One Christian’s Voting Guide

imagesChristian bloggers, clergy, and laypeople everywhere are blowing up social media with angst over which candidate to vote for in the upcoming general election.

But people make it more complicated than it needs to be. Part of the problem is many Christians limit their criteria to one or two wedge issues that are never even mentioned by Jesus.

Make is easy. Open up to Matthew 25 and get reacquainted with the works of mercy that, according to Matthew, Jesus uses as criteria for the Last Judgment:

  • Feed the hungry: Which political candidate is about food safety and security for all?
  • Give drink to the thirsty: What about the indefensible water crisis in Flint, Michigan?  How about the rest of the U.S. water supply?  Which candidates are fighting fracking and the pollution of ground water?   Which candidates are fighting to make safe this necessary compound for sustaining all of life?
  • Clothe the naked: How about a wage fair enough to buy some clothes? How about Oregon and that $14.75 minimum wage? That’s economic justice.
  • Shelter the homeless: Don’t complain about Section 8 housing if you’re going to call yourself a follower of Jesus.  Even the least of these deserve a roof over their heads. Which candidate supports such endeavors? For this issues one must turn to local leaders.  For example, look for local candidates advocating for the homeless.  There many creative initiatives seeking to alleviate this chronic issue, such as the tiny home village taking shape in Dallas, Texas.
  • Take care of the sick: Healthcare and all that that implies. For all.  That means everyone. This is a no brainer.
  • Welcome the stranger: For Jesus this included the foreigner and the “other.” Xenophobia has no place in the heart or actions of a Christian.  Study the candidates.  Which ones display xenophobia and bigotry, or worse, stirs the “shit pot of hate?” Don’t vote for that one. Period.
  • Visit the imprisoned: The U.S. has one of largest populations of incarcerated people worldwide. This is a human rights issue. Further, the high school to prison pipeline remains fully supplied by dropouts, fostered by a less than engaging education system.  Which candidates offer a plan to simultaneously fight poverty and improve education.

A lot of Christians like restrict these marks of faithfulness to the work of individual congregations, contending that the government should play no part in such matters.  I suspect that argument is popular for these Christians because Matthew 25 doesn’t play into their efforts to legislate an ideological, and unbiblical, morality, forcing it onto the wider population. But this has only created animosity toward Christianity.

The acts of mercy in Matthew 25 are inconvenient for sure, even for those who try to live them out faithfully. Individual congregations cannot afford, due to dwindling giving and church participation in the U.S., to realize these acts in a vacuum that transforms the wider culture. There has to be a partnership with other faiths, and even secular institutions.  That’s why it important for Christians to vote and keep in mind the matters that Jesus declare to be most crucial.

It’s fine if one disagrees that Matthew 25 should inform a Christian voter.  Just don’t claim to be casting a vote in the name of Jesus, otherwise.

Lent 2015.3: Poverty Part 2

I recently had my students compare the mothers in Richard Wright’s autobiography, “Rights to the Streets of Memphis” and Langston Hughes’s poem, “Mother to a Son.”  As the class discussion turned toward poverty I interrupted the conversation and said:

“I have no idea what it’s like to live in poverty.”

A student quickly replied:

“It’s nice to hear a teacher admit that.”

This made me pause and reflect. I’ve been to impoverished areas of various US cities, Appalachia, Mexico, and Honduras.  But I really don’t know anything about living in poverty.  I’ve never questioned whether I would have a next meal. Ever. That’s true for many people that I know.

Wright and Hughe’s captures the struggle of those living in  American poverty that is as  real today as it was in the early 20th century. Perhaps, Lent might be a time for the Christian to consider the widening wage gaps, income inequality, and the slashing of safety net programs that make it more difficult for people to survive.

Lent 2015.2: Jesus and the “Have Nots”

Democrazia-in-movimentoAfter Jesus emerges from his fasting he spends a great portion of his ministry  afflicting the “haves” and comforting the “have nots”.  He seems to have no use for an economic system that allows greedy “tax” collectors, for example, to prey upon the most fragile.  This focal point of Jesus’s ministry cannot be ignored during one’s Lenten journey . . .or after.

 For the Christian, and non-Christian, poverty is a moral issue.  It’s sinful no matter how we look at as it is created and perpetuated by humans.

Decades ago the United States declared a “war on poverty”.  Here is what Stringfellow had to say at the time on the matter:

. . .a war on poverty has been declared, but as of now, it seems more an appeasement of the conscience of the prosperous than empathy for the sufferings of the poor.  Poverty  cannot be undone in America by appropriating a nickel where five dollars is required.”  William Stringfellow, Dissenter in a Great Society.

Stringfellow’s could have easily been written in 2015.  Everyone, Christians included, as Stringfellow later explains, are part of the political process whether we want to be or not,  Poverty is not only a moral crisis, but it is also a political one: it is sinful and it is a matter of life and death for those who live it day in and day out.

For us Christians in the United States, as part of the church and part of the political process,  there really isn’t any question as to how we are called to act upon the matter.

Lent 2015.1: It’s time to give up more than chocolate.

Lent is rooted in the Christian tradition.  Removing it from that tradition or secularizing it ( e.g. making it a time of giving up chocolate) trivializes this ancient practice.  Jesus temptation in the wilderness is a template for those who follow him.  For the Christian, in words of R. Culpepper this is a time to:

Resist the temptation to forget one’s baptismal identity.

Remain faithful rather than being successful or striving for power.

Resist being “dazzled” by the wealth of the world.

Lent is a tiime of real sacrifice.  And in the 21st century there are real sacrifices that Christians need to make:

  • Hateful speech and dialogue, especially on social media.
  • Judgmentalism
  • The “need” to be right . . . or thinking one’s ideology or theology is the “correct” way.
  • Patriarchy . . .all forms.
  • Participation in, tacitly or willingly, systemic racism
  • Xenophobia towards the “other.”
  • Supporting political and economic systems that crush the poor.
  • Homophobia.
  • Bible worship . . . it’s a collection of many books covering many centuries- not a singular text that is without error.
  • Fundamentalism.  It is dangerous and, as we know through history often leads to violence.

These are unpopular for sure.  But there are very few systems of the 21st century, if any, in which Jesus would participate.  The Gospel is political as much as it is spiritual.  If it were not Jesus would not have been executed by politicians on a cross.

Eat the chocolate and drink the wine- it’s what Jesus would want I think. Instead, be faithful. Engage in acts of love, mercy, and compassion: the weightier things of “the law”.