Friday, September 14, 2012

Speaking - and Listening - in Love

As we head into the heart of the election season, I keep being told to “vote my values.” I wholeheartedly concur with this statement, except that usually those who make it have a clear set of values that I'm supposed to vote according to. What they really should say is “vote our values.” That would be more honest. Because in fact I think most voters vote according to their values. The problem doesn't lie in not voting according to our values. The problem, if we choose to see it as such, lies in our different values. This shouldn't surprise us, given that we live in a pluralistic society that values freedom of opinion and expression.

Even if we try to narrow the message of “vote your values” to “vote your Christian values” we run into difficulties. Despite what we like to think, Christians take different views on many issues and, in most cases, argue that their views are “biblical.” I don't know whether we could even define a list of values that all who call themselves by the name of Christ should vote according to, because ultimately what defines us as followers of Christ is not a set of values that inform our voting, but a set of beliefs about a certain person named Jesus the Messiah. The last time I checked his name wasn't on the election ballot this fall.

A lot of polemic is flying these days over which candidate more fully represents “biblical” values (there's that problematic phrase again). The answer you give will depend on how you define those values. In fact, neither candidate can or should make the claim to be “the” godly candidate (and I don't know that either has, in those words at least.) Their supporters, however, seem quite willing to do this on their behalf. I am tired of hearing that President Obama is ungodly, that he is leading this nation away from God, that he's not a Christian, and on and on it goes. I find it quite interesting that so many who call themselves by the name of Christ have such difficulty acknowledging that our president views himself as a follower of Christ as well. Just because he doesn't line up with a certain list of political viewpoints doesn't mean he's outside of the Kingdom of God. Only God gets to determine that. You may legitimately differ with his policies and politics, but don't tell me that the man is ungodly and anti-Christian.

Having said that, I must say that Mitt Romney also should not be charged with being ungodly. Although I take issue with key theological points of his Mormon faith, ultimately he does not stand or fall before God based on his political views and policies. Neither candidate, no candidate in the election for any position, can stand as “God's candidate” because God doesn't have a candidate running in any electoral contest. He doesn't need to. God will accomplish God's purposes through whichever people we elect. Regardless of the outcome of the election and the resulting impact on our nation, whatever it may be, God will continue to do God's work through God's people.

I have spoken out on several issues I feel strongly about in the last few months. I do not regret that nor disclaim what I have written. But recently, at the encouragement of Caris Adel, I started to read Gregory Boyd's book The Myth of a Christian Nation. I haven't made it far yet, but his first chapter struck me squarely on the forehead. As followers of Jesus Christ we are not called to advance a political agenda. Yes, we can and should engage in the political arena. But we are called far more to represent the Kingdom of God and to do so through acting in love and grace toward one another. When our political rhetoric becomes such that we deride those we disagree with, our we really demonstrating the love of Jesus? I recognize that I have been guilty of this. I see that my voice has often been unnecessarily strident. I acknowledge that I have often spoken more than I have listened. I appreciate the challenge of Danielle's words at From Two to One earlier this week. In reflecting on what she wrote and what I am reading from Gregory Boyd, I want to adopt a different approach in the remaining weeks of the election period. I may still speak out at times, but mostly I want to listen, ask questions and engage in respectful, civil conversation. The result may not be that you persuade me or that I persuade you, but at least we can learn from one another and in the process recognize that we don't always have to agree to live in harmony with one another. Unity does not require unanimity and those who differ from my beliefs and opinions are not inherently my enemies. In the end it's not about who wins this election. Our nation will not go to hell in a handbasket regardless of which candidate wins. This country is more than our political leaders and following Jesus is about far more than getting “our” candidate into office.

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