Wesleyan Politics

This was written before the election. Thanks to the one person who asked me to post it, here it is!

I have these three friends that are all the same but different:

  • There’s me – an Alabama fan and a Democrat
  • Scott – an Auburn fan and a Democrat
  • Charlie – an Alabama fan and a Republican
  • Jeff – an Auburn fan and a Republican

How can we still be friends? During football season we joke with each other on Facebook – Jeff or Scott usually posts some meme making fun of Alabama, or Nick Saban, Charlie replies with one about Auburn, I chime in . . . and so it goes.

Scott and Charlie argue politics all the time. Scott can’t resist getting in any dig at any time! Jeff is a City Councilman in his hometown and a life-long United Methodist Lay person, so he and I share many mutual friends in the ministry. How can we still be friends, when so many people with as many opposites as us cannot carry on a civil conversation?

Because we have something bigger that binds us together: time, friendship, history, love.

wesleybros.com

That comic strip “The Wesley Bros.” reminds us of an uncomfortable truth of 2020 life: Christians find it hard to talk about certain subjects, like politics, because sometimes, our assumptions hurt more than our words! When did it get this way?

I’ve probably already said a couple of words that made some of you stop listening – “Democrat,” and “Republican.” How did you feel when I said those words? Think for minute. Tense? Anxious? Uncomfortable? Did you turn on any “filters” in your head as to what I might say next?

I’m going to go ahead and say a few more, just to get them out of the way. Let me make it very clear, this sermon is not about Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Mike Pence, or Kamala Harris. Take a deep breath. This sermon is about the bonds that Christians ought to have that are bigger than any political party or ideological allegiance.

Wesley was no stranger to political involvement. He was a long-time abolitionist. He spoke out against the injustices in his English society. Recently, around our Presidential election, one of his quotes has become known:

“October 6, 1774
I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

Consider the time – in 1774, the Revolutionary War was raging in “the Colonies.” King George was in the palace. Not everyone had a vote. This was not the Democracy that we know in America where all eligible adults can vote. House of Lords, House of Commons, all had different constituencies.

(In case you’re wondering: Prime Minister Lord Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford, and his party defeated the Whigs and Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, rather handily in 1774.)

In one of Wesley’s most famous – and still most used – writings, The General Rules, he begins with “Do no harm.” Refraining from harm is even more important than doing good. (That’s #2) If we do harm, or “speak evil” any good we might do afterward will be tainted. Let’s be honest -people remember the bad things we do much longer than the good. If we are harmful people, then our good will be “cancelled out.” Refraining from harm is more important – “If you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all.”

The journal entry from 1774 regarded “those in our society.” That means the people that were part of the Methodist movement, who attended Methodist Society meetings. Wesley knew, his people knew, that they had a bond that was larger than any political perspective. It was larger than any class (upper class voting for House of Lords, lower for House of Commons, lowest no vote at all). Their respect for one another was based on a spiritual bond.

Recently, a group of UMC Bishops in the United States released a statement that echoes that thought. They remind us that both our church and our nation are democratic institutions. “The right to vote,” these Bishops say, “is rooted in a commitment to the value of all persons, created in the image of God as individuals of sacred worth.”

As Christians and United Methodists, we must not do anything to undermine the people’s confidence that voting matters.

“It is incumbent upon those who participate in democratic processes not only to ensure each citizen’s right to cast their ballot, but to respect the result of those ballots once counted. When we resist this aspect of our democratic franchise, we undermine the whole and corrupt the foundation of our republic.”

Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple in the 20th century, said, “If we choose wisely, God reigns.  If we fail to choose wisely, God reigns.”

The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church affirm that we “hold governments responsible for the protection of the rights of the people to free and fair elections.”

We United Methodists have always had a stance on such issues. For some reason, maybe fear, maybe just plain ol’ manners (never discuss politics or religion at dinner), we’d rather not talk about it.

Wesley’s 1774 journal entry still resounds in our modern church as we are reminded of the importance of elections, exhorted to treat each other with respect, and respect the differences found among the children of God.

Diana Butler Bass, in her blog, “The Cottage,” says, “We need a new story of American faith — what it means to be a citizen, to love the land we inhabit together, and to treat one another with grace and dignity.”

Ephesians 6:10-17 – The Whole Armor of God

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our[b] struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these,[c] take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God

When Paul wrote this, it was not the first time in history evil had taken root, and he knew it would not be the last. Fast forward to today, and we understand as Paul did that we are perhaps living in such a time. His words are our blueprint for action, in general and particularly in the days leading up to the election.

  • First, Paul makes it clear that “we aren’t fighting against human beings.” When we choose a political side, WE ARE NOT FIGHTING AGAINST EACH OTHER. We are advocating for a point-of-view – an important point-of-view, a point-of-view that makes a difference – but a point-of-view is not our brother or sister. If we miss this, our actions will not be Christian.
  • we fight “against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.” Richard Rohr, “Evil is a societal darkness, a pre-existing condition (Is that “one of those words?” Breathe.), a mindset that precedes any of our individual expressions. It soaks into us in a variety of ways. By whatever interpretation, evil is real and active, using systems and groups as its instruments.”
  • Rohr rightly notes that evil masquerades as goodness.
  • In our Baptism vows, we are called to resist…. “evil in whatever forms it presents itself.” Resist the evil without harming our brother or sister.

Paul uses the garb of the Roman soldier to teach us further:

  • Sometimes we hear, “Things have been bad before. They will get better. They always do.”  This way of thinking uses history as a way to justify “keeping quiet” and not “rocking the boat.” It is a mantra that breeds passivity. Often, things only get better when people speak and act to make them so—when they labor to overcome evil with good.
  • To voice this second phrase is to insult the saints who have rolled up their sleeves and given their lives to resist evil. Instead of being passive, we must say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” In such times, we put on the full armor of God.
  • Paul reveals that the power to overcome evil with good is grace. Every item of the soldier’s gear was provided to them; it did not arise from them. They are able to fight because they have been given the means to do so.

In the ensuing Wesleyan tradition, the grace to resist (using the contemplation/action combo) came to be described as the works of piety and the works of mercy.  

Means of Grace

The works of piety form our character; the works of mercy shape our conduct. Taken together, they provide the grace to resist evil and overcome it with good.

Looking at our public, Christian expressions like this reframes the whole matter of social justice. It is never protest for the sake of protest, but a public act of justice, directed toward God, not aimed to “take down” our brother or sister.

What if this were to become our “new story of American faith?” Instead being a story of destructive in-fighting, our story became one of making visible the justice of God?

  • Spend time in prayer, not only reflecting on whom you should vote for but also asking God to guide your words, attitudes, and actions toward those with whom you disagree.
  • Reflect on the candidates you will be voting for. Are these candidates “most worthy”? If so, why? How has your faith informed your decisions?
  • Think about the candidates you won’t be voting for. Reflect on these candidates’ good qualities and reasons why other people consider them “most worthy.” Don’t assume the worst about opposing candidates and their supporters.
  • Resist any urges to write nasty, anonymous comments about opposing candidates on the Internet. And, if your candidate loses, don’t write ridiculous things like “This is the end of America as we know it” or accuse the winning party of cheating.
  • Pray for the well-being of the nation and the world, regardless of which candidates emerge victorious on November 6 (or after long, painful recounts).

Remember that your president, governor, senator, congressperson, state representatives, etc. represent you, regardless of whether you voted for them. Let these people know what issues matter to you and why. Work with these elected officials for the benefit of all people, and particularly those whom Jesus called the “least of these.”

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