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Commentary: What’s a Christian to do in the election?

 


Commentary: What’s a Christian to do in the election?

Oct. 19, 2004

A UMNS Commentary
By Bishop Kenneth Carder*

Partisan politics dominate public attention. Much of it is deceiving, acrimonious and downright disgusting. Sin and spin seem to have joined forces in this campaign. What is a Christian to do?

Some preachers claim they know exactly what Christians are to do. Several piously political Republicans have announced God’s endorsement of the incumbent. They contend that President Bush’s stand on specific "hot button" issues and his public testimony to being "a born-again Christian" clearly show divine anointing for a second term.

But other religious leaders are equally certain, though likely more subtle and less vocal, that John Kerry and John Edwards are God’s choices to lead the country. They cannot conceive of God choosing "conservative" Bush and Dick Cheney over "liberal" Kerry and Edwards.

What’s a Christian to do?

First, we acknowledge the limitation of our slant and repent of partisanship that subordinates truth and civility to winning an election. Neither candidate is the incarnation of truth or the savior who will redeem America and the world. Sin crosses partisan lines!

Repentance is definitely not politically expedient. Changing one’s mind indicates weakness, making repentance politically suicidal. I have yet to hear confession from either presidential candidate. The president couldn’t think of anything he has done wrong in four years. Senators Kerry and Edwards have admitted no fault more serious than misspeaking and confessed to no inconsistencies. And we voters are far more focused on the splinter in the opposition’s eye than admitting the log in our own.

Before making important choices, Christians admit their own fallibility and impure motives. Coming clean about our proclivity to vote narrow self-interest and dogmatic prejudices will clear our vision and purify our motivation. Then we will be more prepared to cast our vote in pursuit of God’s interest in compassion, justice and peace. Honestly confronting our predisposition to distort opponents’ statements and assassinate their character goes a long way toward clearing our minds and softening our hearts to respond to divine nudges in the voting booth.

Repentance also saves us from the arrogant presumption that we know precisely God’s choices. A Christian who assumes the role of God’s press secretary announcing God’s endorsement of a particular candidate should be considered an impostor. Claiming such unmistakable certainty about God’s thinking reflects a dangerous humility deficit that results in godless actions in the name of God. That is the worst kind of profanity.

Further, Christians vote as a means of extending God’s justice, mercy and peace, not as a means of protecting personal privileges or enhancing self-interest. Christians know from reading the Bible and following Jesus that God has special interest in "the orphans, the widows, the strangers (immigrants)." Christians are accompanied to the voting booth by those Jesus called "the least of these" - the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the homeless. We know that the elected and the electorate will be judged on the basis of what happens to those without privilege or power, whether they live in local communities or Baghdad, Sudan or Afghanistan.

Once the election is over, we still will not be certain that those elected were God’s choices. God often does unexpected things through the most unlikely leaders. We may not know with certainty who God intends to be elected. But we can be sure of God’s intention for whoever is elected. God intends that the winner govern with compassion and humility and pursue justice and peace with courage rooted in confidence in the ultimate power of love.

The Christians’ responsibility after the election, regardless of the outcome, will be to hold our leaders and ourselves to a higher standard of integrity, compassion, justice and civility than has been evident during the election process.

*Carder is professor of the practice of pastoral formation and director of the Center for Excellence in Ministry at Duke University Divinity School in Durham, N.C. He is the former episcopal leader of the United Methodist Church’s Mississippi Area and Nashville (Tenn.) Area.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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