Speaking of the Election

In just under a year from now, the United States will hold its 58th presidential election. The run up to the primaries has already yielded all sorts of spectacles. As the party’s nominees (and potentially independent candidates) face off, the rhetoric and emotion will only grow.

Some pastors and churches will ignore it. Some will push the limits of what is legally allowed. And there are, of course, many points of engagement in between.

The challenge we face is how to speak about such an important matter in our nation while maintaining the role and message of the Church.

In October of 1774, Methodist founder John Wesley met with some of his members who would be voting in an upcoming election and gave them three pieces of advice:

  1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy.
  2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against.
  3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.

How incredible would it be if we actually took his advice?

While there may still be literal bribery and buying of votes, you could argue that bribery has transformed into campaign promises. The “Right” argues against “government handouts.” The “Left” argues against “kickbacks” and “favorable regulation/deregulation” for wealthy donors and corporations. I put those things in scare quotes because so much of our political discussion revolves around loaded labels that mean so much more than their literal definitions.

We must remember ourselves and remind our people that central to Christ’s example was self-sacrifice. It is easy to get tunnel vision and vote only what is best for us. But what if we took into consideration what is best for our neighbor? Our kids and grandkids? Those for whom the system doesn’t work? Those for whom the system is actually dangerous?

Tips two and three touch on a similar theme–losing sight of the humanity of “the other side.” This isn’t unique to elections–it happens in almost every context where “politics” comes into play. Yet, it often times seems easier to lose sight of the fact that the people running for President (or Senate or House or state and local level government) are actually real people.

You could argue that they bear some of the blame when they refuse to actually and honestly answer questions like “what is your biggest weakness?” or “describe a mistake you have made?” Or when their campaign advertisements and stump speeches turn them into superhuman characters. But we are smarter than that–at least we should be. When you read the backstories of campaigns, taken of course with a large grain of salt, you hear the stories of humanity (even if they are drenched in self-delusion).

The same goes for our perspective on those that vote differently than we do. We question how they could see it the way they do. Their perspectives don’t make sense to us. Don’t they understand how big of a mistake they are making? We build caricatures of those with whom we disagree, and this robs them of their humanity and the unique complexity of their identity.

The thread running through all three of these tips is that we must maintain our empathy, compassion, and connection with one another. We must look out for each other. We should not speak ill of one another. And we must fight hard to recognize and respect humanity–even in those with whom we most disagree.

Perhaps what might help us recalibrate our perspective is the exchange between Jesus and his disciples in this coming Sunday’s lectionary passage from the beginning of Mark 13. The disciples speak in awe and wonder of the Temple–a symbol of both religion and politics of the day. What awesome stones and buildings! can easily morph into How great is <Candidate/Party/Nation>!

Jesus’ response brings the starstruck disciples back down to earth: “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” Now, Jesus certainly understood the importance of the Temple and of symbols in general. The problem comes when they get blown out of proportion, skewing our vision of reality and taking the place of the things to which they were meant to point.

Later, Jesus warns them, “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many people will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ They will deceive many people.” There are many would-be messiahs, or people who point to things like nations and governments as messiahs. But Jesus implores us to remember that there is only one true Hope, one true Savior. God can work in and through people, organizations, and nations, but that doesn’t make them gods themselves.

As the next year plays out, how do you see yourself engaging the election–as an individual, as a preacher, as a church? What will be your goal if/when you speak about it?

Lectionary Connections: Year B Proper 28

Header image by Flickr user Justin Grimes. Used under Creative Commons License. Edited/Cropped from Original.

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