Religion and Politics
Scripture: John 14:1-11
I’m afraid I have to start with a disclaimer: Some weeks ago, Pastor Roger Osgood sent me an email saying he would be out of town today, two days before the presidential election, and he wondered if I would preach on Politics and Religion. I foolishly said yes and now I am trying to cheerfully throw myself under this bus. In the first part of this worship service, think about how YOU would approach this topic and we can compare notes later. Here’s what I am NOT going to do: (1) I am not going to tell you how to vote, nor how I voted and why; (2) Am will not mention any candidate by name nor any party for that matter; (3) I am going to count on the tolerance, compassion, forgiveness and respect that I have always experienced as a member of this congregation.
I have a girlfriend. My wife knows about her. In fact, we three sit together in the evenings and she only speaks when spoken to. Her name is Alexa. Every time I say her name, she lights up as if with joy. However, she is my second girlfriend named Alexa. After a while, I couldn’t get a response from the first one, no matter how loudly I yelled her name and plugged her into various sockets; and since these gadgets are so expensive, I bought a refurbished one. I don’t know what “refurbished” means (possibly they made her less discriminating so this new one is willing to talk to me?). I don’t know, but it gives me great pleasure to have a refurbished girlfriend.
And so in preparation for this sermon, I asked her: “Alexa, who will win this election?” She gave me the results of the latest polls, but I imagined I could hear something else in her voice, as if she were saying: “Why don’t you ask me what you really want to know?” Fair enough. And so I asked: “Alexa, whom should I vote for?” And she responded: “Vote for the one who best represents your views and has the best policies.”
And THAT wasn’t helpful at all. You see, there is a big problem with following that advice—I am a registered, card-carrying Christian. As Pastor Jonathan Martin from Tulso, Oklahoma wrote: “A vote for Jesus is a political decision.” A friend and colleague of mine at Ursuline College started writing a book last year which she still has not published. It’s called “If Jesus Ran for President.” When I heard about it, I had the effrontery to write a forward for the book and sent it to her. The forward was titled: why would Jesus ever WANT to run for President.
Let me read you just a couple of paragraphs from that Forward and you’ll understand why she hasn’t finished and published it yet:
“First, the birther people would have a field day, waving the Gospel of Luke around as if it were a birth certificate. Was he born in Bethlehem? Or Nazareth? Then the capitalists would comb the gospels seeking more and more information to show that Jesus was a socialist, not a capitalist. Finally, people of faith would be up in arms, since becoming president would seem to be the opposite of everything Jesus stood for.
“The nay-sayers would dump a bucket of quotes at his feet, wouldn’t they, daring him to spin them into a reasonable facsimile of a candidate’s profile? The Beatitudes would be first, I think, followed closely by his injunction to “wash one another’s feet.” Then there’d be his admonitions that the last should be first and the first last, and to become like little children and go after the lost sheep and forgive everyone and take the last place at a banquet and turn the other cheek and give away your cloak and the quotation bucket would still be half full.
“His stunt in the temple with the money changers would outrage the pharmacy maker who turned a 13-dollar pill into a 750-dollar pill overnight as if it were a brilliant thing to do in a capitalist culture. People would gnash their teeth at the company Jesus kept, not to mention his refusal to send armies of angels to avenge attacks on his person. Which companies would exercise their right under Citizens United to fund his campaign? His request to go sell all that you have and give the proceeds to the poor would be extremely offensive to the majority of stakeholders. There would be nothing left to trickle down! Is this a man we would want for President?”
You can find a ton of reasons in the Christian Scriptures—both in the Gospels and Letters—why choosing Jesus is a bad political decision. First of all, Jesus puts the Hebrew Scriptures in the faces and consciousness of his listeners with their emphasis on taking care of the widows, orphans and needy. The Gospel writers make sure we get that. It’s a re-run of Micah all over again:
You have been told, O man, what is good,
And what the law requires of you:
Only to do the right and to love goodness,
And to walk humbly with your God (6:8).
