Every election year it’s the same story.
Church, we’ve let politics distort who we are as a church. Maybe it’s the Stan Hauerwas in me, but I believe we fall far too often into the trap of viewing the pressing issues of the day through the lens of conservative or progressive politics rather than through the eyes of Jesus and his church. We get so tied up in the idea that we can elect candidates who will legislate solutions to the nation’s problems that we forget that churches are here to address those problems on a local, community level. We mistake political involvement for discipleship. We mistake voting for ministry.
We stop asking what Christians should do, and worry exclusively about how Christians should vote. And then we sit back, content that showing up to vote was our most important Christian-American duty and we’re done until midterm elections.
Swing and a miss.
Instead of asking ourselves “what is a good legislative or political answer to these issues,” we should be asking “what is a sound ministry answer in this community?” Instead of fretting over the rightness or wrongness of the laws of the land, or the morality/immorality of our elected leaders, we should be concerned about the souls of the people just outside our church doors.
This year, presidential politics revealed an issue that the church should address: that sexual assault is far more common than we all like to admit. It’s been swept under the rug far too long, and we’ve allowed perpetrators to get away with blaming their victims. Instead of arguing about which candidate or party has the worst record when it comes to sexual assault (answer: both parties are terrible – one sexual assault is too many), the church should see an opportunity to be in ministry with sexual assault survivors in our communities.
We’re supposed to be a shelter in the storm, a safe place where those who have been beaten up by life can take refuge and be loved and cared for. A sanctuary.
Instead, the voices arguing for and against presidential candidates drown out the voices of those crying out for help in our own neighborhoods. Those voices drowning them out are yours and mine, Church.
Instead of arguing about whether abortion should be legal, the church should be discussing how best to be in ministry with women who are faced with that decision. Instead of arguing about how many Syrian refugees should be allowed in the US, the church should be asking, “if a Syrian refugee family settled in our town, what’s the best way for us to be in ministry to them?”
See a pattern here?
The church should absolutely be attentive to and engaged in politics, but not in the way we’ve traditionally done it. Politics reveals issues that need to be addressed, but the church isn’t about issues – it’s about people. People who are tangled up in issues. People who have been hurt, stepped on, ignored, swept under the rug, and silenced. People who need to hear that they are not damaged goods, and that they are loved and respected unconditionally. People who need to know that their voices are heard, and heard with compassion and grace. People who need their dignity reclaimed and affirmed.
And it’s about the person of Jesus Christ, who gave us his church so we could be that safe place.
We have an opportunity for it not to be the same old story this election year. By all means, go out and vote for the candidate of your choice. Just don’t confuse your civic duty with your religious/spiritual/Christian duty. Let our Church’s story be this: when politics revealed problems to us, we offered a lifeline to our neighbors who have been affected by them.