Elizabeth L. Windsor, DMin October 18, 2020 The 20th t Sunday after the Day of Pentecost Micah 6: 6-8 Philippians 4: 4-8
I spent this past week preparing for today’s worship service, knowing that in-person early voting would begin yesterday in Massachusetts. I knew what scriptures, hymn and litany I wanted to use. But I began my preparation for the sermon by researching of all things, etiquette.
There is a well-known trope that “religion and politics should not be discussed in polite company.” I searched Emily Post and Miss Manners as well as several Victorian writings on etiquette to discover why. The most succinct explanation I found comes from a blog called The Modern Man. The author Jean-Marc writes, “People maintain that religion and politics are topics that should never enter polite, civilized conversation. People often feel so strongly about these areas that things can become heated very quickly, sometimes descending into unpleasantness.”
Well, that seems reasonable – polite people don’t want to make things unpleasant for others, and most polite Christian people don’t either. After all, as church historian Dr. Diana Butler Bass writes in a recent piece, “I suspect we can’t talk about religion and politics because we equate “faith” and “public life” with triumphal partisanship, with yelling more than reason and prayer, and, of course, with winning and losing. When it comes to religion and politics, conventional labels have come to mean less than how certain spiritual themes shape the [body politic]: irony, humility, lament, charity, forgiveness, generosity, neighborliness, hope, hospitality, justice, and compassion.”
And it is not just in public that Christians shy away from discussion politics and religion; we do the same in our churches. “No politics from the pulpit” is something preachers are often told, this one included. But is politics – the way societies organize themselves and live together – off limits for the Church in a democracy?
The late New Testament scholar and theologian, Marcus Borg was convinced that Christians who follow the Bible MUST be engaged in the politics of the world in which we live, “Taking the Bible seriously should mean taking politics seriously. The major voices in the Bible from beginning to end are passionate advocates of a different kind of world here on earth and here and now . . . In a democracy, politics in the broad sense does include how we vote . . . [We] are called to take seriously God’s dream for a more just and nonviolent world.”
Neither the Bible nor the Church tells us for whom to vote, and I am not advocating that they should. But our tradition and the Bible give us very clear criteria Christians should apply when making our decisions to vote for or against either a person or a ballot initiative. We heard some of those criteria in the Scripture read this morning. In the passage from Micah, the prophet makes his case against corrupt political and religious leaders who exploit the people of God. He tells these publicly pious self-serving leaders that all the sacrifices of the Temple will not make their practices holy or acceptable to God. Instead, Micah reminds the leaders that God requires only three things from them: “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.”
Paul’s letter to the Philippians is written from jail. A political prisoner, Paul believes he is about to be put to death for treason (and he eventually will be). Yet, in this letter, Paul instructs the church to continue living as disciples of Jesus with these powerful and hopeful words: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
It may seem naïve to apply these teachings to our political life right now. “Truth” doesn’t seem to matter much. “Justice” is only for some people. “Mercy” is in short supply. “Humility” seems beyond our reach, and there doesn’t seem to be much that is “worthy of praise.” We are overwhelmed by all that has gone wrong and it is hard to find enough space to “think about these things.”
It is easy to feel discouraged and wonder if our votes will even be counted. But as I watch the lines of folks waiting to vote around the country on the news, I am reminded of something the Rev. Dr. William Barber III said to Chris Hayes’ on the “Why Is This Happening?” podcast in July of 2019. As we prepare to vote, I take courage from Rev. Barber’s prophetic words – you can hear the echo of Paul’s words: “You have to make one decision. Do I stand here and die? Do I shrink back? Or do I believe that some things are so precious, some things that are so loving, some things are just and true that even if it means fighting with my last breath, I’m going to fight for them and I’m going to win, because I am either going to do one of two things. I am going to win or I am going to sow the seeds of the victory to come.”
As Christians, our votes are our testimony to our belief in the Beloved Community and the Peaceable Kingdom revealed in Scripture. Dr. Butler Bass insists “[politics and religion] are things we must talk about. And if we don’t talk about them, it will be the moral death of us.”
So this election season, I invite you to ponder these scriptures as you think about how you will cast your vote. Talk with neighbors, family and friends via phone, text or Zoom or Facebook or Twitter about your faith and what it means to you in choosing for whom and for what you will vote.
Pray for our nation. If you are looking for prayers to help you pray, you can find them on the Eliot website and our Face book page. I can also send them to you daily via email.
Dr. Butler Bass concludes a recent column with these words: “Do pray. Offer public prayers, prophetic ones, private ones. Polite ones, challenging ones, angry ones. Ones that bless, others that call down justice. Every single prayer is welcome. All are needed. And don’t worry about [religion] being political. It always is.” Amen.