Elections are more than political exercises; they affect lives. Fear and confusion is gripping some children today, so they need our prayers. Two friends shared the following prayer requests and gave me permission to share them more broadly.
“My wife is a high school librarian. She called to let me know many Latino students are distraught. Their parents are not in the US legally and the students are afraid their parents will be deported.
“Please pray for these students. Today this is probably happening at schools throughout Texas.”
And another friend responded:
“My wife is a pre-k teacher . . . and she has felt and heard the same from her students, even at 4 years old. Prayers are definitely needed.”
No matter who we supported in Tuesday’s vote, we should care deeply for this children and their families.
(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists website.)
Things are about to get crazy in Texas – or crazier. It is less than two months before the Republican and Democratic primary elections here (March 1), and early voting begins Feb. 16.
No party speaks for God. There will be committed Christians, as well as others, running in both parties. Some of them will actually use language that connects deeply with those of us who seek to follow Christ.
Language is a powerful tool for good or evil, right or wrong. As a result, we Christians need to listen with all the intelligence and wisdom we can muster through the help of the Holy Spirit. We listen with the ears of Texans and Americans, but we also seek to turn up our spiritual hearing aids in order to hear with the ears of Christ.
The CLC has prepared a document on civility in public discourse from a biblical perspective. Please check it out, share it with friends, or preach and teach from it in church. If you do the latter, please send us a recording or copy of what you do. For a copy of this CLC resource, click here.
Our Micah 6:8 Conference speaker Jen Hatmaker recently exhorted Christians to use our words for good and be kind even when we passionately disagree with one another. Her words serve as a reminder as we enter election season that we can disagree without being disagreeable.
Let’s be at our best as we exert this high privilege of voting to determine our local, state, and national direction in regard to government. Many people have died so we would have this privilege.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29 NRSV).
(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)
Now may be the time to revive a tradition from the early days of the New England colonies — the “election sermon.”
“The annual election sermon was a Puritan phenomenon that lasted for well over two hundred years, from 1634 through 1884,” writes Nancy S. Taylor in the Fall issue of Yale Divinity School’s Reflectionsjournal. It came after an election and provided an opportunity for elected officials to hear a word from the minister.
On May 30, 1694, Samuel Willard mounted his Boston church pulpit to address the region’s recently elected rulers: “His Excellency the Governor, and the Honorable Counselors, and Assembly of the Representatives of the Province of Massachusetts Bay in New England,” all of whom are sitting in the pews that day, Taylor says.
Willard’s sermon was called “The Character of a Good Ruler.” This sermon had particular significance because it came in the wake of the Salem witch trials of the two previous years. Willard had successfully stood in defense of some members of his church who had been accused. Taylor writes:
“Now, a year later, Mr. Willard preaches the election sermon to the region’s freshly elected magistrates, reminding them that ‘the Weal or Woe of a People mainly depends on the qualifications of those Rulers, by whom we are Governed …’ Surely the Witch Trials are a raw wound to these would-be rulers and Mr. Willard’s words salt. As a pastor it is the weal or woe of the people that matters to him. Will the colonists’ wants and needs be heard? Can they entrust their safety to these leaders? Or will they again be subjected to the foolishness and agony of such tyrannical injustice as blighted the years 1692- 93, leaving thirty-two dead from state execution and almost no New England town or family unscathed?”
With the injustices of the witch trials fresh in everyone’s minds, Willard “insists that civil rulers should be just men. It is not adequate that they understand the law. Surely the justices who presided over the executions in 1692-93 understood the law. That is not nearly enough. They must themselves be just.”
“Ignorance,” Mr. Willard declares, “is a Foundation for Error, and will likely produce it.” Injustice will beget injustice and ignorance will beget yet more ignorance. Those invested with the privilege and responsibility of ruling their fellow human beings “must be above Flattery and Bribery, must hate Ambition and Covetousness,” for “if these Rule him, he will never be a just Ruler.”
Finally, Willard said a ruler “must be one who prefers the public Benefit above all private and separate Interests.”
In today’s American political environment, many politicians seem more driven by ambition and covetousness than by desire for the public benefit. I use “many” and not “all” intentionally.
I wish there was a way for us to choose our public officials without allowing them to campaign for office themselves. It is impossible, I know, but it surely would be nice if we could decide who the most capable leader is and pursue him or her, rather than having ego-driven men and women decide they are the best and pursuing us. Of course, we did have that in George Washington. The first, I believe, was the best.
It does us little good, however, to indulge in wishful thinking, except to the extent that it reminds us that ambition and covetousness should not be the primary qualifications for our leaders. Ambition, of course, doesn’t have to be bad. For instance, ambition to pursue the benefit of all is a much higher aspiration than ambition to pursue the benefit of self and one’s friends.
As Willard said, “A People are not made for Rulers, But Rulers for a People, and just as there is a great Trust devolved on them, so is there an answerable Reckoning which they must be called unto. …”
Taylor, now senior minister of Old South Church in Boston where Willard once preached, also offered a warning to today’s pastors who desire to preach an election sermon. “[R]eligious leaders have no business holding our political leaders to moral account or challenging their characters if we have not attended to our own characters and our own moral fortitude. We, too, must be just.”
Samuel Adams came along almost 100 years after Willard and was a member of Old South Church, as well. Adams maintained “democracy depends on a common commitment to key principles,” Taylor writes.
