Responsibly, Prayerfully, and Humbly
In this downtime between the primary and the election in November, Pastor Leanne takes a moment to chat about Christianity and civic responsibility...
Responsibly, Prayerfully, and Humbly
Southern Heights Presbyterian Church
Rev. Leanne Masters
May 18, 2014
As happens on occasion in the cycle of preparing a sermon for a Sunday morning, I started out the week with one idea of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to say...and then, as it can happen, life intervenes, and I ended up in a very different place, called more to address something that is going on in the life of the community than where I was being led by the particular passages in the lectionary.
This week, what happened was several different conversations around the community regarding the sheer relief that we all feel about the fact that this past Tuesday is over...because, as of this week, we find ourselves at the end of the first round of the election cycle in our community and state and at the beginning of the next round. We have endured several months of dealing with political ads on television, increasingly negative in some regards, campaign and poll calls, and engaging in (or avoiding, as I tend to do) political conversations with friends, colleagues, and family members. And, while I for one am certainly glad that this round is over, I know that we are just gearing up for the next round, and that we are going to be dealing with all of this, and more, for several months to come.
And come it will.
As we head into another season of all of this, I think that it is important for us to stop and talk about that which we will be encountering as individuals and as a community in the coming months. And so, this morning, I have chosen to, instead of preaching on Stephan or Thomas, share with you something that I have shared in the past about our role and our duty in the public and civic square.
So, one of the things that is endlessly fascinating to me about election cycles is that every time an election rolls around, we, as a church, and I as a pastor, receive, by phone, letter, and email, requests from different organizations to endorse particular candidates and political positions.
Current tax code allows churches to operate as tax exempt organizations (that is, we pay payroll taxes withhold income and social security taxes on wages paid to our employees and I pay income tax on my salary and income and social security taxes on my housing allowance (I always say the clergy taxes are weird), but we don’t pay income tax on offerings or property taxes on our property). Because of our special status, we are not allowed to endorse candidates, political positions, or tell people how they should vote.
And so, most often, these requests come with instructions on how to endorse things politically; that is, these requests come with instructions how to violate the intent of the law without violating the letter of the law. Sometimes, these requests come with a entreat to blatantly violate the law, and endorse particular candidates or indicate a particular stance that should be taken at the polls.
These requests aggravate me to no end, because I truly and fully believe that it is not my role as a Pastor nor as a leader of this community of faith to tell you how to vote on any issue or what candidate to vote for. While I have my own opinions and ideas about things, I understand that those are my views, and, while I believe and hope that they are informed by my faith, I do not believe that I have the right or the authority to place those views on you.
However, even though I am aggravated by requests from various organizations to tell you how to vote on things, I find it interesting that, underlying these efforts and actions, there is an understanding that there is a Christian way of voting and that there is a Christian way of being involved in politics and our political world.
And, to an extent, I agree with this underlying understanding. I do believe that there is a Christian way of being involved in politics and the political life, and that there is a Christian way of voting.
The difference between I and the writers of the letters that we receive in the office is that I, as a person, as a Pastor, and as a Reformed Christian of the Presbyterian Persuasion, understand what that means to be a bit different…
Particularly, the Christian way of voting and being involved in the political life has nothing to do with any candidate, party, or position…and has everything to do with how we understand our role and place, as Christians, in the process.
As we talk about regularly, we believe that, as Christians, we have been called to be the light of the earth, living our faith in everything that we do so as to be an example to all. But, also, that we have been called to be the salt of the earth, to transform and change the world, so that the whole of the world can live into the vision that our Lord has for us.
In that, as Christians, we can easily see that our role in these processes of our culture, society, and even government, is a role that is transformative in nature…simply put, we are called, through our words, our actions, and our votes, to seek to transform this world into what God calls us to become.
That’s a pretty tall order, though, isn’t it? Seeking God’s transformation of this world in and through our votes? It’s a bit of a daunting task, if the truth be told.
But, there it is.
