Faith and Politics: A Matter of Vocabulary

My first awareness of politics was in the late 1970s when Ford was President of the U.S. I didn’t understand anything about Watergate but for some unidentifiable reason I recognized that Ford had not been president for a full four-year term. I, as a child of nine or ten, noticed. I did a bit more than notice a few years later when Reagan ran for and won the office. That election cycle was one that I paid more attention to because it was one that made my mother register to vote for the first time in her life. And because the whole election was woven into my eighth grade social studies class.

In the spring of 1981 our class held mock primary elections. I was Reagan. I spent days collecting data from the newspapers to put together a campaign speech. Afternoons spent clipping articles and writing down quotes led to me winning that election. Not much else sticks in my memory except that I was criticized for using words that my classmates didn’t know. I was hurt by the teacher’s observation because I suspected I won that election because they thought I sounded “smart.” When I told my mother how unfair I thought it was that I lost points because my classmates didn’t know all the words I used, my mother informed me that “politics, like life, are seldom fair.” She went on to tell me that I was lucky I won because the best candidates aren’t always elected.

Looking back I realize that my mother and I ended up on opposite sides of the political arena and would never agree on the “best candidate,” yet, her statement isn’t entirely incorrect. It’s often hard to tell which candidate is the best one, the one that would be best to lead the country at this particular time in history. The problem is that people aren’t necessarily thinking about what is best for this country and how we interact with other countries. The decision about which candidate to support seems to be informed more by fear than anything else. However, as Christians, as people of faith, we should be looking at candidates through a different lens (and it isn’t impressive vocabulary.)

Long ago, to ancient people held captive and oppressed, God promised liberation. The vision of this liberation communicated through the Prophet Isaiah was one of healing and welcome, joy and gladness for all God’s people. And if we take Jesus’ proclamation that even the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John the Baptist (who was pretty great), then we have a responsibility to find that promised holy way. We have a responsibility to recognize that no one is excluded from this promise of liberation.

This is message of liberation and affirmation of value is contrary to much of the rhetoric thrown around in this election cycle. With the rise in antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, and other types of hatred and division, we must hold our leaders to a higher standard. Our faith requires that we make room for all. To honor the promises God made long ago, to live the teachings of Christ, means that we view all people as God’s people. We cannot continue to mistakenly interpret scripture to endorse any sort of white, Christian, nationalist supremacy. As a brown skinned Jewish man, Jesus would not condone such government sanctioned hatred, division, and oppression. Just ask the Romans and those who were in Roman employ…

We are in the Advent season. It’s a season preparing for the coming of God into the world anew, and anticipating the day when God’s promises will be fulfilled throughout the whole world. It’s an excellent time to check ourselves for where and how we are traveling through our lives. Are our feet anywhere near that holy way of peace where enemies journey side-by-side? Are we on a path that is wide enough to accommodate all of our neighbors? Do our prayers lead us to acts that liberate those who are oppressed? Do our words break the patterns of fear, division, and violence that are endorsed by too many politicians? Is there any evidence that we are followers of Christ in our daily activities?

Maybe politics and the way faith informs them really does have to do with vocabulary. Not in the way of words with many syllables, but in how we put them together. Do the words we use raise up those society devalues and dismisses? Do our words match our actions? When we speak of God’s love do we also seek to embody that same love for all those who inhabit the planet? After all, if Jesus walked the world today he would be in the cages at our border, or in line in a refugee camp waiting for food, or one of those who live on the streets, or one of those too many of us choose not to see or hear. After all, he was a brown skinned Jewish man who spoke truth to power, power that was corrupt and ignored the needs of many. Advent, as we anticipate the return of Light, is an excellent time to recommit to living what Jesus taught. What say you?

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday of Advent – December 15, 2019
Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 146:5-10
Luke 1:46b-55
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Photo: CC0image by Myriam Zilles

About rachaelkeefe

Hi. I am a pastor, an author, a painter, and a poet. My latest book is available now to order from Chalice Press, The Lifesaving Church: Faith Communities and Suicide Prevention (http://amzn.to/2DZ55EU).
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