I stand by this statement. Over the last 12 years our church has by-and-large managed to avoid partisan politics by focussing on the gospel, teaching the whole counsel of God and celebrating diversity around disputable matters.
But I also realize that this may be a cop out; a refusal to step in to the land-mine infested field that is partisan politics. You see, we live in a moment of fierce political polarization. Politics has become a religion for so many Americans. Our political convictions are our creed and our political party is our tribe. We often feel more identified with our tribe than with other Christians who may vote differently from us. Therefore people are more willing to leave a church based on perceived political differences than they used to. All this means that there is a temptation for pastors to stay further away from politics than they should out of fear.
So, with that in mind, I offer some simple pastoral guidance around election time.
1. Vote faithfully
Vote faithfully, recognizing that living in a democracy is a privilege, citizenship is a responsibility and your vote does make a difference. Even if you feel like you are in the minority, your vote still has value. Voting can change history for good. Glenn Scrivener writes about the powerful combination of preaching and voting in Christian History in his book, The Air we Breathe.
"Consider three social transformations in Christian history: the end of infanticide, gladiatorial games, and the slave trade. They’ve come through preaching and politics. It’s both—but in a particular way. On infanticide, Christians saved babies from exposure and raised them long before Valentinian I made laws that parents must raise their offspring and forbade the killing of an infant. Preaching and politics. On gladiatorial games, Christians didn’t only preach against blood sports. What reportedly moved Emperor Honorius was the martyrdom of Telemachus. The monk entered the arena to stop a duel, was stoned to death but his witness changed Honorius’s mind and Rome’s laws.On the slave trade, abolitionism was a religious movement first and last. Preaching won hearts but without the Imperial power to change the laws, and diplomatically spread abolitionism to Catholic and Muslim lands, the evil would have remained."
Preaching and voting are a powerful combination.
Voting Biblically does not mean we check our brains at the door. We need to discern between clear Biblical imperatives, more complex Biblical ethics, conscience and preference as we vote. The propositions facing us this week include abortion, gambling, arts in education, climate control and the selling of flavored tobacco. Not all propositions are created equal. They require thoughtfulness. For instance, there is really no clear Biblical text that can help us to decide whether schools should, or should not, have an arts program. As a musician who taught the arts, I am for it, but this is simply a preference of mine. While I believe it is socially and culturally beneficial for schools to have an arts program, it has no clear connection to the Biblical text. (Although you can find a Bible verse for anything if you try hard enough!) It's a matter of preference.
Then there are propositions that have a Biblical ethic but are more complex. For instance, the proposition about electric vehicles. Clearly, care for the environment is in God's commission to us in Genesis. I find it sad when Christians deny that the Bible speaks to creation care. However, one may accept this and dispute the degree to which climate change is taking place. Or one may not see electric cars as the best solution to our environmental issues. To say that to be Christian is to ignore the environment because it is a liberal agenda, is absurd. Equally, to say that to be Christian is to drive an electric car, is simply first world naïveté. (Sorry Elon) Creation care is clearly a Biblical ethic while its solution is disputable. It requires thoughtfulness.
Then there are those propositions that cut right to the heart of what the Bible says about God's image and morality. The Scriptures' clear and repeated teaching about the sanctity of life in the womb means we should do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable image bearers of God on the earth. Even as we hold the tension of honoring the image of God in women, particularly mothers who were victims of abandonment or sexual abuse in their pregnancies, we are not free to sanction violence against the most vulnerable image bearers - the unborn. Instead we are to give ourselves to the dignity of mothers who feel overwhelmed with their pregnancy through adoption, foster care and support of those who choose to raise their children. While this issue is politically volatile, it is not Biblically disputable.
3. Vote Unpredictably
If we are to vote both Biblically and thoughtfully we may find ourselves voting less predictably. Less tribally. Less on brand. These propositions in particular, allow us to vote in a way that may depart at times from one party line. So for instance, a Republican who would vote against late term abortion might feel compelled to vote for electric cars because of a biblical conviction about care for the environment. Unpredictable. Or, a Democrat who would typically vote to care for the environment, might also decide to vote against late term abortion because of Biblical conviction. Unpredictable. Perhaps both would vote against the selling of flavored tobacco to teens. How marvelously unpredictable.
4. Vote Worshipfully
Finally, Jesus words should ring in our ears as we vote. "Render to Ceasar what is Caesar's. Render to God what is God's." Remembering that only Jesus is King will help us to avoid deifying those politicians we vote for and demonizing those politicians we vote against. It will help us remember that no politician, party or policy is perfect, and sometimes we have to vote holding our noses, for the lesser of two evils. Refuse to give politicians or their parties the kind of allegiance that belong only to Jesus and His kingdom. Politicians are of some consequence, but they are not Sovereign. While some politicians and their policies are better than others, they and their policies are all flawed. As we vote worshipfully, we are able to treat those with whom we differ with dignity, instead of demonizing them. Our King told us to love our neighbors and our enemies, after all.
John Wesley gave some wise advice to his congregation about how they should view those who vote differently from them on October 6th, 1774.
"I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them
a. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy
b. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
c. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side."
250 years later this is still good wisdom for us.
By God's grace, voting faithfully, thoughtfully, unpredictably and worshipfully, it's possible!