By Bishop David Kendall
I was ready to conclude that Jesus really has nothing to say to the elections in two weeks. After all, what does he know and what could he contribute to the debates, ad campaigns, and mudslinging contests? One group of people supposes that Jesus is pretty much clueless on all these matters.
Another group looks to Jesus for a kind of tipping point support. The arguments are quite compelling as they are, but just to clinch matters, here’s a saying from the Bible, attributed to Jesus. For them, Jesus spreads on a little frosting to make things sweeter.
A third group comprised of some of the most active currently on the political scene believe in absolute truth. They also believe they have found absolute truth on most matters that are before an unsuspecting or deceived public. For these activists Jesus steps up as the Ultimate Sponsor of their views. He who is the way, the truth and the life obviously would vote this way or for this person.
For Christ Followers the first two groups have it all wrong. The Lord and Master of all has much to say about almost everything. If he is who we claim then we must not treat him as though he has only “religious” or “spiritual” advice for any who might be interested. No, he is the smartest person we know. As such, we who follow him should do just that—follow him and embrace his wisdom as he gives it and as it applies to whatever the issues might be. We can count on him for more than an endorsement of our already good ideas.
For Christ Followers the third group is undoubtedly correct in that truth is, well, real or true—in some solid and objective way. They are also right to insist that it is possible to know the truth, and they no doubt affirm that Jesus embodies truth and wants to lead all who will follow to the truth. But we must take care that we actually follow him and must guard against remaking him to suit some party-line.
I’ve thinking about what sort of Voter’s Guide Jesus would write for us and offer to us as we approach November 2. Before I give you an outline of what I think might be on such a guide, let me warn you, that many will be disappointed by it. They will be disappointed because the candidates and issues at center stage do not claim the attention and importance for Jesus that they may for us. In reading a guide of his making, we will no doubt sense that he offers it with other priorities and concerns in mind than we often have when we think (or fail to think) about political, electoral matters. You are warned. So, here goes.
First, two general observations about what would guide the specific items Jesus would recommend to the electorate. To begin, I would not expect very many, if any, detailed action plans. This is so for two reasons: first, the most important issues are complex and addressing them is often not reducible to one simple “action plan” (see below for examples). Second, all the time Jesus is more interested in moving us to full maturity, to help us to grow up in him, to realize our full potential as children, servants and co-laborers with him. Growing up and reaching maturity requires the ability to think, to choose courses of action, to develop/express faith, and to act on conviction — all of which works best when we do not see everything as clearly as we might hope and yet must act with courage and resolve. Maturity and fullness comes most often in such ways.
Second, I would expect a thorough going Kingdom Perspective since “the Kingdom ” is the gospel summary of Jesus’ message and ministry. A Kingdom Perspective embraces the whole world, and seeks his will done everywhere, not just here. Further, his Kingdom is founded on righteousness, or justice, and love so that no one will go without, and no one will be deprived. What this means, among other things, is that a partisan or parochial policy (addressing only a part to the neglect of the whole focus) will nearly always be incomplete and inadequate when assessed in light of Jesus’ Kingdom. Consequently, policies that aim only or exclusively at one nation’s well being will also fall short of a full Kingdom Perspective. You can see by this Kingdom Criteria how complex matters really are.
For example, we must protect our borders—not only or primarily to defend our sovereign territory but also to defend people and families, but not in ways that make it impossible or unlikely to care for strangers and the oppressed, and not in ways that place our exclusive or primary trust in police or military protection apart from confidence in God’s word that in welcoming strangers we welcome him. Another example that comes to mind would be war in general, and the war on terror in particular. Kingdom people cannot be lovers of war and cannot commit to hawkish policies—period! I am not saying that all who commit to the Kingdom of Jesus will be passivists and will disavow the use of force categorically. I am saying that the use of force must not compromise other clear Kingdom priorities and values. Force that is simply retaliatory or preemptive is on principle questionable for people committed to a Kingdom perspective. Military action as a first response would be similarly questionable. The disavowal of, or impatience with, diplomacy is likewise found wanting. OK, so what more specifically would be on Jesus’ Voter’s Guide?
- What (candidate, position or policy) best values and makes possible loving God with our all and loving others as we do ourselves? (Seriously, now, consider this prayerfully and in community with other Christ-followers!)
- What (candidate, position or policy) offers Christ-followers the best opportunities to assist multitudes of others to consider following Christ as we do?
- What (candidate, position or policy) offers the most hope for the poor of the world and why do you think so?
- What (candidate, position or policy) would seek the good as God defines it for people everywhere, such as justice, redress from oppression, freedom for captives of every sort?
- What (candidate, position or policy) shows the most deference for the most vulnerable?
- What (candidate, position or policy) reflects purity of heart and life, not only negatively in terms of avoidance of things that defile, demean and damage but also positively in terms of passionate pursuit of human well-being and wholeness wherever the humans happen to live?
- What (candidate, position or policy) advocates for and acts in the interest of biblical peace—shalom, not only conflict resolution and the overcoming of tribal/racial/ethnic divides but also the pursuit of conditions that encourage and resource human flourishing everywhere (think here of disparities of rich and poor, the many who are “have-nots” who go without adequate food, water, shelter, and care)?
- What (candidate, position or policy) would applaud and collaborate with those who have special concern and abilities to facilitate grace and kindness between parties who are estranged?
- What (candidate, position or policy) reflects a spirit or tone in their advocacy that offers the best chance of finding the good and the wisdom in alternate or even contrary candidates and views?
- What (candidate, position or policy) demonstrates an ability to stand on principle without demonizing those who disagree?
- What (candidate, position or policy) shows a willingness to sacrifice self or group agenda for the sake of higher common good?
- What (candidate, position or policy) best reflects the wisdom that human worth cannot be calculated at the cash register and viable human communities require ongoing self-restraint?
Obviously the list could go on, but this is enough to indicate the tone and tenor of the guide. Now, please note that in all likelihood no viable candidate or party corresponds very well. The electoral situation is indeed complex and murky. As such, there is plenty of room for Christ followers to disagree and draw conclusions that are contrary to each other. So what should we do? Withdraw and not participate? Discern what corresponds most nearly? Determine what items are most critical now and see where closest alignment is? Collaborate with others in infiltrating all parties to work toward bringing all parties more into alignment with the Voter’s Guide in any way possible, so that no matter what party or candidate wins there is greater possibility that policies and decisions will be shaped more nearly in conformity to Jesus’ kingdom?
Well, yes, exactly! You see the challenge and the possibility. With eyes of faith and hearts set on the things that inflame the heart of Jesus you will see the possibilities. And you will do something.
Bishop David Kendall serves as overseer of East Michigan, Gateway, Great Plains, Mid-America, North Central, North Michigan, Ohio, Southern Michigan, Wabash, and African Area Annual Conferences. He is coordinator of oversight for the Free Methodist World Ministries Center. He and his wife, Lavone, have three married daughters and reside in Greenville, Ill.