With the California primary elections coming up in a week- on Tuesday, June 5th- many people of faith in the Bay Area are gearing up to go to the polls.
But does voting matter? And why should we, as Christians, exercise our right to vote?
As somebody who grew up in a more conservative, immigrant Church, I never really heard my leaders taking about political engagement as part of our discipleship. Instead, I often heard things like- “Christians aren’t supposed to talk about politics, they’re supposed to focus on the Gospel” or “Politics and religion- they don’t mix.”
Many of these statements ingrained into me the idea that what was most important to God was prayer, not policy; what mattered more was the afterlife, not the here and now.
In recent years, it’s become clear to me that as “focused on the Gospel” as many evangelical Christians have tried to be, the values, beliefs, and allegiances of most evangelicals undeniably impact how they vote. For example, it is these “focus on the gospel” folks who overwhelmingly voted for Trump (80 to 20 percent) in the 2016 elections. It is also these “focus on the gospel” folks who were also found to be more likely to vote for Roy Moore in the Alabama elections of 2017, after they found out about sexual assault allegations. It is these “focus on the gospel” folks who are the group LEAST likely to think that the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees. It is these “focus on the gospel” folks who are now equating progressive with godless and fighting to change the heart of California to “go red again.” And it is through these expressions of political agency, that many evangelicals have shown that their “focus on the gospel” is sometimes filled with hypocrisy.
The truth is, politics matter to Jesus. They matter to Jesus because peoplematter to Jesus, and our lives are meant to be lived in loyalty to God AND in love for neighbor. Moreover, when we look at Jesus’ life and ministry, we see that much of it occurred in public spaces, in ways that would have challenged the leaders and political structures of that time.
To choose to touch lepers and bleeding women were political acts. To eat with tax collectors and sinners to heal on the Sabbath were political acts. To reframe the boundaries of ones “neighbor” and to condemn temple institutions and drive out money-changers were political acts. To declare the year of Jubilee was proclaim the kingdom of God were political acts. To be identified as LORD (and not Cesar) was a political act. To be executed as a criminal by the state, hung on a cross in public humiliation, was a political act.
The public witness of Jesus, which both declared liberation for the captives and embodied identification with the marginalized, teaches us that we too- both in word and deed- are called to live in ways that are political. When our full allegiance is to the kingdom of God, we often live and act in ways that are countercultural. It means we speak truth to power, challenging both leaders and laws that destroy life or devalue the imago dei in people. And it means that we are discipling people in such a way, that their virtues, ethics, values, and practices exemplify Jesus- both behind our church walls and outside of them.
As a new member of the First Pres Hayward staff team, I have often heard our Senior Pastor, Jake Medcalf, say that we as a church are called to be “political, not partisan.” And this is true. Psalm 72, verse 14 says “Their blood is precious in [the king’s] sight,” reminding us that even human governments are called to act on behalf of the preciousness of every single person. This is not about being a Democrat, or a Republican, or Libertarian, or Green Party. It’s about honoring God’s image in all people, and fighting for a government that does the same.
There may be disagreements about policy and strategy, differing beliefs about how government may most effectively uphold justice and the preciousness of all people. Yet I do believe that all Christians — regardless of party- are called to engage the political sphere, in pursuit of God’s kingdom realities and in love for God and neighbor. And they are called to be allegiant to Jesus first, and not any particular party or platform.
So will you be voting next Tuesday, in the primary elections? And as you do go vote, how can you fight for the preciousness of all God’s people?
We have the chance to shape policies by electing local leaders such as state assemblymen, and school superintendents, and senators, and district attorneys. We can fight for the preciousness of God’s people in schools, in the criminal justice system, in our tax systems, in sanitation work, and more. We have the chance to vote on measures that affect the poor, marginalized, and vulnerable through early childhood education, affordable housing projects, public libraries, transportation, parks, and the environment.
Ultimately, in all of these expressions of political agency, we remember that our hope is not in a candidate or a policy. All of these human institutions are flawed and incomplete.
Even still, we choose to be faithful. We choose to exercise our freedoms and privileges. We choose to know who our leaders are and hold them accountable. We choose to care about policy that is made, because it affects us, the ones we love, and those in our community who are vulnerable.
Archbishop Oscar Romero, whose political acts of faith, in solidarity with the oppressed in El Salvador ultimately got him assassinated, prayed the following prayer. May it shape our vision of the kingdom, remind us that our pursuit of God often becomes political, and inform how we vote in the upcoming election.
A future not our own
It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of
saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession
brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives include everything.
This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one
day will grow. We water the seeds already planted
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s
grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.