Thursday, November 02, 2006

What to do about upcoming elections

As a pastor, I'm generally pretty chary about sharing my political views. As near as I can recall, I've only written once about a specific public policy issue (a permit for a casino downtown) and never about candidates. This is mainly because I get two uneasy vibes from the general public (not from everyone, but this is a general sense): 1) they view pastors talking about specific political details with the same level of trust as they might view a used car salesman on the merits that '76 Volare that you just have to drive home today. 2) When pastors spend more time talking political policy than talking about Christ, they become pawns of political strategists rather than physicians of souls. (you may disagree with me on these two general senses -- but then I humbly ask, what is your inner response when you hear a pastor espousing political views with which you disagree. Do you immediately dismiss those views, or do you internally begin to challenge your own stances.)

For these reasons, I generally speak to big issues, without comment about particular items of legislation, policy, or lawmakers. I try to remind our congregation that God is not the sole province of any of the political parties.

However, I do remind my congregation that they as Christian citizens are called to be active in our political process. When Peter writes about submission to authority, he says "Be subject to for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good....Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor." (I pet 2:13-14, 16-17). Paul expresses similar sentiment in Romans 13:1-7 (even talking about the necessity of paying taxes that are due).

Now if the early Christians were called to submit to the governing authorities of the day, then it is logical to infer that we are too. However, we've been blessed to be born or naturalized into a democratic republic, a part of which means that submission to the authority implies at minimum a call to participate in the electoral process as informed voters.

Then I read articles like this one on voting habits of the American public. (Hat tip to Librarian's Internet Index for this one). According to this article only 1/3 of eligible voters actually make the effort to vote in every election. There's a full 22% of the eligible voting population that isn't even registered! The survey measured voting habits as compared to church going habits. Interestingly, weekly churchgoers were had the highest percentage of attending elections (39% vs 35% for monthly or less churchgoers and 31% for seldom or never); even so, there were still 38% of weekly churchgoers who responded that they seldom or never participate in elections!

Now I know that there are lots of ways to participate in society -- volunteering, local work, civic organizations, church work. We're called to be salt and light in many different spheres, and participating in elections is but one small way -- but based on what I see in I Peter and Romans, I believe that we have a responsibility to be informed participants in elections. We may have honest disagreements on the role of government in a democratic republic -- we may have differing opinions about particular policiy initiatives or candidates qualifications -- but we all, each of us who claims the name of Christ, has the responsibility to respect our wordly government by participating in the process.

One main part of this participation consists of being informed -- The Librarian Internet Index pointed me to this website of information -- but it is mostly geared toward California. Are there similar resources for other states? Please let me know. By being informed -- perhaps the most important things to be informed on are the local ballot initiatives in your area -- your vote carries much more weight locally -- and those issues are ones which will impact you and your community directly.

Remember -- election day is on Tuesday. Pray hard - not that your "team" wins, but that you and me and we all might have wisdom.

Soli Deo Gloria