The Thoughts and Opinions of a Disciples of Christ pastor and church historian.
Subscribe to this blog
Follow by Email
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.
I reprint below my Palm Sunday sermon from this morning -- It's actually the Hebrew Bible text for Passion Sunday (the Palm Sunday alter ego). As I note in the sermon, while I enjoy Palm Sunday, I find it a difficult preaching event -- How do you preach triumph, when you know that Good Friday is on the horizon!
"Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." That’s what you’re supposed to say when bullies pick on you and call you names. It would be nice, if names didn’t hurt, but from experience I can say – it’s not true. Names do hurt. Indeed, we’ve discovered that verbal abuse can be just as damaging to a child as physical abuse. James understood this to be true long before the psychologists caught on. He called the tongue a "restless evil, full of deadly poison." Indeed, the same tongue that we use to sing praises to God, we also use to curse those "who are made…
Are you happy? Then you must be forgiven! While none of us is completely sinless, apparently it’s possible to be free of that nagging joy-killing sense of guilt that comes with sin. It appears that we can “be glad in the Lord and rejoice,” if we’re found to be among the righteous. We can “shout for joy,” if “we’re upright in heart.” The good news is we can start with the promise of forgiveness. So says the Psalmist. We’re at the halfway point in our Lenten journey, and during this season we’ve been spending time with the Psalms. We’ve mostly heard words of assurance. We’ve heard that God is our refuge and our fortress, and that we live under the protective cover of God’s wings. We’ve heard the promise of God’s steadfast love surrounding us. These are words of divine grace that offer us comfort and encouragement, especially when life’s circumstances are challenging. Of course, Lent is a season of reflection and even penitence. So, could another shoe be waiting to drop? Could t…
Isaiah called out to the exiles living in Babylon: Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price. (Is. 55:1)
Are you thirsty? Are you hungry? Then come and drink and eat, freely, for the gift of God is one of grace, and it alone will satisfy. As we continue our Lenten journey, the word we hear from the Psalmist echoes the words of Isaiah. This Psalm is said to come from David as he was in the wilderness of Judah. Both Isaiah and David speak of hunger and thirst. The question then becomes, for what do you hunger and thirst? Is it physical or is it spiritual? The fact is we will experience both forms in the course of lives. Both are real and both seek satisfaction. And in way or another, God is the source of that satisfaction. This morning as we ponder the words of the Psalm, we are invited to consider what it means to be truly thirsty. As we consider what this means, the wo…