I woke up this morning to discover two things: First, The Columbus Dispatch poll has the Presidential Election in a virtual dead heat. Out of 2880 voters polled, Senator Kerry is eight votes ahead. In Ohio, this election is a virtual tie. The second thing I found was my lawn sign was gone. Others have complained about destroyed lawn signs, but now mine is gone.
Thus, two lessons learned. First, all eligible voters must get to the polls Tuesday and cast their vote. There is absolutely no excuse for not voting this year. None. Second, this race, this tough and often nasty race came home to my lawn last night, somewhere between midnight and 6am. Now it feels personal. Someone broke the law and stole my sign.
With less than two days before the election, I ask you, is God a Republican or a Democrat? In this election, I have heard Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Rod Parsley, and several Bishops in the Roman Catholic Church declare God is on the side of George W. Bush. One Colorado Bishop said that "abortion outweighs every other issue." (Christian Century, November 2, 2004, p. 3). They have noted he is correct in his stands about stem cell research, abortion, and same-sex marriage. While I do not align my theological beliefs with the Christian pastors mentioned above, I understand that they are saying on issues that matter to them, President Bush is right. (I certainly know there are pastors lining-up behind Sen. John Kerry on their issues as well).
But what the law firm of Parsley, Falwell, and Robertson have done is name issues that for them are nonnegotiable. I would like to do the same. But, I base my belief on the firm ground of the Bible as opposed to political party affiliation. I will return to this in a few minutes . . .
I am concerned about either party declaring they have the truth that aligns God on their side. The God revealed in holy scripture is neither a Democrat nor a Republican. George Bernard Shaw once remarked, "God made man in His image, and we have decided to return the favor." There is a tremendous danger to create God is our image. Shaw in his cynicism about religion, recognized the tendency of those in various political parties to define God as little more than a collective representation of themselves. Republicans may dress Jesus in a Brooks Brothers suit while Democrats put him in the denim work clothes of union workers.
Everybody wants God on their side. It is a natural feeling. But, how we deal with this feeling is another matter. Some candidates have advertisements that reflect their opponents as not liking God enough, or not respecting God's name. At the same time candidates show themselves - appearing in almost holy light, like Jesus or Moses - as aligned with religious principles and values so that people portray them as "Godly leaders." I believe this is bad politics and it is bad religion.
The Bible has another word for this. The Bible calls this idolatry. The Apostle Paul saw this tendency for people to create for themselves a god who symbolized the political and economic interests of their own special interest group and who ordained the values of their own particular lifestyle. He wrote: "Professing themselves to be wise, they become fools, and change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like a corruptible man . . . who changed the truth of God into a lie" (Romans 1:22-23). We need to move beyond idolatry and the self-congratulatory ways of the world and embrace the humility of our faith tradition. (Quoted from Tony Campolo's book, Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat?, Word Publishing, Dallas, Tx., 1995, pp.2-3).
The Republicans and the Democrats each have virtues and vices. I will speak to, what I believe, is THE core virtue of each party. Republicans are on target when they emphasize individual responsibility. Traditionally, they have expected people not to blame others for problems that are a result of their own shortcomings or failures. They have expected able-bodied men and women to work and not live off welfare. Democrats, on the other hand, are more likely to see how a society can victimize people. They have traditionally named the injustices in social structures that keep certain people from being able to share in the fullness of the American Dream. They will work hard to make government give people equal opportunity. So the Republicans pick up the biblical emphasis personal responsibility, the Democrats are big on trying to make government compassionate.
In facing their differences, Tony Campolo says that the key difference between a Republican and a Democrat comes down to this: If someone is drowning a hundred feet offshore, a Republican will throw out 50 feet of rope and say, `I've done my part, now it is time for you to do your part. Swim to the rope.' The Democrat, on the other hand, seeing someone drowning 100 feet offshore will throw out 200 feet of rope, crying out, "This is plenty of rope. Help yourself in." Then dropping the rope and running down the beach they yell back, `I've got to save someone else!' In either case, the person drowns.
In reality, the best each side has to offer is half the truth. We will never have a great society unless individuals are personally transformed by the Holy Spirit. But, we will never have a great society if we do not address the structural evils we find in the social arrangements of our times. (Ibid, p.7). We need a third way, a way which engages the best values and virtues of each party in a faith-based approach moving into the future.
Allow me to offer four thoughts on this way, as you head to your Decisions in Election Year 2004 are now less than 44 hours away.
