I’m tired of political partisanship and really sick and tired of the way the nasty game called politics has taken over our discourse today. Military deployed and foreign service workers are facing real-life terror and we talk, at home, about how those situations will impact the presidential election! Worse still, it’s infecting our communities. If it’s buzzing in St. Mary’s County (population: 100,000+), it’s making it to the grassroots. And, these days, the roots are pretty toxic. That’s why I’m putting together an autumn adult formation series having to do with faith and public life. I’m still lining up the details and inviting local elected officials and I don’t yet have a compelling title, but that’s not the most pressing thing. It’s the focus that matters.
Some Vestry leaders helped me think about this the other day. Initial reactions ranged from fear (“You’re going to invite them?”) to doubt (“You’re going to ask an elected official to not talk about himself?”) to half-hearted blessing (“Good luck!”) Over the course of our conversation, however, they helped reaffirm my motivation. For Christians, it’s not about the what. It’s about the why.
Plain and simple: it’s not about the election. It’s about the outcome. Whether we come out of this election with any chance at healing depends on the depth of conversation we have now — whether we learn to give thanks to God for the blessings of this nation and, yes, the unique blessings of a cacophonous democracy; whether we also learn to love those who think differently than we do. The church, the Body of Christ, has a very profound stake in that. In fact, the faith-based community might be the only community today who has any stake in moving people beyond partisanship to places of genuine healing.
Each session will be a conversation with a local public figure — an elected official or, in some cases, persons seeking election. We’ll form community in ways only the Body of Christ can: mingle together, pray together, speak and listen openly, and ask God’s blessing on our nation and one another. The series will conclude with an Election Day Thanksgiving Service, held on the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 6 in which we gather for worship and song and praise. We’ll thank God for this country, thank God for the blessings of democracy, thank God for those persons who will be elected by the people, and thank God for those persons who stood faithfully for election and did not receive the majority.
In so doing, what if we noticed that public policy is actually a worthwhile discourse, but politics helps no one? What if people of faith entered the fray, not to win one side of an argument, but to “chill out” and sanctify the conversation by our presence and prayerfulness, to proclaim our faith in God’s Kingdom, and to affirm that there are lots of folks, like us, who care more about the healing of our communities and the common good than about winning points or polls?
A Vestry member said that it’s impossible to separate a politician from their politics. What if people said that about Christians? What if we wore our faith so transparently that every breath we make and every action we take bespeaks Jesus, the Son of God, whom the powers of this world crucified but, in the majesty of God, rose from the dead and redeemed the world?
I get the internal resistance. Personally, I don’t like being lumped in with “conversative” or “liberal” categories — no thanks to some of the loudest Christian voices who so quickly line up with divisive, secular causes. I get it. So where’s the Christian voice who humbly asserts faith in another Kingdom, God’s Kingdom, and focuses on healing the common good, not winners and losers in electoral politics?
In Christ, we transcend political categories. What if we, disciples of Christ, came to believe that God cares so much about the common good and health of our local communities that whenever our elected officials gather to debate a matter of policy they ask themselves, “I wonder what the Christians would say, whether we’ve listened to the people and are offering a message that will heal, not divide?”
At the end of the conversation with St. George’s Vestry, their initially half-hearted blessing turned into a full-on endorsement. “Do it, Greg,” they said. Honestly, their doubts may have remained. To be even more honest, some of mine do, too. I don’t know if we can heal these pointed divisions and I don’t know if we’ll be able to sanctify the conversation in the eyes of God. But I know someone should, and I believe our faith gives us the tools to do it, and I pray that we have God’s grace to do it well.