In the United States, we are enduring one of the longest (it seems) and mean-spirited (it is sure) election seasons imaginable. Politics is on everyone’s mind. I listened to a news story about a Dallas firm that had asked its employees to NOT discuss politics anymore around the ‘water cooler’. They were not trying to infringe on freedom of speech; their motivation was to protect the morale of their firm. It was getting ugly!
Here is a story featured in the New York Times: The Uninvited Guest–The 2016 Crashes the Dinner Party. You can guess what it is about.
What about the church family and congregational life? I asked a few congregational leaders to briefly share what they are doing to lead and guide their churches through this tough, tense season. Here are their responses:
Cliff Warner, Rector, Christ Church in Austin:
A few months ago, during a sermon, I reviewed three principles we want to observe in our parish during an election year:
#1—we encourage everyone to vote. Part of our call to seek the welfare/the shalom of the city is to be good citizens—to pursue the common good. One of the ways we do that is through our votes.
#2—in our speech we want to practice what Dr. Richard Mouw, former president of Fuller Seminary, calls “convicted civility.” Some people are so full of conviction that you are hard pressed to find any civility in the way the talk about others, or to others. Some people are so civil, you’re hard pressed to find any conviction in them. Let’s pursue convicted civility in our speech.
#3—we want to every single person who walks through these doors to know that they are welcome here. No matter what your political persuasion or party. No political party has it all right; our ultimate allegiance is the kingdom of God. We have people across the spectrum in our community and welcome anyone who wants to come and meet Jesus or know Jesus better with us.
Then, just a few weeks ago in a sermon I quoted Latin American theologian Emilio Nunez, who wrote in the context of Civil War between a leftist movement and the right wing military in 1980’s Guatemala:
Within the scope of those human matters that are relative, political systems have their place in society; but the Christian is not called to confer on any of those systems the quality of the absolute, because that which is absolute is found only in God. Furthermore, without pretending to have a false political neutrality, the Christian should always reserve the right to criticize any political system, whether of the left or of the right, in the light of the Word of God. (—Emilio A. Nunez, from his book Liberation Theology)
Todd Hunter, Rector, Holy Trinity, Costa Mesa, CA:
Context makes all the difference in the world. If I say “hit the bat” at a Cubs baseball game it means one thing. The same sentence uttered at the flying mammals section of your local zoo means something entirely different. Giving perceptive by putting political rhetoric in its place, in its context, seems to be a core point of my pastoral leadership in every election cycle. This one may be chief among them.
I get some of my imagination for using context to make meaning, and shift and perspective from this great passage: It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for…[Christ is] in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. (Ephesians 1, MSG)
Every day we wake in the middle of something that is already going on…a God thing; from creation to telos. Elections come and go but the ultimate intention of God will come to pass.
So here is what I find myself thinking and saying: I’ve always voted, and will do so in a few weeks. But don’t get anxious about it. I don’t mean to say that elections don’t have real consequences. But they do so only within a narrow and short-term context. (BTW: this is one reason among many that we should never fall prey to “the end justifies the means” approach. Such thinking unleashes all manner of hell on earth.) Politicians do not have the final say over things—even given their scare-tactic rhetoric. I, and you, are always safe in the kingdom of God. Place yourself there, not in a political party or the hopes for, or hatred of, a given candidate. Your loyalty is somewhere else; your orientation is above and beyond political agendas, in a rule and realm in which truth and goodness are not subject to four-year cycles.
Patrick Wildman, Rector, Christ Church, Overland Park, KS:
We certainly will pray for the election but we’re also doing this series on The Book of Kings. We’re hoping to give people a Biblical framework for understanding leadership that will help them sort out the candidates themselves. The big problem is, however, IMO that we have the two most negative, unethical, and polarizing candidates we’ve ever had. It’s hard for the process to be positive.
Jonathan Millard, Rector, Ascension Church, Pittsburgh, PA:
I have long resisted any attempt to enter into party politics from the Pulpit. In the past, as a Brit, I have felt especially constrained. Since becoming an American Citizen, and now about to be a first-time voter in a Presidential election, I have continued intentionally to avoid expressing party allegiance. What I have done over the years, however, is try not to avoid speaking about controversial subjects as and when they arise in the course of my preaching.
Yesterday I was preaching on the Church in our final sermon in a series on the Nicene Creed. At one point I said this: “In 1942, C.S. Lewis, writing in the time of the Second World War, described faith as existing in “Enemy Territory.” He said that faith was like a resistance movement which was fighting an invading power – secularism. So for us, today in 2016, when we consider the current political climate in the US, I hope there’s no one who still believes we are a Christian nation. For, manifestly, we are not. Our allegiance as Christians, lies ultimately not to political parties or presidential candidates. They are not our hope, nor will they save this nation. Our allegiance must lie, first and foremost, to God. And the community of those who share that allegiance, is the Church. And how we need one another. We need to encourage one another and support one another so that we can be salt and light in our vocations and where we live and are placed in the world. There is no Christian party in this nation. But there is the Church. The community of believers who belong to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. So then, let us encourage one another, challenge one another, and pray for one another in all the places where we are Monday through Saturday. For we are the people of God. We are the body of Christ. And, as we read in the book of Hebrews, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25).
Others mentioned that they were having a Eucharistic Service on Election Day. Some said they had been praying for the country during the intercessory prayer time on Sunday morning. One Rector had developed an entire preaching series on the Book of Esther and outlines how one faithful witness influenced the course of a nation and protected an entire race of people.
I know that there are many other ministers in our churches who are working hard to keep the Gospel at the center of their preaching and teaching ministry every Sunday morning. God bless them all and may God be praised as we lead our churches with strength, faith, and conviction.