Posted at LeaderWorks
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.