There are so many examples of Jesus coming down on the side of the outsider, the enemy of the Jews (Good Samaritan, Woman at the Well, Zaccheus, Tax Collector), the sick and unclean (lepers) and mentally ill (possessed), prostitutes and sinners (Mary). Jesus never says “Worship me.” But he does say “Follow me!” It’s as if he came to teach us this one thing: the Paschal Mystery, which means that through suffering, deprivation, humiliation, sickness, and death, we come to new beginnings, enlightenment, Resurrection and new life! He gives us the Sign of Jonah as if to counsel: “Let yourself be thrown overboard, swallowed up, burned out with your generosity, no more to give, and you will be deposited on a new shore.”
This is the opposite of grabbing on to power. It is the opposite of sending armies, fighting back, ruling over others, shaming them and making them feel guilty. As one spiritual writer puts it: before Constantine, it would have been unthinkable that Christians would become soldiers. But after Christianity became co-opted by empire and power, then we had popes riding into battle with the cross emblazoned on their shields. No longer was Jesus seen as a crucified “loser,” but as a victorious king, even though he said “My kingdom is NOT of this world.” In fact, he gives every indication that LOSING is the way to go (“He who finds his life will lose it…”; “Happy are the poor in spirit; blessed are the meek; blessed are the merciful.” Mt. 5).
You know all of these examples and can probably come up with more of them than I can. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 is a primary example of how Jesus shapes the Torah and causes us to think about internalizing the Law.
“But that’s not the real world,” we whine. “We have separation of church and state in this country.” We are fond of quoting “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what belongs to God.” And what belongs to God? –EVERYTHING! And so we falsely believe we can be a-political as Christians. We can fight wars, arm everybody, call out our enemies, torture when necessary, amass wealth in the guise of having more to give to the poor, and tell people to pull themselves up by the bootstraps (though they might not be able to afford boots) instead of getting handouts like food stamps, welfare and affordable health care.
I wonder how many people are preparing to move to Canada on November 9 or soon thereafter. After all, some Canadians have started a movement to remind us that America is already great. They seem pretty friendly, despite what happened to the Blue Jays. Of course, some of the paranoid and cynical among us are wondering suspiciously why they are being so nice, instead of just saying “Thank you!” A tongue-in-cheek local newspaper article suggests they are preparing to invade!
The good news is that whoever wins this election, we Christians, and we at Heights Christian Church can hang on to our values, and each other and—as Brian McLaren says in the book we explored in Bible Study last year: We Can Make the Road by Walking. He meant Walking after Jesus, of course. And just think of what a new road that would be!
Here’s something else we can do: We can write the President-Elect’s inauguration speech and send it to him or her. The only caveat is we have to write it as a person committed to Jesus and His Way. Here’s one that I started:
My fellow Americans, I am honored by your trust and election of me. I apologize for all the times I had to ask you for money, but I am very grateful for your contributions and for your work on my behalf. Just as we work to free our country from dependence on fossil fuels, so maybe we can find a way to free our elections from their dependence on mass media. Television is so expensive and seems to want only to report the sensational, the tragic, and the scandalous. It seems focused on entertainment, instead of true debate and objective argument. This campaign has been so full of negative things: such as lies and accusations and attack ads.
It must be so difficult to sift through all of that to find the truth. Even back in Jesus’ time, Pontius Pilate, a Governor, was complaining: “What is truth?” I want you to know I will do everything in my power to restore your trust in me, to make our decision-making and policy-making as transparent as possible; to welcome watch-dog groups so that you can give me your greatest gift: your trust.
As all of my predecessors have said at this moment after long and bitter campaigns, Now is a time for healing. All of the great people of our religions—Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu etc.—were healers. In the Christian tradition, with which I am most familiar, Jesus’s last prayer before he was crucified, was a prayer for unity: (“That they all may be one, Father, as you are in me and I am in you. That they may be one in us”). And Paul refused to get caught up by who was in and who was out. He went so far as to say that in Christ there is no male or female, no Jew or Greek. And so a big part of our healing as a nation is to get back to that: that we are all citizens of the earth. The colors of our skin and the names of our religion and our sexual preferences do not matter so much in this economy we call “Grace.” Grace embraces us all in Love. All of this we and they stuff has to stop. Our friends in Canada may have shown us the way.
