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Bishop's Column: How would Jesus vote?

Posted: October 26 2018 at 01:40 PM
Author: Bishop Sally Dyck

In Matthew 16, Jesus asked his disciples who they said he was. Peter responded by saying, “You are the Christ!” Peter confessed with his lips but he hadn't yet lived it with his life; following Jesus is more than confessing with our lips!  

As we approach the midterm elections, I wonder if Jesus would flip the question on us, asking, “Who are you? Are you my follower? Or are you a Democrat first and Christian second? Or a Republican first and Christian second?” Where is my allegiance? And how have I gotten my political opinions and perspectives? From a faith perspective? From my party perspective? From the siloed news cycle I live in? 

The scriptures don’t clearly spell out for us just how to vote on all the complex issues of our time. But the scriptures do point out how to be with one another in our differences. Throughout most of my ministry, people would balk at the idea that they had enemies. I wonder if that’s still true in our hyper-polarized culture as we have demonized each other in our nation as well as our church. 

Jesus did tell us clearly how we are to act! “You have heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you…if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?’” (Matthew 5:43, 47, CEB) I guess he meant we are to love those across the political aisle and even the center aisle of our churches!

A few weeks ago most of us watched the funeral of the U.S. statesman, John McCain. Whether you are Democrat or Republican, I would be surprised if you weren’t moved at some point in the viewing of the memorial services. Among those who spoke about McCain’s life and character was former Vice President Joe Biden who gave witness to how John McCain was his friend as well colleague. 

Biden and McCain were from opposite sides of the aisle throughout their years together in the Senate. Then they ran against each other on their respective presidential tickets in 2008, still preserving their relationship. Biden told how in the 1980s and 90s, he would cross the aisle to go sit next to McCain or McCain would mosey over and sit down next to him to chat. They’d just sit there and talk about everything from politics to family. But around the mid-90s, one day they both had party caucus meetings at the same time. And both of them were approached by their caucus leaders that very day, saying, “It doesn’t look good, you talking to him all the time.” They were urged to knock it off.

But in fact, that is exactly what government and anyone calling themselves leaders should look like. We need examples of people who have different ideas, opinions and perspectives who are friends and able to disagree with each other on policies and politics, sharpening each other’s thoughts. Biden went on to say that when people’s motives, intentions, and even faith are questioned rather than ideas, policies and opinions, conversation ceases and a relationship is impossible. 

In the church, especially in this time before the specially called General Conference in February 2019, if we say to another, “you’re not really a Christian if you believe that way” then differences become personal. When differences become personal, that stops the conversations and the relationships. Biden said that it erodes the effectiveness of government. I would suggest that it also erodes the body of Christ and its witness to the world.

Biden didn’t say that he ever changed his mind or McCain’s but in order for there to be a strong democracy, we have to be able to talk to each other and live with each other in our disagreements. Biden went on to say in his eulogy that things have gone seriously downhill since he and McCain were asked not to spend so much time together. And that’s not the best of who we are as a nation-state or for that matter a church.

In the course of writing this article, I reached out to a relative whose remarks on Facebook were diametrically opposed to mine on what was happening in the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. I don’t know this relative very well but given the rawness of her remark, I decided to reach out with concern. Her husband had been falsely accused of harassment about 20 years ago. It was a devastating time for her family. Through a couple of exchanges, I acknowledged that it’s pretty devastating if someone is accused falsely but it’s also pretty devastating if one is assaulted or abused. 

Every word I wrote was carefully weighed in order to connect without betraying my own beliefs but also honoring her experience and feelings. It was hard. I was never sure how she would respond. I didn’t want to alienate her. I know it was important to connect; not change her mind, not chastise her, not ridicule or deny her experience, but connect. Whether I succeeded or not, it was just a good thing to do.

Jesus didn’t specifically say who to vote for on every candidate and issue. We can certainly apply some of his teachings to our ballot as well as what we hope for in The United Methodist Church in February. But he was pretty clear about how we live with each other in the midst of our hyper-polarized environments.

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