This weekend I had the pleasure of visiting a dear friend who now lives in a small community outside Cleveland, near where I used to live. We attended church services together, and the whole experience was so inspirational and refreshing during these final days of the presidential campaign, I decided to share with you some excerpts from the minister’s uplifting and inspiring sermon. I usually keep state and religion separated in my discussions with you, but these thoughts delivered so eloquently by the minister are an exception because of the vision and hope they express. Please keep in mind that these are only excerpts and taken out of context they may lose in the telling. I have included a link to the whole sermon and I strongly urge you to read it in its entirety. I promise you will come away refreshed and with a clearer vision of how to cast your vote. —-
—- Several weeks ago, a group called the Alliance Defense Fund made a point of calling on clergy to publicly advocate for particular candidates from the pulpit. They were right, I think, as I said earlier, that public societal arrangements matter as much to God as our private so-called “spiritual” lives do. I could not agree more that there would be something puny and irrelevant about a God who cared only for personal centeredness and serenity and morality and not for societal centeredness and serenity and morality. What kind of God would turn a blind eye to issues of war and peace, or health care, or how our economies are arranged? So yes, the Alliance Defense Fund has it right on that score: social salvation matters to God at least as much as does personal salvation.
For a pastor to tell a congregation how to vote, though, is not only demeaning (what, you’re not able to make your own choices!). It’s also terribly misguided on several other fronts. Yes, the church might well lose its tax-exempt status if I made such an endorsement from the pulpit. But that’s not why I refrain from such a declaration. There are other, far deeper reasons. First, as a pastor, my loyalty is to all of you. No matter how much you and I may disagree on which candidate is best, I am pastor to each one of you, as are Mark and Dan. We clergy have strong and decided opinions on a number of the candidates, as do many of you. Our care for you, though, has much greater priority than any political allegiances that may divide us.
So that’s first: we’re a church with a big umbrella, and we welcome people of all political persuasions. We adhere to an inclusiveness far more profound than any partisan political loyalty. Second—and this is not unrelated to what it is to be a church of the Reformation—we know that all human leaders and institutions fall short of the glory of God. When pastors opt not to endorse particular candidates, it’s not because we’ve put the “separation of church and state” above the freedom of the pulpit; and it’s not because we don’t have strong feelings ourselves. We refrain from publicly endorsing candidates because we know that not one of them fully embodies the dominion of God, which is where our deepest allegiance lies. John McCain, Barack Obama, Sherrod Brown, George Voinovich: all of them, like all of us, fall short of our holiest dreams. As politicians, they are regularly forced to let go of their highest ideals and to compromise. And so, as people of faith, the one and only personal loyalty we proclaim is to Jesus Christ. From a Christian pulpit, that’s the only allegiance to declare. Beyond that, as those who care about a public morality, we remain always, in a sense, critics—protesters, “Protest-ants.” We are critics—protesters—of all candidates and all policies that fail to embody the deepest hopes of those of us who take our bearings from Jesus and who lean upon the wisdom of God.
The God we know in the Bible adores all people; cares for widows and orphans and all those left behind; puts forgiveness and peace above revenge and war; is equally attentive to people of every nation and race; is passionate about healing and justice; and loves this beautiful and fragile earth.
So as Christians, it seems to me, as we see the limits of the policies of all the candidates, we are critics of any political platform that doesn’t let everyone have full health care coverage. We are critics of any arrangement that acquiesces to unequal access to education. We are critics of any international policy that relies too heavily on war and the exertion of power. We are critics of any discussion of taxation that focuses intently on what taxpayers can save and neglects to speak of how those taxes can and will benefit people who may be on the margins of society. We are critics of any economy in which extraordinarily wealthy people in failed financial institutions are allowed to make off with golden parachutes while all around them ordinary people have their homes foreclosed. We are critics of any legal system in which “black people are 12 times more likely to go to prison on drug charges than a white person” (Regina Brett, The Plain Dealer, Oct. 24, 2008, p. B1). We are critics of any government or economy that fails to heed the cries of “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40), the vulnerable and hurting people who were so infinitely precious to Jesus. —-
—- And Weil concludes this way: “The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to [that person], ‘What are you going through?’” (quoted in Martin Marty, Context, Oct. 2008, Part A, p. 8). Politics, of course, is about power and difficult choices. No one pretends that it’s easy. You couldn’t pay me enough to make a career in politics rewarding. I have some sense of the agonizing options that politicians face every day. But that needn’t stop a reform-minded church from relentlessly putting forth the ideal. If politics is to be redeemed, it has to approximate, as closely as possible, the heart of God. It has to be rooted in love.
So I would never presume to tell you how you should vote, or claim that I know how Jesus would have voted. Each of us takes our own best reading of the ways of God into the voting booth with us. What I think we can safely say, however, is that Christian voting takes love as its jumping off point. We’re to be guided not so much by our own self-interest as by the interests of those who have little. We’re to be led by a vision of a world in which every single person is accorded the worth and dignity that are their birthright from God. In every dimension of our lives, we’re to be zoned in on that guiding question: “What are you going through?” —-
—- We’re not first of all Republicans or Democrats. We’re not first of all disciples of Barack Obama or John McCain. We’re first of all disciples of Jesus Christ. If all our conversation and political advocacy were done with the sort of love and respect shown by that teenage boy, what might our world look like?
Not just in our personal lives, but in our voting and in all our political decisions, may we be moved and guided by just that sort of wisdom. May we give ourselves in love. —-