Last January I promised that since the United States is in an election year I would this fall address the theme “The Kingdoms of This World in Light of the Kingdom of God.” I committed myself back then, in part, so I wouldn’t back down once the political rhetoric had risen to fever pitch (which it has) and I had become so totally disillusioned by it all (which I have) that I would be tempted to throw up my hands (which I want to do) and proceed on to some less polarizing topic. But, having committed myself to the topic of our civic responsibility I will do my best to say something that I trust will be helpful.

At the outset I had better make a disclaimer: if you are wanting to come away from this essay knowing who to vote for in this presidential election you will most certainly go away disappointed. I would not tell you that even if I had great clarity on the subject (which I do not) since it would remove from you the responsibility of free moral agency, which each one of us is called upon to exercise before God. I do, however, have some theological convictions that surround civic responsibility, and those I am more than happy to share with you—I’ll limit myself to four. And perhaps, just perhaps, these four convictions will give you some guidelines for working on election matters in your own region and context.

1. I must give my first and ultimate allegiance to the Kingdom of God and of his Christ.
No human being, no nation/state, no political party, no religious denomination or institution can have that allegiance; only the one true God. Always and at all times we seek first the kingdom of God and the righteousness that is inherent in that kingdom life (Matt. 6:33).

In 1659 Edward Burrough, a British Christian leader, wrote, “We are not for names nor men, nor titles of government, nor are we for this party or against the other … but we are for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness, righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with God, and with one another, that these things may abound.”

2. I must always distinguish between authentic patriotism and nationalism.
Authentic patriotism concerns itself with love of country and pride in its highest ideals. Further, it insists on a clear-eyed understanding of the failings of a country and a call to make them right. Nationalism, on the other hand, is a blind loyalty of country and a refusal to consider any shortcomings or weaknesses in that country. With nationalism “my country” must always be on the side of truth and light; “your country” is always on the other side.

The God-given task of the state is to provide for justice, stability, and peace for all people alike (Romans 13: 1-7). When it does this we commend it; when it fails to do this we critique it and prophetically witness against it. This is authentic patriotism and a true virtue.

3. I must give witness “for life” as consistently and as unambiguously as possible.
This witness needs to weave its way throughout all human experience, from the womb to the tomb. This means seeking ways to protect the unborn. This means standing against all forms of prejudice which would dehumanize people precious to God. This means working to eliminate poverty and other dehumanizing social conditions. This means witnessing for peace and reconciliation everywhere possible and laboring hard for genuine alternatives to war. This means seeking out creative alternatives to capital punishment. This means rejecting euthanasia and instead working for a more compassionate end of life environment.

In seeking a deeply consistent “for life” witness our major political parties have not served us well. The Republican party has tended to be a bit better in the arena of personal ethics; the Democratic party has tended to be a bit better in the arena of social ethics. But neither party give us a witness that is directed consistently toward life, and they both seem trapped by positions and constituencies that render them unable to provide any creative leadership in these matters.

4. I must give special consideration and protection to the weakest, most vulnerable members of society.
I mention this because the Bible does … vigorously, and in doing so it is expressing a deep reality about the heart of God. God really does cares for the marginalized, and so should we. Have you ever noticed the enumerable times Scripture singles out for special care the widow, the orphan, the alien, the stranger, the sojourner, the child, the poor. The biblical concern for the powerless and defenseless is consistent and vigorous. This is why James could lay it down as a mark of pure and undefiled religion that we would “care for orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin once said, “Our moral, political, and economic responsibilities do not stop at the moment of birth. Those who defend the right to life of the weakest among us must be equally visible in support of the quality of life of the powerless among us: the old and the young, the hungry and the homeless, the undocumented immigrant and the unemployed worker.”

How all this is done is a real Gordian knot. Some groups emphasize individual initiative and local community engagement. Others stress the role of government and social institutions. Still others want laws enacted that will ensure that we become a more compassionate society. I must admit that I tend to think that if our hearts were right toward the poor and marginalized any one of these approaches would yield the desired end. But then, that only explains why I am not a politician!

May God be with you as you seek to sort through these matters and make your way to the polls this November 2.

Growing Together
For civic responsibility in this election year we suggest five simple tasks. (For those reading and living in other countries facing other political realities, please bear with us and apply these thoughts to your situation as best you can.)

• Vote!

• Take with utmost seriousness the instruction of 1 Peter 2:13-17: “For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right … . Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”

• Go to the Internet and look up the Party Platform for both the Democratic and Republican Parties. Add other party platforms in which you have special interest. Seek to read these platform positions in light of your Christian convictions.

• Give special attention to a discipline of listening during the days leading up to the election. Listen to other people state their political convictions and try to understand their point of view, especially when it differs significantly from your own. Say as little as possible yourself.

• Keep your intentions and comments clean and pure. Refrain from exaggeration. Display the utmost respect for all candidates. Refuse to vilify or objectify. Honor Everyone.

Starting Soon: The 2018-19 Renovaré Book Club

How do we read for transformation, not just information? Choose books that stir the soul and have an enduring quality. Then read with God and others at an unhurried pace, attentive to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach. The Renovaré Book Club is designed for transformative reading. It runs October 2018—May 2019.

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