Friday, October 26, 2012

Politics and Pastoring

I do not come from a family that was terribly political. I have no idea who my dad voted for when I was growing up, and don’t know who he voted for in the years before his death in 2009. I am not sure if he even voted regularly. My mom keeps her votes completely to herself, though I do remember her once saying that she voted for Richard Nixon in 1960 because she thought John Kennedy was just too young to be president. She would have been in her mid-twenties at the time.

I remember buying a book about United States Presidents from the Scholastic Book Club when I was in elementary school and being quite interested in all these men. When the 1968 presidential election came around, I was a McCarthy supporter, for the simple reason he was from Minnesota. So, too, was the eventual Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey. When the election was concluded, and Nixon beat Humphrey, I recorded the results in the back of my president’s book.

In 1972, I initially liked George McGovern. He did not like the Vietnam War, and that made sense to this thirteen year old. He was also Methodist, which I was, too. I supported him until near the very end of the election. We took a straw poll at Ordean Junior High School, and I ended up voting for Nixon. I said that I did not like McGovern’s support of school busing, but I probably caved to my best friend who was a Nixon supporter.

I voted in my first election in 1978. I was 19. I wrote in a candidate for the United States Senate that year. I first voted for president in 1980. I did not vote for either of the major party candidates that year. I have voted in each election I could vote in since then. I subscribe to magazines with significant political content.

I have a Ph. D. in religious studies. My focus is in Christian ethics. My dissertation was on Christian ethics and democratic political theory. It carries the unwieldy title: “Political Majorities, Political Minorities and the Common Good: An Analysis of Understanding of Democracy in Recent Christian Political Ethics.”

All this is to say I have a long and strong interest in politics. I think politics matters. I think there is a moral dimension to Christian faith and I think that many political issues have a significant moral dimension to them. I will preach and teach on the moral-religious aspects of contemporary issues.

As a pastor, though, I will not endorse candidates in any public manner. I have prudential and theological reasons for this. I don’t think it is very prudent to endorse candidates as I think it might taint what one wants to say about the moral-religious dimension of contemporary issues. If one is perceived to be too much in favor of one candidate or party over the other, what one says about issues can be seen as simply partisan. I don’t think that is helpful. I want to speak about and discuss the moral dimensions of issues without it seeming like my goal is simply to support one candidate or one party over the other.

Theologically, I also argue that while certain policies and the candidates who propose those policies, may provide what I consider to be more morally adequate solutions to the issues we confront, no candidate, no party, no policy can or should be identified with the kingdom of God (or reign of God, or God’s dream for the world). The Kingdom of God, God’s full intention for the human community in relationship, is always future. I hope its ideals of love, justice, community and beauty inspire thinking about a political common good toward which we should be moving as a society. Yet the Kingdom of God is not simply an election a way! Furthermore, I am disappointed that the current state of our politics seems inordinately focused on winning elections and under-concerned for promoting the common good.

So I will continue to think about politics. I will continue to vote and be active in other ways. I will also recognize that the focus of my life and ministry has a wider horizon, and is responsive to a God who is less concerned about the next election than about a new heaven and a new earth.

With Faith and With Feathers,