A parishioner said to a friend of mine that he did not like political sermons and my friend replied, “you must not like Jesus then because Jesus was decidedly political.” He said it with his usual humor and a smile. My friend explained he understood being political meant that we understand that Jesus is deeply concerned about people and the quality of their lives and their basic needs and that we are willing to work for these things. There can be little doubt that Christ confronted the systems that oppressed his people. He was in solidarity with the Old Testament prophetic tradition. See Luke 4:18-19.
At their best our political systems are deeply concerned about the common good and how best to address the quality of life of the peoples they serve. What are the basic human needs? Our nation’s founding vision was articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” – From the Declaration of Independence
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” – From the Preamble of the Constitution
We have never lived into this vision fully. At first, our founding fathers restricted this vision to free white men (because they could not resolve the question regarding the evil of slavery, and they chose not to enfranchise women). Since then, we have struggled mightily to extend these tenets to all our people; people of color, women, people with different sexual orientations and resident aliens. It has often required of us movements and protests led by the oppressed that then drives us to move to a new place.
Through this summer we have been called as a nation to discern anew the need to fully empower all men and women, all Americans, and all residents of the United States of America. We have heard cries of fear from Americans of African descent and immigrants who experience violence, a violence that grows out of our systems and structures which deny segments of our society fair labor and wage, adequate education, fair housing, opportunity to excel in a job they love, and adequate health care. Is it possible that God is deeply concerned that we recover our national founding vision applied now to all our people? Is it not time to relinquish the ancient sins of colonialism and slavery which have so formed us?
We are even further away from the Judeo-Christian vision that we were all created in God’s image and declared good, (Genesis 1); that Christ came to save all of us (John 3:16); that “ in Christ there no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3: 28). I could add countless Scriptures from the Old and New Testaments that speak precisely to these points of attentiveness to those whom we have shunted to the margins, either through our silent complicity or through our intentional action and legislation.
In the Episcopal Church our discernment about the vision of God emerges slowly and deliberately. Informed by Scripture, tradition, and reason; and to some degree experience we have always asked what God is saying to the Church today. We understand that the vision of God is a work in process in which we value the questions our culture is asking and then seek through careful study to determine what Scripture and tradition might have to say to these questions. When Scripture and tradition are silent on a particular question, we prayerfully discern what the Spirit is saying and offer it to the larger Church for spiritual discernment from the larger church. A good example is the recent work done by members of the diocese around the question of racism which is to be presented at Diocesan Convention 2020 for prayerful consideration. The Episcopal Church understands that all truth is God’s truth.
Our political parties have different visions of how we serve the common good and fulfill the American vision. In a perfect world these different perspectives function as a check and balance in caring for our nation and fostering the common good. Civil debate leads to compromise and/or new discoveries that reflect the debate and better serve our people. In more peaceful times, Congress has been closer to our founding vision to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity . . ..” As we prepare to vote, we must prayerfully consider which candidates’ vision most fully brings us closer to our founding vision.
We Christians as we prepare to vote, must know God’s clear vision. This is always true, but perhaps more so this year. Prayerful Christians will differ on how they vote on election day about which vision of the common good best reflects the heart of God, but our vote must be informed not by ideology or even primarily by political party, but by what God speaks to us in our prayer and study of Scripture as we prepare to mark our ballot.
It is our privilege and responsibility as Americans to vote. It is also our need and responsibility as Christians to intercede for this nation in the days ahead as we select again the one who will lead us for four years. I encourage you to take the time daily to pray for our nation and this election.
I will pray for the day when God’s vision is more fully reflected in the ways we live with each other in this nation and that we will fully embrace our nation’s continuing pledge, “one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”
-The Rvd. Dr. Peter Stube, Interim Rector