Originally posted Nov. 1 2012, at A Pastor in the Parish. Republished with permission of the author.
The end is almost in sight. Just a few more days until the election season winds to a close.
And maybe this reflection comes too late or is simply ill-timed, like the pastor who knows that she cannot combat the terrible theology of some funeral home poems in the immediate aftermath of a parishioner’s death, when loved ones want to cling to “Do not stand at my grave and weep” more tightly than they do to “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Nonetheless, I feel compelled to write, because it seems many people (myself included) can forget about our identity in Christ when it comes to elections. I do not know what it is about elections that gets our blood pumping and our passions inflamed, but they do — sort of.
I do find it interesting that while political discourse has grown increasingly divisive, voter turnout continues to slide. We will often point to the statistic that, in general, half of our nation has no connection to a regular church life. And yet voter turnout is pretty much the same. The same for presidential-year elections. In other years, national voter turnout is even worse. In 2010, turnout did not even hit 40 percent.
For all of the money spent in campaigns, for all of the vehement diatribes, for all of the apparent urgency campaigns try to instill, much of America just doesn’t seem to care. But a number of us do. Maybe too much so because we seem to dump our identity as children of God for partisian political supporter. If we believe our faith leads us to support a particular candidate, we should likely behave toward others as said faith teaches.
Far too often I have seen, mostly through statuses and tweets, out and out lies coming from people seeking to thwart one candidate or another. Many of these come in photo form with some sort of headline or quote taken out of context, all meant to induce some sort of panic about the candidate they are opposing. And Christians seem just fine in perpetuating and propagating these photos and slogans without any regard for the truth.
Some might here inquire into the nature of truth, since much of the data in economic figures can be massaged in various ways. We should be cautious though. When we begin to ask “What is truth?” we head down the road that Pilate does right before he crucifies Jesus.
As we begin to deal with candidates themselves, we must be careful that we do not trample all over the Eighth Commandment. In The Small Catechism, Luther explains it as follows:
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, (think and) speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.
When I taught students preparing for confirmation, I would often tell them that this commandment was likely the hardest one for us all to keep, whether we walk the halls of high school or of government. It is not enough for us to refrain from lying about our neighbor, but also to defend and speak well of him or her. There is no caveat releasing us from this commandment during political campaigns.
When claims made about a candidate or his or her position seem too partisan, making us react (favorably or unfavorably) all too quickly and passionately, we should move beyond the sound bites and headlines and find other deeper avenues of information.
When candidates or supporters make claims that place apocalyptic weight upon this election or candidates, we should speak to remind people that messianic claims or human hope are misplaced unless we are speaking of Jesus and no candidate or party has any claim on him. His followers are to be found in each party.
All of this is not to say that we cannot hold strong beliefs. We can and should. But we can and should also realize that not every opponent is out to destroy us or our way of life. We should see us all working for the common good. Disagreements will arise but we need not speak evil of our opponents. Instead we can speak against positions and policies and pray for all who are engaged in the discussion.
And while we look to the end of this election cycle, we know that there are already other people who are looking to position themselves so that they can start their unofficial campaigns the day after this election ends. The true end only comes when Jesus returns and the reign of God comes in its fullness. May all Christians behave and act in such a way as to faithfully witness to that end.
Find a link to Brian Bennett’s blog A Pastor in the Parish at Lutheran Blogs.