The Thoughts and Opinions of a Disciples of Christ pastor and church historian.
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God and Politics on Election Day
Election Day is a time when Americans can celebrate hard earned freedoms through the act of voting. The right to vote allows us to express our political will – a right that’s still not widespread in the world.
By day’s end we may have filled numerous federal, state, and local offices and decided a lengthy list of initiatives. Sadly, most Americans won’t vote, some out of principle, but most do so out of apathy or disillusionment. While this sentiment is understandable, given the nastiness of many campaigns, it’s disheartening and it ultimately undermines our democracy.
As has been the case in recent elections, religion plays a significant role in the political debate. Although many Americans believe that religion and politics don’t mix, many others can’t seem to distinguish them, and so the debate goes on. While history suggests that theocracies don’t work very well, and though an Iran-style theocracy isn’t in America’s future, religion can and does affect elections. Religion’s effect can be good and not so good.
I consider it both a civic duty and a sacred obligation to vote. Therefore, when I approach the polls, I do so as a person of faith. But, while my faith influences my voting practice, I try to keep in mind the pluralistic nature of the larger community. Others go to the polls with different faith commitments. I must, then, humbly admit that I’m not in a position to know beyond a reasonable doubt what’s best for the nation. I must give room for the checks and balances of my fellow citizens’ votes.
My Christian faith is a significant factor in my decision making, but I must admit that my scriptures don’t always speak clearly to every political issue of the day. The Hebrew Scriptures often speak of a theocratic ideal and tell the story of a largely ineffective monarchy. The teachings of Jesus and Paul are important, but they often don’t speak directly to modern life, and neither of them voted in an election. Romans 13 is the most specific statement on politics, but it was written in the context of a totalitarian regime. When you read this passage it appears that Paul’s advice is to keep your head down and obey the law. But what happens when, as in a democracy, you are the ultimate source of the laws we are to obey? Can you simply keep your head down, or do you have a responsibility to be engaged in the system, as messy as it may be?
The major religions of the world differ as to the relationship between religion and politics. For some, religion should support the government, while others believe that it should be an outside critic. Muhammad was both a religious teacher and ruler, as was Moses. Jesus, however, was an itinerant preacher who often said politically provocative things. Buddha withdrew from the ruling elite, but the Dalai Lama is both ruler and teacher.
Besides all of these differences, most religions transcend national boundaries, a fact that raises questions of loyalty. Do my loyalties belong with my country or my co-religionists? If my loyalties transcend national borders, then the same is likely true of Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, and others, unless of course I worship a national deity – which I don’t.
Our coins say, “In God We Trust,” but in whose God do we trust? I’m proud to be an American, but as a Christian, my first loyalty is to God. But then the same is true for others who go to the polls with God having first call on their lives. Recognizing that others will join me in voting while listening for the divine voice, I must listen carefully and critically. And if I understand God’s calling, then my attention should be given to the welfare of the whole – both my fellow American citizens and my fellow citizens of the world.
As a religious person I admit that I have dual loyalties. I hope that by recognizing this, I’m better able to keep things in perspective and can grant my fellow citizens the same rights and responsibilities. While the IRS tells me that as a pastor I can’t engage in partisan politics from the pulpit, I do believe I have a responsibility to speak to the important issues of the day from a faith perspective. Believing that voting is a national duty, I always encourage people to vote. I do this, however, hoping that the conscience of the voter is marked by compassion and committed to the well-being of all creation, whether American or not.
In a moment we’ll gather at the Table of the Lord. We’ll break bread and share the cup together. We’ll do this as two congregations from two different denominations. There was a time when this kind of gathering would be impossible. You might gather to sing hymns or hear a preacher, but the Table was different. It was open only to the insiders. There are still traditions that “fence the Table,” but fortunately that is not true here. We can gather at the Table to remember the meal Jesus established to unite his people in love. This meal of remembrance is rooted in other biblical meals, including Passover and the “feeding of the 5000.” We might want to add other meals including the meal Abraham and Sarah shared with the three strangers at the Oaks of Mamre. These strangers were received with hospitality, and in return they delivered a promise that the covenant God wished to establish with Abraham would include Sarah, who was to bear a child through whom the nations…
Note: If you watch the sermon below, you will notice that I acknowledge upfront the shootings in El Paso and Dayton. While I did not change the sermon, I made clear that we must speak to this violence. The sermon itself as written does, in fact, speak to these realities.
Just a few days back some of us crossed the mighty Mississippi on our way to and from the General Assembly in Des Moines. As far as I know, nobody tried to wade across the river. It’s too deep and too wide to wade across. We either drove across bridges or took a plane to Iowa, because unlike Moses or Joshua or Elijah, none of us appears to have the power to divide the waters. Whether it’s a river, a lake, or a sea, water plays an important role in the biblical story. The very first sentences of Genesis declare: “when God began to create heaven and earth—the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and wind from God sweeping over the water—God said ‘Let there be light.” (Ge…
FETHULLAH GÜLEN: A Life of Hizmet. By John Pahl. Clifton, NJ: Blue Dome Press, 2019. Xix + 419 pages.
Several years ago I became acquainted with a Turkish-originated movement that sponsored interfaith dialogue. The members of the group, most of whom are Turkish are also Muslims. I later discovered that this group was part of a movement known as Hizmet, which is Turkish for service. I’ve come to know and respect that members of this movement, at least those whom I’ve encountered. They are faithful Muslims who embrace service to others and interfaith dialog and partnerships. Since these are core values for me as a person, it seemed appropriate to build on the relationships that were developing. Since this is a book that tells the story of the founder of Hizmet, it should not come as a surprise that what I share here will be sympathetic to the movement and its founder. This book, which was provided to me as a gift from one of the local Hizmet leaders, tells the life-story of the Turkish …