taking the words of Jesus seriously

 

I’ll never forget the time I was handed a Voting Guide when I walked into church on Sunday morning.

 

It was 2008 and I was a 23-year-old single woman, attending a large Southern Baptist congregation in Florida for the very first time.

 

The high school football coach I’d just written a profile on for the front page of the sports section had recommended I attend his church. He was, I’d ascertained, a good man and a genuine Christian. Plus, he and all the other football coaches from the area attended church here. There was the potential of additional scoops, plus an opportunity to make friends – or more – with some of the younger assistant coaches.

 

It was an impressive campus, all palm trees and white arches. We sang some familiar music and to be honest I don’t even remember the sermon.

 

I remember the seemingly harmless Voters Guide. It was 2008. On the second page, listed in alphabetical order, was the man who would become our nation’s first black president.

 

BARRACK OBAMA

 

It could’ve been a simple typo, an auto-correct. But as we were all told to bow our heads and pray for awhile to end abortion, I figured out this little Voters Guide might have a slight political agenda. And perhaps that little agenda might have contributed to them not bothering to spell the Democratic candidate’s name correctly.

 

Much as I would have loved going to the church of the football coaches, I couldn’t go back after that.

 

Lest you think this is just conservative Christianity’s problem – I’ve seen it on the liberal end as well. Pastors and leaders unable to even conceive of a person who follows Jesus casting a vote for the Republicans.

 

My Facebook news feed this Wednesday following the Republican wave mid-term election was filled with laments and lack of trust. There were a few cheers mixed in there, but as a former journalism student and a female pastor who has lived in Illinois and California, you can imagine I might see a few more liberal posts.

 

Rampant among the posts was the utter disbelief that any person elected as a Republican would have any merit to govern.

 

Meanwhile, as I worked out at the gym this afternoon, you couldn’t help but see the smug smiles on the faces of the FOX News hosts.

 

***

 

Where is Jesus in all of this? Where is God during election week?

 

Sometimes when I read the vitriol from either side, I find myself empathizing with the 78 percent of my age group who didn’t bother to vote on Tuesday. I think many of us just end up feeling disgusted with it all.

 

Somewhere along the line – maybe it was the cable news networks and political blogs and PACS and … who knows – it seems we as a country reached the conclusion that the two major political parties have to be diametrically opposed – that to like one is to hate the other. That to support one is to have a sense of utter distrust for the other.

 

That just doesn’t make sense.

 

There will, as we’ve seen, be scandal and lying and utter mismanagement and fraud from both political parties. Sometimes one will seem to be more transparent than the other, and sometimes one will seem mired in stupidity – but ultimately the pendulum will always swing back the other way.

 

Since I got the right to vote in 2003, I’ve seen dramatic swings in elections and advantages. In 2004: Advantage: Republicans. 2006: Edge: Democrats. 2008: Democratic. 2010: Republican. 2012: Democratic. 2014: Republican.

 

I think behind these dramatically changing political tides is the general disgust or frustration that most of us feel with our politics. I can empathize. In my moves from solidly red districts in Florida and Kansas to swing state Nevada and blue California to blue of an altogether different kind in Illinois — I’ve felt my own internal pendulum swing. Like many young people I was caught up in the excitement and dream of President Obama in 2008.

 

Like many young people I’ve found myself disillusioned in the past six years.

 

We drift from one party to the other. Yes, this party is the Golden One – they will save us this time.

 

***

 

After my sophomore year of college I had the privilege of serving a congressional internship for a moderate Republican from Minnesota. He had always won huge margins and was known for working across the aisle. His staff was dedicated and honorable. I worried that summer I’d lose my faith in politics but instead I gained respect for what it meant to be an elected official – all the while keeping under wraps my moderately Democratic leanings. I think I whispered it once to a staffer, who didn’t seem to mind.

 

Such an amicable environment and respect across the aisle seems almost unimaginable in many places today. Districts have been drawn and redrawn so many times that many are barely even contestable by the minority party. Many Americans live in ideological ghettos: our Twitter feeds and Facebook news feeds are dominated by those who think like us. Our towns are increasingly dominated by one party or the other. When you don’t know anyone who is a Democrat – or anyone who is a Republican – it’s easy to demonize entire groups of people.

 

***

 

As a Pastor, I’ve seen the office of ministry just outright abused time and time again for the purpose of politics — not just in the “Barrack” Obama gaffe at that Baptist congregation in Florida.

 

Whether it’s subtle or screaming, the dismissal of an entire group of people from our churches is inexcusable: whether we’re dismissing Republicans or Democrats.

 

We walk a fine line, of course, because sometimes Jesus does call us to political action: to advocate for the oppressed – to loosen the bonds of the captives – to allow all people dignity, life and freedom.

 

Jesus’ dictate of loving your neighbor offers a sharp critique to an extreme Libertarian position, because it requires us to consider other folks besides ourselves when making political decisions.

 

Jesus’ insistence on His way critiques an extreme liberal social school of thought, which assumes that through human goodness and strong government we might achieve heaven on earth.

 

His death on the Cross flies in the face of any political policy that claims to realize what only God can promise.

 

Jesus stands over the polls, I believe, and he watches us vote and he bids us to remember the words of the prophet Micah: “What does the Lord require of you? But to do justice. And to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

 

I pray our newly elected officials: Republicans and Democrats, consider abiding by Jesus’ words. Do Justice in your office. Love kindness, even across the aisle and even love groups who don’t support you.

 

Walk humbly. Admit that sometimes the other side might have a better idea, and that through collaboration the best idea might be allowed to flourish.

 

***

I don’t think Jesus is just scolding or admonishing us, though, when he watches Americans vote – as about 83 million of us decided to do on Tuesday.

 

I think there’s still a part of him that’s proud – that’s glad.

 

In the midst of FOX News and MSNBC and preening pundits, we often forget that a peaceful transfer of power, as happens nearly every two years in Congress, is impossible in many countries across the world.

 

We forget that in simply being able to go to the polls and have our votes counted, we’ve already experienced something amazing.

 

And despite our bickering and imperfections and allegations – politics has done some good things in America.

 

On Tuesday in a Chicago suburb I stood in line to vote in front of an African-American man.

 

As we waited for the folks in front of us to figure out a mishap in the new electronic voting machines, we shared a smile about choosing the wrong time to come to vote.

 

When I walked out of the polling place five minutes later, a thought struck me.

 

One hundred fifty years ago, neither one of us would have been able to vote at all. By our mere presence in the polling place, we were doing something remarkable – we had chosen the right time to vote after all. And returning to the polls this year, despite all the corruption and all the lies and all the disappointments – our presence there reminded me that Jesus’ hope is burning bright in America after all in 2014.

 




About The Author

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Rev. Angela Denker is a former sportswriter turned Lutheran Pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church in Yorba Linda, Calif. Denker covered the 2009 Super Bowl and was published in 2007 in Sports Illustrated. She blogs at Overwhelming Jesus and enjoys surprising Orange County Christians by being a preacher and a woman, as well as a wife and mom of two young boys.

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