The first relates to nonnegotiable issues. Earlier I said that certain Christian leaders have established what, for them, are nonnegotiable issues. While is my deepest hope that people of faith can find a way, through humility, prayer, and the abiding love of God, to discover common ground around stem cell research, abortion, and same-sex marriage, I feel that as people of the Bible and followers of Christ, we should all find is nonnegotiable. That issue is poverty. Throughout scripture, our God is a God of the poor. One our of every sixteen verses of scripture is about poverty. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, one of every nine verses deals with poverty. Dr. James Forbes of Riverside Church in New York has put it this way: "Nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor." In this land of plenty, 36 million Americans are poor. Over half of the these poor Americans are under the age of 9 years old. 45 million are without health coverage and 25.5 million are hungry this morning. (Drawn from The Christian Century, November 2, 2004, p. 3). I believe, as a church, we need to make poverty our nonnegotiable issue when we go to the polls. Which candidates are working for health care, just housing, and policies which help the poor? It is nonnegotiable to place concerns of poverty as central to the Judeao-Christian faith.
The second relates to civility. I believe that sincere Christians and other people of faith can choose to vote for any candidate for reasons deeply rooted in their faith. I also believe we should examine all candidates for the ways in which their policies effect Americans and others on this planet based on your strongly held Christian values and ethics. We need a return to civility, but a civility that questions candidates issues and seeks clear answers, not a "hand-clasping, back-slapping" civility that leaves public officials unaccountable to public scrutiny and inquiry. We also need to be civil with one another. So, whoever took my lawn sign down last night, please give it back!
Third, we must remember that voting is a right which has been hard won in difficult battles. Having been through Selma and Birmingham, Alabama, Greenwood and Rulesville, MS., and other places in the south recently, and having witnessed the ways in which American citizens, black and white, laid their lives on American soil to garner the right to vote, I can say you must execute this right. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said, "A Voteless people is a hopeless people."
If you are not moved by the stories of men and women who died fighting on American soil for the right to vote in the 40's, 50's, and 60's, then open your eyes and realize that men and women are fighting today (and losing life and limb) to secure your right to walk freely to the polls on Tuesday. Last Sunday night in this sanctuary, a small gathering of people worshiped to honor and celebrate the men and women of our armed services who are serving overseas - particularly in Iraq. As I heard stories about the wounded and dying in battle there, I was moved to tears in Thanksgiving to God that I have a voice and a vote in determining the future in that war and in other global and domestic decisions yet to be made.
Finally, faith in Jesus Christ must inform our daily decisions. My decisions in the voting booth are a part of my daily life. I offer five guides that I use in these times of crisis to inform my convictions about faith and life in Christ.
First, Jesus Christ, as attested to in the Holy Scriptures, knows no national boundaries. Those who confess his name are found throughout the earth. Our allegiances to Christ and his church, take priority over national identity. Second, Jesus Christ calls us to be peacemakers. I am seeking to find ways to be part of peacemaking in the face of war. Last Sunday night, through prayer and presence, I was honored to stand with and among men and women who serve our nation as soldiers. I also find myself standing with those who are working to end war in nonmilitary functions and ways. But, the key is working, as Christ would have us do, for peace and justice. Third, Jesus Christ calls us to see not only the splinter in our adversary's eye, but also the beam in our own. The distinction between good and evil does not run between one nation and another. It runs straight through the human heart. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Fourth, Jesus Christ shows us that enemy-love is at the heart of the gospel. Paul writes in Romans 5:8,10: "While we were yet enemies, Christ died for us." Enemy-love does not mean capitulating to hostile agendas and domination. It does mean refusing to demonize any human being created in God's image. Fifth, Jesus Christ teaches us that humility is the virtue befitting forgiven sinners. This tempers political disagreements, and it allows that our own political perceptions, in a complex world may be wrong. (Reference, Jim Wallis, Sojourners, October 2004, "Confession in Christ").
Jesus Christ is either authoritative for our lives as Christians, or he is not. He cannot be set aside for the agendas of earthly power. No nation, including ours, can usurp the place of God in Christ for our lives.
Enough said. There is a mighty wind blowing through the nation today. I hope and pray in the wind of the Holy Spirit and not simply the hot air of political conflict. I encourage to use measure what issues are nonnegotiable for you (hopefully poverty is one of them), to speak and act with civility, to remember that your vote has been and continues to be hard won and not to be neglected, and finally to put Christ in the center of your decision-making on Tuesday and every day - knowing that neither he, nor God in Heaven is a Republican or a Democrat. Ultimately, our party affiliation pales in comparison to our lineage as children of God. Amen.
Copyright 2004, The First Congregational Church
Copyright 2004 First Congregational Church, UCC, Columbus Ohio