The idea that we are called through our civic life to transform the world is laid out before us…and has been embedded in our tradition throughout the history of the Reformed church, from the time that John Calvin wrote about it in his Institutes of the Christian Religion until today. This idea that we are called to take on the task of transforming the world through the public sphere has emboldened Presbyterians to take on public office as well as advocating in and through the political sphere all throughout our history. (Throughout American History alone, Presbyterians signed the Declaration of Independence, have served in office at the local, state, and national level, as Representatives and Senators, members of the President’s Cabinet, Presidents, Vice-Presidents, and political activists…all because they believed that they were called to serve and to transform)
The question is how do we, today, here and in this place, go about such a tall order and such a daunting task?
The answer? By approaching our political and civic life responsibly, prayerfully, and humbly.
A quick note: although all of this can be applied to faithfully seeking public office as a Christian, I will be focusing on voting as a Christian, as that is what the majority of us will be seeking to do in the months ahead.
First: We are called to approach our political and civic life responsibly.
It is important that we understand the great responsibility that we have as we approach the political and civic life of our country and our world. It is easy for us to say, “oh, it’s just a primary” or “it’s just a local election, nothing’s really at stake here”...but if we take seriously the idea that we are called to transform this world through our votes, it is important that we take that vote seriously.
As Christians, we are tasked with the great responsibility of making sure that we, ourselves, have taken the time to inform and be informed of all that is at stake with our votes. Call them “issues” if you will, or perhaps, “areas of concern”…as a Christian with the responsibility of a vote, it is vital that you take the time to understand what is at stake, who is affected by our votes, how they are affected, and what the end result of our collaborative action as a community will be.
Read, research, ask, question, and seek to have as much information as possible in all things so that you know what it is that you are voting for and what your vote would mean.
Second: We are called to approach our political and civic life prayerfully.
Particularly in the age of information which we live, it is safe to assume that we have been and will be inundated with information and opinions on every candidate, every office, and every issue that will be placed before us. We form our own opinions and ideas based on that information, and head off to the ballot box armed with our knowledge.
However, something that is all too often missing from our process is…prayer…
If we take seriously the idea that we are called to transform this world through our votes, then we must also take seriously the idea that we need to stop and ask God for guidance in this.
And so, once you have familiarized yourself with the candidates and issues placed before you for a vote, take a step back and simply pray for God to guide and lead you. Set aside some time and ask for God’s guidance and direction. Ask for God to show you his will and his way for us, this community, this state, this nation, and this world. Ask God to give you the wisdom to make good decisions based on God’s will…and not our own.
And, more than asking, in your prayers stop and listen to what God is telling you.
Perhaps this will change your preconceived notion of how you will vote, and perhaps it will not…but it will help us to stop and consider, truly, and fully, what God is calling us to as a people.
Third: We are called to approach our political and civic life humbly.
As we are charged with the call to seek God’s transformation of this world through our deeds, words, and actions, we must take great care to do so without any desire for power or prestige, honor or glory.
Because if it is truly for God and for God’s work, then it should not be about making sure that we, or our guy, or our side in an issue, wins, but it should be about seeking for God’s will to be done.
To that end, we should prayerfully understand that we may not get it right in our own understanding…so we should not gloat or lament the results, but instead we should humbly seek God’s continued understanding and will in any result.
And, when all is done and over, we should humbly continue to responsibly learn about what is happening, prayerfully consider our role in our civic life together and our continued action as a people, and seek to continue to follow God’s voice in all that we do moving forward, together, as a people.
And, finally, as people of faith, we should pray, together for all those who feel called to seek office in our community, state and nation. We should pray for God’s wisdom to be upon them as they seek to lead us. We should pray that they responsibly, prayerfully, and humbly take on leadership as it is given to them. And we should pray that, in all things, God’s will may be done, and that this world may be transformed.
Sisters and Brothers: I pray that as we enter into this next season of the election cycle, as we move towards the ballot box to cast our votes and make our opinions known, we may do so in a very Christian way: Responsibly, Prayerfully, and Humbly.