Friday, October 16, 2020

Being a Christian Before and After the Election

     In the first century, you read about St. Paul having a lot of choices: He had the choice of how to travel — pretty much limited to ship, donkey, or on foot; He had the choice of what he ate —He only criticized folks who saw themselves as holier than others because of what they would or would not eat.  But one thing you never read about St. Paul having to choose was the person for whom he would vote for Emperor.  There's a good reason for that.  He didn't have the freedom to vote in the first century.

     But just because he couldn't vote, didn't mean he didn't have some strong opinions about the politics of his day.  He spoke against the strong oppressing the weak. Like Jesus, he stood with the poor against the rich. He also dealt with people who said pretty much the only way to be a good Christian was either to take up arms against the Empire or surrender and go out of your way to become a martyr.  He basically told them not to be so dramatic; they just needed to obey authorities as far as possible, even the Emperor, and live their lives as quietly as they could (Romans 13.)  

     Many modern partisan religious salespersons have used this passage of Paul's to justify everything from slavery to serving in the army of the Third Reich.  Most often, they just exploit this passage to try and force others to obey unjust laws or follow a leader blindly without criticism in the United States, a democracy where we can vote and have the right to protest.  It is further noted they only bring up St. Paul in this context when whoever happens to be in political power agrees with them, and ignore it when the other party takes power.

     Jesus was involved in politics.  No, he did not have election bumper stickers on the back of his donkey, or a yard sign for his preferred Sanhedrin candidate, and he didn’t lick envelopes for a candidate's mailing while teaching the Beatitudes.  The way Jesus was involved in politics was simply to teach truth.  When you are in the presence of an unjust power structure and preach truth, it is always inherently political.

     When you criticize the rich and instruct them to share what they have with the poor, Jesus was addressing values, but the same time challenging the current unjust economic and political structure.

     When you show mercy to a woman caught in adultery, while an angry mob stands by wanting her stoned according to the law, he was teaching values, but he was also criticizing an unjust legal system steeped in sexism and racism.

     When he overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple and said, "My father's house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations," he was criticizing an unjust business and economic system that robbed the poor to enrich the already rich, and also indicted a corrupt religious establishment based on violence, profit, and hypocrisy.  You might think the church should not be meddling in certain areas, but I’m afraid I have to tell you Jesus involved himself in every area of human existence… no area was exempt.

     While I do not believe the Church should endorse candidates, I do believe the Church must be involved in politics.  When I say that, I mean the church should be involved in politics in the way that Jesus was: by teaching truth and values.  You might not think those are political, but when you are in the presence of an unjust power structure and you teach the Gospel… the Truth… the Church is going to be seen as political.

     If you don't believe me, just try to talk about how Jesus, and indeed the entire Abrahamic tradition, including Islam, speaks of the core value of welcoming the stranger and the wanderer. See if you are not accused of being political about the subject of immigration.  

     Try to talk about the Christian value of honesty and truthfulness, and see if you are not accused of calling a politician a liar. 

     Post something on Facebook about Jesus’ teachings on peace and nonviolence.  Trust me, one of your commenters will see that as a political statement against the Second Amendment

     Oscar Romero summed it up well when he said, “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint.  When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.” If you don’t think teaching basic Christian values is not political, believe Oscar Romero, a Roman Catholic bishop who was assassinated for standing up to his government in defending the poor of his nation.

     The only reason such values are seen as political is because human beings have made them political.  That doesn't make them any the less the values of the Church.

     As for individual Christians, we are supposed to do good in the world… to make this world a little better. In our own time, it is our role to bring the kingdom of God into this present reality (I think there’s a famous part of a prayer that’s about that.)  One way we can do that is to vote.  It is not enough we observe personal piety; we, as Christians, must do what we can to dismantle oppressive power structures in our societies and create ones that support justice — when Jesus talked about sin, it was not just personal; he talked a lot about institutional… systemic societal sin.  That means we as individuals have to make political choices that can change society.  

     I personally have been involved in politics for many years, and I learned a long time ago I don't have to necessarily agree with a candidate on everything, or even like her or him, to vote for them.  I just have to look at a candidate and compare his or her stands with my values.  Some of those values are broad Christian values the church teaches: Will they care for the poor?  Will they be welcome the stranger?  Are they truthful?  But then I also will judge them on some values I believe are derived from my faith, but that I admit other people may see differently when it comes down to how you apply those values.  I will ask if they support education.  I will ask if they protect individual freedoms.  Naturally, no candidate ever ticks off all the boxes.  Ultimately, I have to make up my mind and vote.

     I cast my ballot this week.  I made my choices.  But now I have begun to think about the morning after the election.  Just as I was a Christian before the election, I am a Christian afterward.  And quite honestly, don't we spend most of our lives in the afterward?  So I have been thinking hard about how it is my responsibility to love my neighbors before and after the election, even if they vote differently.  And it will be the role of Christians and God's church throughout time to stand against injustice such as economic disparity, sexism, and racism, especially as it is embedded in the power structures of our day.  Yes, I voted for one person for president, but that just means I made my best judgment grounded in my faith and values at the time.  And once that person takes office, they become responsible for both the inherent injustices in the systems that dominate our country and any they might create by their policies.  It will not be my role as a Christian to follow them blindly.  In that afterward time, it will be my part, and yours, and the Church's to speak truth to power.

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