It’s finally here. . . we are in the final few days of the ad blitzes. The news channels let us hear what the candidates are saying 24/7. Then, the talking heads tell us what we just heard.
It’s a strange season. And on top of that the Indians and Cubs are in the World Series. At the same time. We can be thankful for a short period of time for the distraction.
Here in this bell-weather, “show me state” of Missouri, airways have been saturated with enough attacks on our presidential, senatorial, and gubernatorial candidates to last a (political) lifetime. Even after living here for almost a decade, I am still having a difficult time getting used to all these commercials. I don’t recall getting this much media attention while living in Mississippi.
I’m pretty sure I know why.
I’m noticing the anxiety level creeping up. After the All Saints Day worship service, I stood in the Narthex like I usually do to greet people who have the time or desire to talk with the pastor. One of our older (very conservative) members asked me “Are you going to tell our people to vote next Tuesday (November 8) ?” I paused for a moment, thinking he might have said “who to vote for.” I assured him that I was confident that election day hadn’t slipped anyone’s mind, but that I usually encouraged people to vote.
It’s been a strange dynamic, this election cycle.
I’ve had folks tell me about the country’s demise if Hillary Clinton gets elected. I’ve also had others tell me pretty much the same thing if Donald Trump wins. My favorite response is from those who tell me it doesn’t matter because they are planning to move to Canada after the election.
This isn’t the first election cycle for me at our church. From the pulpit, I have seen a Republican U.S. senator sitting in a worship service next to the County chairman of the Democratic party. It’s a wonderful dynamic to see them talking to each other, knowing that they are friends but obviously have different opinions. And, I’m pretty aware of the political views of our people, not because I ask them, but because I know how to log on to Facebook.
We are a Baptist church, but I quickly add the “not that kind of Baptist” moniker to this identification. So, that means we are very diverse in our social, economic, theological, and political views. What my older, very conservative, church friend has been discovering as he and his wife serve the Lord with us, is that we don’t have a political litmus test in order to be part of the church. I have observed that this has been difficult for him, as he obviously has a preference for whom to vote for and that others should be urged to follow suit. It can be a surprise to learn that the people you love, know, and sit on the pew with have different political views. For some people, it’s a bridge too far to cross in order to maintain fellowship. That’s a sad reality. Churches ought to be a place where there is space for people who have different views but who also can affirm “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
I’ve never “endorsed” a political candidate. I believe in a free pulpit and the separation of church and state. It doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions, but I recognize that after this election is over, we are all going to have to find a way to live with each other. Unless, of course, there are people who really are going to move to Canada.
I would expect some degree of angst about this political malaise from church people, but what has me more disappointed is the behavior of pastors. It’s discouraging when clergy endorses a political candidate, and when so much time is spent opining about the terrible state of affairs of our nation. A pastor friend, whom I love dearly, offered his “We need God in the White House!” lament to me over the phone the other day. I simply listened but knew, of course, that God wasn’t running for office. My greater concern has been praying that God would be evidenced in and through our churches.
It might be a good time to remember that our political candidates are not perfect human beings–far from it in fact. And, if we are going to demand public expressions of faith from them in order to get our vote, then we are simply begging to be deceived. The ancient yet timely words of the Psalmist come to mind: “Do not put your trust in princes (or in princesses, I might add), who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing” (Psalm 146:3-4).
This is not an easy time for our nation. Admittedly, this is an unusual election in so many ways. There’s a lot of frustration, anxiety, and fear. While affirming freedom of speech, I do want to urge caution against the statement “I don’t see how you can be a Christian and vote for _________________.” It’s bad enough when people in the pew say this, but when pastors weigh in like this, it’s theological malpractice.
As important as this election is, let’s take a breath and remember that we’ve been through this before. We need to act like it. And, we Christians should be focused not only on November 8th but what happens the day after.There is a more important and lasting Kingdom, and I want as many of us as possible to embrace that–no matter who you vote for on Tuesday.