I am sad today. I’m not sad that President Obama was elected to a second term. I wouldn’t have been sad if Mitt Romney had been elected either. My high school civics class instilled too much confidence in checks and balances to get all worked up about who is sitting in the oval office. And besides, Congress will, no doubt, continue to be totally dysfunctional for the foreseeable future. No, I’m grieving Election Day for a different reason.
I doubt I’m the only one who has run across people, in person and on social media, who have had their faith rocked by last night’s Presidential election results. As I stood in line to vote yesterday, I heard more than one person put this election in terms of spiritual warfare, and “if only Christians got out to vote,” the right man would be in office come January 20, 2013. This morning, as I sat among 15 mothers and grandmothers, many conservative Christian homeschoolers, at library storytime, it felt like a wake, or at least the day after GOE results came in the mail. Eyes were downcast. Conversations were hushed. Expressions were sullen. One person told me, “I’m just so disappointed in yesterday’s election. I mean, I just don’t know. I prayed. I prayed for our country, and he still won.” Based on the feedback I’m seeing on Facebook and Twitter, there are plenty of people who would have been saying the same thing had a few swing states swung the other way.
I’m sad that this is what American Christianity has come to. I am deeply grieved that the collective faith of the almost 250,000,000 Christians in the US (according to Pew Research) has become so intimately tied up with the empire. (Obviously not every Christian feels this way, but c’mon, it’s the day after Election Day, broad brushes are encouraged)
The problem, it seems to me, is two-fold. First, American Christians have, by and large, lost a sense of what it means to pray. If you prayed for our country, and your candidate did not win, does that mean that God didn’t answer your prayer? Or did he just not answer it the way you wanted him to? I believe that prayer is, as I said a few weeks ago, “a consciousness of God’s presence, love, direction, and grace.” It isn’t about winners or losers, it is about listening, discerning, experiencing, and loving. If you prayed for God to help you decide who to vote for and you voted for Mitt Romney, good for you. If you prayed for God to help you decide who to vote for and you voted for Barack Obama, good for you. Odds are, you probably both heard the will of God for you in your life.
Which leads me to my second point, the American Church has been so tied up in the modernist obsession with truth that it has lost its ability to teach people how to follow Jesus. At some point, beginning in the early 1920s, the American Church’s fundamentalist wing shifted the conversation in American Christianity from “being a Christian” to “being a believer,” and forever altered the landscape of politics and religion in America. The end result, as we saw again in this year’s election, is that for many Christians, liberal and conservative alike, there is only one way of being a Christian: subscribing to a list of beliefs that are required for entrance into heaven. If both sides believe that they have the inside track on God’s truth, then we have no choice but to cast the others into outer darkness.
Instead, what the Church should be modeling is a way of living the Gospel that leaves room for the work of the Spirit. If the Church is teaching people how to live into the Kingdom of God, then we have to be comfortable with the notion that smart and faithful Christians will read the Bible and find in it different priorities, different meanings, different ways of being disciples. We have to be OK with that.
This is a blog about the Bible, and as an Episcopalian, I’m a firm believer in the three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. I suppose at this point I’ve appealed to Tradition and Reason, so now I will appeal to Scripture. In the Second Track of the Revised Common Lectionary, the Psalm appointed for this Sunday, is #146, which opens with these verses:
1 Hallelujah! Praise the LORD, O my soul! *
I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
2 Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, *
for there is no help in them.
3 When they breathe their last, they return to earth, *
and in that day their thoughts perish.
4 Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!*
whose hope is in the LORD their God;
5 Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
who keeps his promise for ever;
6 Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.
As disciples of the Lord Jesus, we should take our place in the life of the country and exercise our right to vote, but our trust should not be placed in election results, candidate speeches, or political platforms. Our trust is in the Lord who made all that is, seen and unseen. Our trust is that God is bigger than politics, and for that we should offer him thanks and praise. Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, a Libertarian or an Independent, be happy this day that you have the God of Jacob for your help, place your trust in Him, and seek after his kingdom, his desires, his will. I promise, you won’t be disappointed, no matter the results.