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 21:1-19 New
Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the
disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered
there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in
Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter
said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.”
They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the
disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you
have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the
net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it,
and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7
That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon
Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was…
It makes sense to count the costs when deciding to make a big purchase such as a home or a car. Although it would seem prudent to sit down and “work the pencil,” not everyone takes the time to do so. One of the reasons why our nation is in the economic mess it’s in, is that too many people bought houses they couldn’t afford. Many were sucked in by suggestions that ours is an “ownership society,” offers of easy money, and promises that property was going to appreciate year after year, without end. In places like Southern California, Florida, and Las Vegas, everyone wanted to get on the band wagon as housing values increased at an annual rate of 25% to 45%. Many made a fortune, but as we’ve seen many more have lost untold millions. I wonder about how many people counted the cost before they bought? There was a war that our nation entered into In 2003. We were told that this war would be over quickly and with little sacrifice on our part. Just months after the invasion began…
Luke 4:21-30 New
Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 21 Then he began to say to them,
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All
spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his
mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He
said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure
yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we
have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24 And he said,
“Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But
the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the
heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine
over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none
of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There
were also many lepers[a] in Israel in the time
of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the
Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the
synagogue were fil…