“He conceived of these principles as an interconnected triad of virtue, piety, and love of liberty (not only one’s own liberty, but everyone’s liberty as a God-given, “unalienable right”). By contrast, when democracy is reduced to liberty alone – liberty unhinged from the rigorous disciplines and high principles of virtue and piety – everything gets off-kilter. Today’s politicians routinely give tremendous attention to liberties and liberty, but when was the last time you heard a politician wax passionate on virtue or piety? Perhaps that is where we come in – ensuring a healthy balance to that symbiotic relationship between political and spiritual leadership, each challenging and inspiring the other, each embracing responsibility for the greater good, each serving different functions in a greater whole.”
As we speak about virtue and piety, let’s be careful that we do not make the error of thinking this or that political party has the corner on the virtue and piety market. Neither does. If we let Christ speak through us into this day’s challenges, then we will be doing both His Kingdom and our nation a great service.
This is the third post related to the the current issue of Reflections.
Today is election day. When the results are in, some of us may feel a sense of hope, others may feel hopeless. Either reaction denies our greater reality of hope in Christ and the divine purposes of God.
“Hope is not a political slogan,” writes Diana Butler Bass inReflections. “In Christian tradition, hope is one of the three theological virtues. According to Paul in First Corinthians 13, hope, along with faith and love, form the core of Christian life. In classical theology, hope is the opposite of despair, of which John Chrysostom said, ‘It is not so much sin that plunges us into disaster, as rather despair.’”
Butler contrasts the despair that life can implant in one’s soul with the hope that Christ brings. Lament provides the pathway out of despair.
“We must lament the state of things because we believe a different future is possible; we must acquaint ourselves with despair because we know the gulf between the two. But lament and understanding do not end in despair. Rather, despair points toward a spiritual reality: at the center of all doubt is, as the Hebrew prophets write, a steadfast and compassionate God.”
We would not lament if we thought there was nothing beyond despair, because to lament is to mourn for the loss of something. We have lost Eden. We have been cast from the garden. But there was a God of Eden and a God who draws us toward a new Eden. Thus there is hope.
Bass couples hope with courage. For the Apostle Paul, she said, “hope goes far beyond sentimental feelings. Hope is the driving vision of a world restored by grace, and the ability to act upon what is only partly seen.”
“To those who trust that the future holds the promise of God’s salvation, hope-filled action is courage. Indeed, without the courage to act, hope is just a word or a slogan on a fading poster. However, when we act with deep assurance that things can and will be different, acedia [the desire to flee from the good, toward apathy, isolation, even death] loses its hold and we can move back into the world. Hope and courage are intimately connected in a mutual exchange of expectation and transformation. Hope without courage is a platitude; courage without hope is folly.”
The hope God has given us was never meant solely to apply to a heavenly afterlife. Hope, like love and faith, is for life, and life begins now.
Watch the election returns, because they are very important to our national life. But raise up no political figure as a messiah for we already have The Messiah. And tear down no politician as an anti-Christ for he or she is a child of God.
“[H]ope comes not through political campaigns. Rather, lasting hope will spring from a rebirth of courage in faith communities, when God’s people prophetically act on divine intention for a world transformed. . . . [T]he groaning of creation strangely cheers me. After all, these are the labor pains. Redemption awaits.”
This is the second of several posts I am going to write related to the the current issue of Reflections.
Scripture can get under skin. Take for instance 1 Samuel 12:12. Samuel is speaking to the Israelites about their desire to have a king like all of the other nations around them.
“But when you saw that King Nahash of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us’, though the Lord your God was your king.’” (NRSV)
Reading this during our election season made me think of Christians in America. As we choose a president, it is wise for us to remember that we have a King, to whom we owe ultimate allegiance.
“Now after John [the Baptist] was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” (Mark 1:14-15 NASV)
The coming of Christ ushered in a new phase of God’s kingdom, and all who follow Christ are now subjects in that Kingdom. We seem, however, more concerned in the U.S. today with who is president than who is King.
Christians are citizens of two “kingdoms” — God’s and the earthly one in which they live. American Christians have the privilege of living in a democratic nation where we can actually have a voice in the kind of government we want. That has been a very rare privilege in the history of humanity. It is, of course, also a rare responsibility.
As we approach our time to vote, we should do so very seriously. The values that arise out of our relationship with God, as revealed in Christ, should impact the choices we make. We have an opportunity the early Christians never had; we can actually make a difference in government in order to make it more like what the Apostle Paul envisioned when he said government is supposed to be “God’s servant for your good.” (Romans 13:4A)
Government has a God-ordained role. And since in the U.S. the government is literally ours, then our voting makes us collectively responsible for our government. In this amazing historical setting, we are not only to be good American citizens but good Kingdom ones, as well.
Going back to the story of the Israelites in 1 Samuel. They got pretty much what they deserved – a king who looked good and fought well while not being very wise. We can see similarities in the U.S. today. Thanks to television, you really need to be handsome or beautiful to get elected, and those who kill our enemies or like to use fighting words get an extra measure of respect. It is an ego-driven nationalism at work, and God’s Kingdom can become lost in the makeup and clamor.
God, however, is always at work, even when political leaders fail us. In 1 Samuel, God raised up David, who did much for God and God’s people while Saul still sat on the throne.
What we do on election day is very important. But as we vote it is good to remember that those of us who are Christians still answer to a higher authority because we are part of God’s Kingdom, and this is a Kingdom that stretches far beyond our national borders.
We vote and are good American citizens. More importantly, we love God with all of our being and we love other people as much as we love ourselves. In so doing we are good Kingdom citizens, and this allegiance will last forever.