me to show grace.
At the end of the day, though, I’m the same person I was when I was thirteen in some ways. I’m not following the script anymore, but I am following what I believe to be right.
And maybe I’ll buy myself a pizza on Election Day.