NEW ORLEANS -- A raucous presidential election year turned personal for Lloyd Harsch, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary history professor, when his seminary inbox filled with more than 90,000 emails from distraught voters.
Harsch is a member of this year’s Electoral College.
As Harsch, with wife Jill, travel this week to attend the inauguration and ceremony festivities in Washington, D.C., emails and letters continue to come in. The nature of the emails gave Harsch pause.
“I had to evaluate [voters’] concerns about the purpose of the Electoral College,” Harsch said. “I had to ask, ‘What was it designed to do?’ and ‘What is my actual responsibility?’”
Most expressed genuine concern, Harsch said, and the few veiled in innuendo or threat were passed on to authorities.
Louisiana is one of 21 states whose electors are “unbound,” meaning they are not constrained legally to vote for their party’s nominee, the winner of the state’s popular vote.
Phone calls, a fax, and about two thousand letters—almost all from voters out-of-state—were received by Harsch who was elected last June by Republican party caucus to represent Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes the heavily Democratic Orleans Parish. The Louisiana GOP posted a statement on its website calling the targeting of the state’s eight electors “unprecedented harassment.”
As a professor and director of the NOBTS Institute for Faith and the Public Square, Harsch’s seminary contact information is readily available online, yet letters arrived at Harsch’s home address, as well.
Harsch said the emails and letters—some severe—expressed concern regarding Trump’s fitness for office, a fear of foreign interference, and Trump’s loss in the national popular poll. Harsch fashioned his response by looking to the Federalist Papers 68.
“I determined the Electoral College was never designed to be a ‘re-do’ of the election,” Harsch said.
From the nation’s beginnings, Harsch noted, electors were chosen based on their alignment with a particular candidate and that going against the voters’ wishes would require “extraordinary” circumstances.
Prior to casting his vote for Trump at the Dec. 19 Louisiana Electoral College convening in Baton Rouge, Harsch read a statement thanking those who voiced their concerns and explaining his decision: “…I have examined the options before me carefully. I have determined to have the courage of my convictions. I will heed the voices of the majority of voters…in Louisiana.”
RELIGIOUS LIBERTY AT STAKE
Harsch said he supported the Republican candidate because there were “significant issues” surrounding the Democratic nominee and that deeper concerns were at stake.
“In essence, I voted for the integrity of the Supreme Court,” Harsch said. “For me, it was issues of life and religious liberty.”
Religious liberty concerns intensified for many pro-life voters when Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s statements at the sixth annual Women in the World Summit, April 23, 2015, came to light. Clinton stated, “Yes, we've cut the maternal mortality rate in half, but far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth… Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will, and deep seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.”
In the same speech, Clinton took a jab at Hobby Lobby despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that forcing a family-owned and operated business to provide four abortion-inducing drugs was a violation of the owners’ religious freedom. Clinton said, “America moves forward when all women are guaranteed the right to make their own health care choices, not when those choices are taken away by an employer like Hobby Lobby.”
Harsch distinguished between what a believer’s participation in the public square can do and what it can’t do.
“We need Christians in the public realm so that a biblical worldview has a voice,” Harsch said. “It is a trap to think that politics is the means of establishing a biblical worldview.”
CONNECTING NEEDS TO SOLUTIONS
Born the son of a Canadian father, Harsch’s first connection with politics came when he realized he shared a birthday with President Richard Nixon.
Religious liberty caught his interest when a deacon at his home church in North Dakota ran for the U.S. Senate and Harsch, as a youth, mistakenly thought that separation of church and state meant he could not openly support the family friend.
While a Ph.D. student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Harsch served as an election judge for his precinct, working with both parties. In New Orleans, Harsch serves on the Republican State Central Committee and is currently filling his fourth term on the Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committee, an elected position.
While the executive committee includes 14 positions, Harsch said there never have been enough candidates running to fill all slots. “I’m a small fish in an even smaller pond,” Harsch quipped.
Harsch said he sees his involvement in politics as a means of helping connect those with needs to those who have solutions. Though he once attended the national Republican convention as an alternate, his invitation to the inauguration is, for him, a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”