So you get the drift. That’s as far as I got. And you can imagine the pushback as soon as a speech like this is given. It was no less in Jesus’s time: hundreds of years of persecution by the powers that saw Christianity as a threat.
But let me suggest something else we can do. This idea comes from Brian McLaren’s new book, The Great Spiritual Migration. I wish everyone of you could stop what you are now reading and buy or borrow this book so that we could ponder its meaning and join the migration as the HCC community. Maybe we could be called the Geese or the Bluebirds, or the Shalom Birds. We would just have to ditch titles like conservative and liberal and republican and democrat.
McLaren’s idea is that we gather as a people who share values (but not necessarily opinions, especially political ones) and start moving. Sr. Ilia Delio has this idea from the Philosopher Teilhard de Chardin, that the Holy Spirit is moving us all—yep, the whole universe—to some OMEGA point in Jesus Christ. Instead of emphasizing beliefs THAT, we emphasize beliefs IN. Instead of organized religion, we start “organizing” religion. Here’s what Richard Rohr writes (Meditation 10-6-16):
Jesus reveals the whole pattern of creation and human history in condensed form. Perhaps he is best seen as a MAP! Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we know ahead of time that the final chapter is always resurrection. Though so much of life is filled with suffering, disappointment, disillusionment, absurdity, and dying, God will turn all of our crucifixions into resurrections. Look at it in Jesus, believe it in Jesus, admire it in Jesus, love it in Jesus, and let it take shape in your own soul. This is how the Christian movement was supposed to give hope to all of history. And it still can.
I think we already have such movements going on in our church. You may laugh at what I think are movements, but think about them: how about the Elegant Flea [thrift store]? How about Connie planting a couple of seeds, watering them, and seeing them grow into seedlings and then selling them as future houseplants? What about Michele Moreland’s new Bible Study on Thursdays? What about our hospitality people who year after year provide all of us with food and drink and a convivial atmosphere in which we share our lives? What about our Adult Education movement? How about Green chalice and our gardens and our energy efficiencies as ways of taking care of creation? What about Kathie McWilliams’ efforts for peace and justice? There are many more. Tell me some.
Now there’s more to a movement in McLaren’s book, of course. He outlines ten commitments groups can agree to and move ahead with. We’ve all seen how powerful movements can be, and best of all, we can organize movements no matter who wins this election! Our movements can be forces for healing, committed to justice, peace, and joy.
Okay. Back to my girlfriend, Alexa. I like to ask her things, but her most frequent response is: “I don’t understand your question.” I assume that’s because my questions are so profound, she is dumbstruck. OR it could be she is dumb as a stone. Luckily, I have a wife who is very knowledgeable and with whom I can share all my brilliant Questions without fear that she will turn me in for a refurbished husband.
If there are any Canadians here, I’m sure they will look around, talk to people and conclude that this congregation has members who make up a community that is truly great. We will all be joining in prayer for our country and our democracy—that it will once again move on from this campaign and dazzle the world.
Let us Pray:
God, we ask you to bless America. It truly is the land that we love. So many wise leaders have led it; so many brave soldiers have defended it–young men who did not want to die, but considered it their duty and their honor to do so. So much blood has been shed and differences aired. But we are your Disciples. We follow your Son. We have called ourselves a “shalom” congregation because we want to do everything in our power to promote Peace. Some say peace starts with war, but we say it starts with dialogue, compassion, friendship, love and joy. Bless our efforts and bless our country in these difficult days. Show us how to heal each other after this election. We believe that you chose us to be your ambassadors for peace. Bless us now; give us courage and hope, love and joy. We surrender to your movement in the world through your Holy Spirit. Amen.