Tomorrow is Election Day, November 3rd, and it is a long-awaited day after several years of seemingly perpetual campaigning. My TV and mailbox are full of campaign ads, many filled with negative messages. Yard signs are displayed around my neighborhood along-side scary Halloween decorations which ironically depict the mood of the country. My hope is that America can unite under our common humanity once the votes are counted. I am a hopeful person who tries to look past partisan issues towards common ground. I am also realistic enough to mentally prepare for the difficult journey that may confront the United States post-election.
One observation of this bitterly divided election is the age of the senior political leadership. No matter who wins the presidential election, Americans will elect their oldest president. Donald Trump is 74 and Joe Biden will be 78 before January 20th. Both men are close to or younger than our congressional leadership. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a spry 80-year-old and her Senate counterpart, majority leader Mitch McConnell, is a mere two years younger.
We watched the exhausting Democratic presidential primaries and witnessed Senators Bernie Sanders (79) and Elizabeth Warren (71) also vying to be president. There were much younger presidential candidates in the Democratic presidential field, but the higher polled candidates were generally older, not younger. Older is defined as reaching the seventh decade of life and qualifying for maximum social security benefits.
I watched the recent 60 Minutes segment where Donald Trump and Joe Biden were interviewed. Leslie Stahl interviewed Donald Trump and asked the president why he wanted the job. Joe Biden was asked if his age was an issue. Yet Leslie Stahl is 79 years old and has been working for CBS News for 49 years. She seems to love her job and has not sought retirement. It is strange to me that she questioned the age of Joe Biden while personally working two more years than he has.
Does the Christian faith have anything to say about age and work? Scripture clearly links wisdom and age. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David and Solomon were in leadership positions until they died and were honored for their wisdom and faithfulness. While the younger biblical leaders desired increasing responsibilities, it was relatively rare that elders were usurped like Absalom attempted with his father. Biblical retirement was not a consideration since average life expectancy was short and healthy people needed to work until their death. The option of a pension or Social Security/Medicare did not exist. Work was required to meet basic human needs for the vast majority who lived during biblical times and this requirement continues in third-world countries today.
So why does the media constantly question the age of political candidates? First, this is historically groundbreaking. People are living longer and more productive senior lives. Many people retire in their fifties and sixties, then begin second careers. They are healthy and experienced – matching their God-given gifts with the needs of our complex world. Science has extended productive human life and the competitive fire still burns in seniors.
Second, there are occupations that are highly demanding and impactful. The US president is not a relaxing job! During my lifetime, I watched presidents age while in office at a much faster rate than normal. I observed senior corporate executives in their fifties and early sixties greatly age and experience health problems from business stress and travel. Their ability to make good decisions for the benefit of large communities depended of their physical and mental health. I believe term limits are needed to protect both the worker and the communities they serve, while also enabling younger individuals to gain experience. Other occupations are better suited to seniors than some highly demanding positions.
Third, it is controversial. Is it fair to disqualify a person from a job or political office because of advanced age? Most would say no. Is it fair to question a person’s ability to perform the duties of an occupation? Most would say yes. I can’t lift as much weight as I could during my youth. I would be a poor employee in a moving company lifting heavy objects and would probably soon injure myself. I should pursue a better match for my skill set.
I believe God gave humans gifts to be used to uplift our community. We all age – some faster than others. Our community should not place age barriers on our God-given gifts, but it is acceptable to question one’s ability to perform the required occupational tasks. As I age, I don’t want to be pigeon-holed into playing senior golf or sitting in a rocking chair on the porch, although these tasks can be enjoyable. I look forward to the new creation but still happily embrace continuing a productive life that is not defined by an age ceiling.