I don’t know about you, but I’m not really looking forward to the coming blitz of political ads and electioneering. It’s not that I’m apathetic about the election: quite the contrary. I’m a committed voter, and have been for a long time. I read about the candidates’ positions in the paper and on line, and listen carefully to the news. I try to be an informed voter, but I don’t expect much in the way of real information from the coming political ad onslaught.
Some time during the fall each election cycle (and they seem somehow to be coming more and more often!) I find myself preaching on voting. I am careful not to tell anyone how to vote. I’m careful to say that no one has to agree with me (knowing that just about anyone who knows me will have some sense of my opinions). I do my best to avoid specific issues. Instead, as I’m sure many of my colleagues do, I focus on faith and voting. Specifically, I encourage those who listen to remember their Christian values when they decide how to vote.
I suppose that doesn’t sound so different from some clergy and some churches who speak about Christian values and voting. I try so hard to be careful not to get specific, whether about a candidate or an issue. I try hard, too, to reinforce again that no one has to agree with me, and that I speak as one (perhaps easily dismissible) individual, and not for the Episcopal Church or for the specific congregation in which I’m preaching at the time. The freedom of thought that I believe has been a hallmark of the Anglican/Episcopal tradition is very important to me. So, I try to be different from those clergy who are so specific as to raise eyebrows and concerns (at least outside their own congregations).
It does, then, leave me thinking about values, about Biblical values as I understand them, and voting. It leaves me thinking about those passages from the Gospels and elsewhere in Scripture that shape my own thinking when I vote.
There are several passages that I’ve quoted a long time. The first is Matthew 25:31-48, Matthew’s parable of the Last Judgment; and I don’t imagine it’s a surprise that this is in my list. I have sometimes said that I can’t imagine hearing this parable and not becoming a radical, or at least progressive. They also include Acts 2:44-45, and Acts 4:32-37. These are the passages in Acts describing the disciples sharing “all things in common.” That might be more of a surprise, but I don’t think anyone who knows me will really be shocked. (I once preached on a Sunday July 4th, saying that I would call ours a Christian nation when our domestic policy was based on Matthew and our economic policy was based on Acts. It took four five years and a change in clergy leadership before I was asked to supply in that church again.)
Again, I can’t imagine those passages are a surprise, but there are others as well that have struck me. I’ve been thinking about those passages, and thought I might do some of that thinking in public. So, let me share:
Luke 4:16-21: This is Jesus reading Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, and claiming that as his mission. In once sense, this might not apply to me. This is, after all, Jesus reading about Jesus. At the same time, if we are the Body of Christ, and this is part of Christ’s purpose, it has to be part of ours.
Luke 10:25-37: This is the story of the Good Samaritan, and the direction that comes from it: “Go and do likewise.” Again, it’s hardly a surprise that this should be here. At the same time, there are nuances that convict me, and especially that direction not only to reach out to those I might fear but also to those who might well fear me.
Leviticus 19:13-18: This includes the well known injunction, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.” Quoted by Jesus, this has particular importance. However, seeing this verse in context makes clear that it is not only about personal behavior but also about social justice.
Closely associated with this is Leviticus 19:33-34: “ When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” The injunctions for justice apply not only for the neighbors I claim, but also for those I don’t know, those who are in any sense “alien” to me.
I could pick many passages from the Minor Prophets; but perhaps those I recall most often are from Amos 5. Take verse 15: “Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” Or, take verses 18 through 24, challenging empty religiosity and climaxing with, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Now, as my best beloved is wont to say, one can find just about anything one would wish in Scripture. So, while these are passages that speak to me particularly about my political decisions, I’m sure I could find others; just as I’m sure someone else could find other passages to take other positions.
Still, we have been talking for almost a generation now about how Christians should apply faith and values – and for many, especially Biblical values – in making political decisions. These are some that speak particularly to me. What about you?