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.
John 10:11-18 New
Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good
shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The
hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf
coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and
scatters them.13 The hired hand runs away because a
hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the
good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just
as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the
sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to
this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there
will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason
the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up
again. 18 No one takes[a] it from me, but I lay
it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take
it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
Matthew 22:1-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 22 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all …
Numbers 11:4-6,10-16, 24-29 James 5:13-20 Mark 9:38-50 We’re All in this Together This is clearly an individualistic age. Especially in the United States, any hint of collectivism is cause for concern. Sharing power and resources – the idea of redistribution – is difficult to affirm. Americans have long lived with the elixir of individualism. Indeed, my own denominational tradition is built on the premise of individual freedom to interpret and live out the biblical story. As a pastor it’s easy to get caught up in the game of doing it all – you know, if I don’t do it, it won’t get done. Now, individual initiative isn’t a bad thing. The freedom to interpret isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes we forget our kinship with one another. Sometimes we forget that there is power in relationships.
I’ve become more aware of the power of relationships in the course of becoming rather deeply involved in faith-based community organizing efforts. One of the most important principles of com…