Faith, Reason and the Political Process

So, I was thinking that I have, for some reason, not written anything about elections, politics, voting.  That may be a sign of great wisdom on my part (which would be a refreshing turn from being a fool).  It also may be a reflection of cowardice. We have all seen, and perhaps experienced, the rancor and rage that seems to rise from any comment about this election.  But, it is all things electoral that I’m thinking about, so here goes nothing!

Ground rules: I am not writing to offend anyone, and I am not writing to influence your vote. I will not endorse or attack any candidate.  I encourage your comments, but ask you observe the same rules.  Keep them civil and thoughtful, my friends.

The first thing I have been thinking is that we have all, candidates and voters alike, lost our minds.  I don’t mean we are all suffering from some kind of psychological disorder. I mean it in the literal sense.  Our minds, our reason, our ability to think, have left the building.  Candidates are saying things that are, well, just stupid (the most memorable seem to involve rape and the procreation process).  Candidates and voters alike are demonstrating a level of emotional reactivity that is troubling to me.  We have all proceeded past disagreement directly to destruction of friendships, relationships and reason. People speak of “their candidate” with messianic reverence and of the other candidate as the anti-Christ. I actually saw a man in a coffee shop recently who had what my mom would call an apoplectic fit because he saw a bumper sticker with “the other candidate” on some car in the parking lot.  We need to get a grip. While it is fine for us to be passionate about our convictions, and the love we have for our country may stir emotions, it seems to me that reason is in short supply in this election.  It is not OK to classify about half the country as stupid, uninformed, unpatriotic, idiotic or anything else because they vote differently. That means that our emotions are running the show.

Emotions run the show when we are anxious and afraid.  Fear is the number one issue in this election – not the economy, not foreign policy, not the deficit or the role of government.  We live in complex and challenging times. The rate of change and experience of disorientation are dizzying.  That makes us afraid.  We are afraid of losing something and everything.  As the world changes, we worry about everything from our future security to our identity.  The fears make us emotional, not reasonable.  Why do candidates play on our fears?  Because it works!

So, what do we do to stop allowing fear to run our process and our decisions?  Faith drives out fear and reason is essential.  Luther taught that reason, the human capacity for thought, was a God-given gift.  We need to use it when we approach an election choice.  We also need to avoid feeling, fearing, that the “wrong choice” will lead to the apocalypse.  Faith casts out fear because it keeps things in perspective.  God is still God before and after the election.  And, like it our not, God has established structures and systems to work for the common good (we call this the Two Kingdoms Theory in Lutheran-speak).  This does not mean that we don’t routinely screw up God’s good intentions by working against the common good – sometimes even without knowing it.  But it does mean that God will not abandon or disappoint either the creation or the creature in the end, no matter who is elected or even what country is our residence. As Sojourners Magazine rightly declared in print and even bumper stickers in the last election, “God is not a Republican or a Democrat.”  God is beyond such distinctions.  Using God for partisan advantage is blasphemy, in my book. Faithful people vote for both parties, but none of us should vote out of fear.  Faithful people also do not attack others for disagreeing with them – it is a violation of the commandment on bearing false witness.  Luther teaches that this commandment forbids us saying things that demean or neighbor and that we should interpret what others do in the best possible light.  So, making a decision about who to vote for needs prayer and reason, not fear and rancor.

So, I was also thinking that because we are afraid, we become very susceptible to believing the many lies and distortions that crop up from candidates, media sources and other places. Why?  Because in the words of Jack Nicholson in one of his famous roles, “You can’t handle the truth.”  Our candidates don’t have the freedom (or perhaps it is the skill) to tell us the truth.  The entire playbook for the world has been rewritten in the last decades.  But, because we are afraid of losing what we have, or changes to who we are, we will not sit still for the truth that tells us things must change.  In a complex, global economy where things that happen in Lithuania – or any other place – have impact on national economies around the world, we still want to hear that America, through its president can not just influence, but directly control everything that happens. We want to be told that we can solve deficits without paying more taxes and cutting our favorite programs.  Because we don’t know the uncertain nature of geopolitical relationships and the power structures in the world in flux, we still want to hear that a candidate can offer certainty about our security from all threats.  We are facing a time of shared sacrifice, of giving up self-interest for the sake of the common good, of breaking down the remaining walls that divide the world into armed camps.  But that message does not sell.  Just ask Jesus. The truth leads to a cross.

So, I was thinking (and I’ll stop after this) that while our fears are all economic, and that means the election is all economic, I don’t think that that narrow a vision can sustain us.  I do not want to be treated as no more than a consumer, homeowner, and worker bee in a vast economic machine.  Through God in Christ, I know that I am much more than that; that the economic dimensions of my life are prone to rust and decay, not things of the reign of God.  So, I must refuse to be swayed by candidates who only address economic issues. Sadly, that winnows the choices.  The witness of scripture is full of political concerns that are not talked about much.  The psalmists sing of the glory of creation as God’s good gift to sustain us; our mission as human being in Genesis 2 is “to till and keep” the creation — not own it and use it all up.  So, where is the concern for the earth in this election, other than as an economic scheme?  The prophets called to account the leaders of Israel constantly for neglecting the widow, the orphan and alien in the land.  Luther pioneered the notion of the community chest as a means of eliminating the need to beg for a living.  How are these concerns addressed in a substantive and not ancillary fashion in this election?  Our God is a God of peace.  So, where are the plans to address the fact that everyday somebody in this country goes on a killing spree and half of all women will be the victim of violence?  God calls us to justice, but this election, perhaps more than any other in history, is pretty much up for sale purchased by unaccountable parties in pursuit of narrow interests, not the common good.   We (and I mean we) will spend, it is now reported, more than $2 billion on this election, even though our intense partisanship pretty much decided the election months ago.  What if that were applied to the deficit, or feeding and supplying all the people who were used for political gain in the ads that have worn us out?

These are the things I am thinking about as I prepare to cast my vote.  Armed with reason, prayer, faith, and yes, righteous indignation about the course of things, I have made my choice.  But I’ll not pray for victory.  As a great colleague of mine said, recently, I will pray God’s will done and for the faith that overcomes all fear.

Pax Christi,

Pastor Tim

2 thoughts on “Faith, Reason and the Political Process

  1. Nancy

    I pray we never rely on the government to take care of us, for God says we are not to have any other gods. Robert Kennedy said it best – with a little paraphrasing – It’s not what the government can provide for us, it’s what we can provide (through God) to the widows, sick and orphans. When we start relying on the Government because they have been putting money away for us, then we have just put our faith in the wrong god. I guess I am lucky – I know social security and medicare will be bankrupt by the time I retire (2033); so I am not relying on it and am putting my faith in God instead.

  2. Gary Schmidt

    Nancy, I think you have the thought that the government is a bad word. There is nothing wrong with the government. The preamble for the US Constitution states a purpose of government is “to Promote the general welfare” of the people. That is why we are organzed into a government. If all the people of the US belonged to a church and also tithed, I don’t think there would be enough money to take care ot the widows, orphans and sick and needy citizens. That is what the government is organized for as our constitution states. I don’t know about you but I still have faith that God will pull us through any social security and medicare crisis. In my opinion a country is only as good as to how it takes care of it’s citizens.

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