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.
Luke 17:5-10 As a Boy Scout – many years ago – I promised to “do my duty to God and my country.” Soldiers promise to do their duty – to obey orders. If you’re to survive and thrive in the military you better know your place and fulfill your duties as outlined for you. And if you want to keep your job, you had better do what is asked of you, or you will be looking for a new one. But there is something in us that desires something different. We want our freedoms. We want to choose our own destiny. This is the way of the world today. Even in matters of faith, we want to set the agenda. We want to choose, which religion we’ll follow and what parts of that religion to embrace. We talk about being disciples of Jesus – I’m even a minister in a denomination that has as part of its name “disciples of Christ.” I must admit that as a denomination we focus more on freedom than discipleship. The reading from Luke 17 is brief, but is focused on defining what it means to be a…
I was taken immediately by this phrase: “Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee” (vs. 11 CEB). I know something of borders, living now on the border with Canada, and having lived close to the border with Mexico for a good portion of my life. Borders are not necessarily geographical boundaries, but artificial ones that are negotiated and fought over. Many living in the Southwest, including California, forget that there was a time when those regions belonged to Mexico. After the Mexican-American War of the 1840s, many citizens of Mexico woke up to a new reality – they were residing in a new nation with a different language, different customs, and different expectations. The current upheavals in the Middle East have in part something to do with artificial boundaries imposed by colonial powers who were less concerned about languages, customs, and religions, than governing efficiencies that benefitted them rather than the people. …
Can we and should we separate Jesus of Nazareth from the Christ? That is, should we think of the Christ as a kind of principle that incarnated in Jesus, but is not limited to Jesus? If we do this, might we find a deeper and more fulfilling vision of reality? Might we embrace the idea of the “Christ Mystery, the indwelling of the Divine Presence in everyone and everything since the beginning of time as we know it”? (pp. 1-2). That is the idea that underlies Richard Rohr’s latest book (to be released, I believe, in March) titled The Universal Christ. It is this idea that includes but is not limited to Jesus that Rohr believes can alter our understandings of God and reality. I expect that his vision of God and reality will be attractive to many. While that may be true, it is also likely that the way he lays out this vision will pr…