This blog originated as a pastoral newsletter column, especially to raise the concern for the political violence that threatens our democracy itself. Unfortunately, we had a reminder only a day or so after its writing: the frightening and deplorable attack on Paul Pelosi in his home. I offer these thoughts as call for followers of Jesus to speak out against, and nonviolently stand against, all such political violence and conspiracy lies which prompt it.
As I write this, I’m preparing to work a session at an early voting polling place in Racine this afternoon. We stand on the brink of one of the most consequential elections in our nation’s history. Significant numbers of our fellow citizens are talking about civil war. Political violence around elections has become more prominent and acceptable on a nation-wide basis than at any other time. Without peaceful elections, we lose our democracy.
In the third of my four stewardship sermons (October 2; Proper 26C), I proposed that a crucial area of our Christian stewardship is to live more faithfully into our American citizenship. We are essentially dual citizens: citizens of this great nation and citizens of heaven. The latter isn’t a reference to where we’re going after we die. When we revitalize the Gospel message about the coming of God’s reign into the world, to be a citizen of heaven means to be living with our eyes on how and where God’s reign is coming into the world – here and now.
Let me give a quick example: I believe that the center of our American experiment is a key element of God’s reign nonviolently coming into the world. I’m talking about the founding principle of all people being created equal – a principle that we are still struggling to live up to, after we began our national journey with only white landowning men being given full rights of citizenship, most especially the right to vote.
Over the 246-year history of this American experiment, we’ve come a long ways in efforts to live into the credo that all people are created equal. We’ve gradually extended the right to vote to all citizens over the age of 18. We’ve also done many things to extend more equal opportunity to help everyone succeed in having the basic things in life that make for the pursuit of happiness. There are important economic policies which invest in the opportunity to succeed for a wider swath of the American people. In the post-war years of the 40’s into the 60’s, for example, we saw a dramatic shrinking of the gap between the rich and the poor. Economic policy made a big difference.
Over the last forty years, however, and especially the last twenty, we have seen that gap between rich and poor dramatically increase again. (The numbers don’t lie; you can Google it.) And there have been voting policies enacted which make it more difficult to vote, especially for the working poor. But it is especially the acceptance of political violence in connection with elections – whether spoken acceptance or by a failure to speak against it – which truly puts our democracy in danger. Democracy is all about the peaceful transfer of power via free and fair elections. When violence is used to threaten those elections, we are on the road to autocracy or even fascism – a nation governed by the most powerful only. We are seeing the rise of authoritarianism in other places in the world. We aren’t immune to it happening here. I believe that the principle of all people being created equal is worth ‘fighting’ for – nonviolently! – not only for the sake of our amazing American experiment, but also for the sake of God’s reign coming into the world.
And for those for whom inflation is the biggest issue – it is painful right now! – look around in the rest of the world. The worst inflation and worst economies in the world right now are authoritarian governments. If we take a step forward towards authoritarianism, we can expect inflation to get worse. Great Britain is also instructive. The ‘trickle down’ economics of recent decades was put forward by Liz Truss, which resulted in tanking their economy and the shortest stint of a Prime Minister in their history. We need to ask of our candidates what they plan to do to address inflation – not just assume. Since inflation hits the poor even harder, it’s an issue of special concern for the poor according to the justice of God’s reign. What policies best lead to the flourishing of all, especially the poor?
Is a pastor talking about politics uncomfortable to you? I confess that it’s still uncomfortable for me. But I strongly believe it’s a vital part of my own conversion in the Christian faith. For too long we held politics and economics at arm’s length by making the Gospel mostly be about the afterlife. But when we more faithfully come to know the Gospel as being about the coming of God’s reign into the world through Jesus the Messiah, then politics and economics are essential. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are praying for God’s kingdom to come on earth as in heaven. We are dual citizens! As we go to the polls in this crucial election, which candidates more closely represent the ways of God’s reign that we see in Jesus? Ways that more truly represent all people as being created with an equal opportunity to flourish in their lives? Economics that shrink the gap between rich and poor? Politics that expand the opportunity to vote and to participate in policies that promote the common good? I encourage you to vote on November 8 as dual citizens! We pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as in heaven. Let’s vote like it, too!
Peace, Pastor Paul