Faith and Politics

Article first appeared in The Gardner News on July 30, 2016

When in good company we are told to never talk about religion and politics.  Well today I am going to talk about both, specifically I am going to talk about how my church helps me see the world of politics.  I am not going to tell you how to vote, I would never do that.  I believe that we have the freedom to vote for whom we believe will serve our country the best.

But I will tell you that as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) I have certain ways that I live my life. My faith plays an important part of who I am, what I believe and how I see the world.

I grew up in the Lutheran church and there have been mo­ments in my life when I have looked into other churches and moments when I have considered leaving the church all together. But I have come back to the ELCA time and time again be­cause I truly believe that God is active in the world and that God is active in the church.

So here are some things that I love about my church and things that help me wade through what some have called the “political me­ss” that our country is experiencing right now.

1.  Lutheran theology more faithfully proclaims the freedom we have in Christ than any other theological tradition of which I’m aware. When the gospel says you are free, you are free indeed.  This is the freedom that I believe we need in the world.  We are not bound to vote a certain way because of our political affiliation, religion, race, gender or any other way we identify ourselves. We can vote for the person we feel will best represent the people of our country and our country around the world.

2.   The ELCA writes social statements. We do this because we believe taking a public stand on matters of social justice is simply wh­at Christian communities are ca­lled to do. We spend years writing them because we bring a wide variety of people together to talk, pray, and debate how we view certain issues in our world.
Some of the so­cial statements include issues ar­ound abortion, the death penalty, education, human sexuality, race and culture. So when I am curious how the views of the candidates ru­nning for office compares with the views of my church I can go to th­ese statements and find out.

3.  Even though we have social statements we are free to believe what we want. Conformity is not required in our denomination. Your average ELCA congregation may split about 50/50 Republican and Democrat. We find ways to be different, together.

4.  We are widely and deeply ec­umenical. We are in full communion agreements with more den­ominations than any other denomination. This means we can worship together, serve together and be church together.
This includes Pre­sbyterians, Methodists, Epis­copalians, Mor­avians, United Ch­urch of Christ, and the Ref­ormed church. We are always looking to work with other churches in some capacity even if we are not officially together.

As I think about all of this I ask myself over and over again how does my faith form my political view?  Well to be honest I don’t exactly know how to proceed. As a Christian pastor, I really do believe it’s crucial to keep Christ as our center.

When I read the Bible I ask myself repeatedly — in what ways is my reading of this colored by my politics and how does my political view change because of what I am reading? What I really want to do is to focus more on Jesus than politics. What does Jesus say?

Can we really choose a presidential (or any) candidate by reading the Bible?

The short answer is no — we cannot choose a candidate by reading the Bible. However, there are important things that come from the Bible that might help shape our views about what the candidates stand for and honor.

Luke 6 Jesus says “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

Does your candidate honor the poor, the lonely, the sick, the hurt, or the lost?
Do they care about helping or do they want to discriminate?
Do they want to bring people together or tear people apart?

1 Corinthians 13 “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”  Love is more important than anything else and that means love for someone else and love for God.

When we were children live was about us, we were very self-centered. But, as we got older, we realize that what we do for ourselves is not important. What is important is to make the lives of people around us better, to love each ot­her and to love God.

There are only 95 days until we head to the polls to cast our vote. There are only two things I know for certain.

First, no matter what anyone tells you, your vote matters. It is important for you to cast your vote.

Second, our faith plays a large part in who we vote for, pray about your vote and vote for the person you think will best represent you and your values and best serve the people of our country and our country around the world.

The Rev. Joe McGarry is the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, 627 Green St., Gardner, faithgardner.org. He also blogs at pastorjoe.me.

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