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 1:29-42 (NRSV) 29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is
the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This
is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he
was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I
came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to
Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit
descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I
myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to
me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes
with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen
and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day John again was standing with two of his
disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he
exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The
two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When
Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, …
“Praise the Lord from the heavens!” “Praise the Lord from the earth!” “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.” (Ps. 148: 1, 7, 13). With these words, the Psalmist calls us to join together in worship as we continue the Christmas journey on this last Sunday of the year and decade. During this Christmas season, we encounter Emmanuel, the child born in Bethlehem, who reveals the message of the incarnation that “God is with us.” In this celebration, we’re reminded, as Gregory of Nazianzus puts it, in him “the heavenly one is now earthly.” Because “Christ is in the flesh, exult with trembling and joy” [Festal Orations, p. 61]. We began our service singing “All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing; Alleluia, Alleluia!” This hymn is a paraphrase of Saint Francis’ “Canticle of the Sun,” which is itself rooted in Psalm 148. Francis’ song of praise addresses Brother Sun and Sister Moon…
ENVISIONING THE REIGN OF GOD: Preaching for Tomorrow. By Debra J. Mumford. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2019. Xii + 242 pages. Eschatology is a rather broad theological category. It involves all things future-oriented, from possible forms of divine judgment to the nature of the afterlife (if there is one). We often think of it in apocalyptic terms, while apocalypticism is included in the category, the category is much broader. In fact, not only is this a broad topic, but the perspectives are broad as well. Standing at the center of these conversations is the Christian vision of the reign of God (kingdom of God). We know from the Gospel of Mark that Jesus preached the kingdom/realm of God. Thus, it would seem natural that Jesus' heirs would also preach about the kingdom and other things related to eschatology. So, how might we approach these topics as preachers? That is the question explored in Debra Mumford’s Envisioning the Reign of God.
The author of this book, Debra Mumford, …