My sermon this morning focused on the upcoming elections. Our scripture readings were from Am 5:6-7, 10-15 and Mark 10:17-31. There is no podcast of the sermon for this Sunday but my sermon notes are below.
Part of what the Bible provides is a philosophy of how to led both our private and our public lives. If we are compassionate to the individuals we encounter and concerned with justice above all else in community affairs then it is said we are building up God’s Kingdom.
It is always easier for a minister to talk about personal responsibility than it is to talk about what we need to do to improve society. But we cannot as Christians afford to forget about the larger world because Jesus didn’t and part of our obligation as the faithful is to follow Jesus even into difficult places.
Every two years we face a terrible truth: to make it to Christmas we have to get through the fall elections. Ballots here in Oregon will be mailed out soon.
The political process ought to be one that has as a central goal the reconciliation of the American people. But political professionals have found that the easiest way to get votes is to divide people. This can be a disheartening time of year. There are too many times that with great certainty religious leaders announce what God’s position is on an issue or how they believe God would for a candidate. Our faith ought to be free of such political distinctions. God is not a Republican or a Democrat, as Jim Wallis likes to say, and Christianity is not liberal or conservative. Those are modern political terms. Sadly, some have tried to co-opt Christianity to advance their partisan political agendas. All Christians need to guard against that.
Scripture provides us some guidance, however, as we make decisions about how to cast our votes. And if we use Scripture combined with reason, tradition and experience – in the Wesleyan model of doing theology – we can come to some safe bets about where we should and shouldn’t direct our support.
Christians in the United States are some of the most divided people you’ll ever run across. Hot button social issues rip us apart and it may be simply impossible for us to find common ground on some controversial issues.
But are there issues that a large majority of Christians can agree with as we prepare to vote?
Two years ago leaders from the National Council of Churches USA – a body of mainline and orthodox Christians – sat down together and wondered where Christians of all stripes might find such common ground during the elections. They agreed on a set of principles and have asked that all our churches consider them again as we prepare to vote this November. And so, I share these principles with you now for your consideration.
1. War is contrary to the will of God. While the use of violent force may, at times, be a necessity of last resort, Christ pronounces his blessing on the peacemakers. We look for political leaders who will make peace with justice a top priority and who will actively seek nonviolent solutions to conflict.
2. God calls us to live in communities shaped by peace and cooperation. We reject policies that abandon large segments of our inner city and rural populations to hopelessness. We look for political leaders who will re-build our communities and bring an end to the cycles of violence and killing.
3. God created us for each other, and thus our security depends on the well being of our global neighbors. We look for political leaders for whom a foreign policy based on cooperation and global justice is an urgent concern.
4. God calls us to be advocates for those who are most vulnerable in our society. We look for political leaders who yearn for economic justice and who will seek to reduce the growing disparity between rich and poor.
5. Each human being is created in the image of God and is of infinite worth. We look for political leaders who actively promote racial justice and equal opportunity for everyone.
6. The earth belongs to God and is intrinsically good. We look for political leaders who recognize the earth's goodness, champion environmental justice, and uphold our responsibility to be stewards of God’s creation.
7. Christians have a biblical mandate to welcome strangers. We look for political leaders who will pursue fair immigration policies and speak out against xenophobia.
8. Those who follow Christ are called to heal the sick. We look for political leaders who will support adequate, affordable and accessible health care for all.
9. Because of the transforming power of God’s grace, all humans are called to be in right relationship with each other. We look for political leaders who seek a restorative, not retributive, approach to the criminal justice system and the individuals within it.
10. Providing enriched learning environments for all of God’s children is a moral imperative. We look for political leaders who advocate for equal educational opportunity and abundant funding for children’s services.
What do you think? Do these ten items speak to you?
It is very possible that today in other churches ministers are standing up and telling their parishioners that God wants them to vote one way or another on the different ballot measures and maybe even on the races for public office.
Truthfully, there are plenty of times that I myself look at different ballot measures and think that God must surely be opposed (or in favor) of this or that and as an individual – not as a church representative – I sometimes lend my name to different causes. But here is how I approach these issues:
I tell people that after prayerfully considering and studying the different measures and candidates that I have made my decisions on how to vote based on my understanding of where God is calling our society. What I do not do is insist that only my understanding of these issues is the true Christian understanding. We ought to take seriously the Prophet Micah’s call for us to walk humbly with our God.
And during any conversation about church and politics we should acknowledge there is another position that argues that churches should never be involved in political (or social) issues of any kind and should only be places of worship. The desire to remove ourselves from the political fights of the day is understandable but Jesus preached that our call is to build up the Kingdom in the here and now – not simply to wait for someone else to do it – and so we have to be involved no matter the risk to us.
Discipleship is risky business.
As you know, several of us from this congregation attended the fall gathering of the Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ this weekend in The Dalles. One of the speakers was Carlos Madrazos, a missionary attached to Global Mission – the joint UCC-Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) mission agency that we here at Parkrose help to fund. Carlos has just finished working for four years in Indonesia working to develop higher education programs. I was asked to drive him to The Dalles and in the car ride over he told me that in the 1970s he and his wife were forced to flee their homeland in the Philippines because the dictator there considering the liberating message of Christian to be subversive. But instead of simply accepting exile Carlos has accepted positions as a missionary that are equally as dangerous because he knows God calls him to this work.
To be uninvolved during these times would be turning our backs on God. There is simply too much war, too many children dying of hunger in a rich world, too much global pollution, and too much suffering for us to stay silent and risk nothing.
When your ballot comes open it, think about the principles we’ve talked about this morning, and vote.
If nothing else is true this is:
The world right now needs people committed to God’s justice to be engaged.
Let us together answer God’s call.