Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pastor Erik--October 2008

A few weeks ago I was forwarded an email with some outrageous claims about one of the candidates for President of the United States. Now I get these sorts of emails all the time, about both candidates as well as other political figures, and usually I just delete them. But this one was supposedly from a Christian source that was using the Book of Revelation from the Bible as the backup for its claim—and it got me thinking about our role as Christians in the political realm.

According to this email, Chapter 13 of the Book of Revelation outlines the reign of the Anti-Christ as 42 months, which is nearly a presidential term. It then goes on to claim that one of the candidates for president fits the Book of Revelation's description of the Anti-Christ perfectly—his age, his background, his demeanor all are clearly laid out in Revelation. The implication is that if someone votes for this candidate, that they will be electing the Anti-Christ and therefore a good Christian would never be foolish enough to do this. And so, following the logic of the email, the only possible vote a “Christian” could make would be for this man's opponent.

Go ahead and grab a Bible and flip to Revelation 13. See if you can figure out which candidate was described in the email. Unless one of the candidates has sprouted six more heads, a bunch of horns, and all sorts of animal parts since his last television appearance, it's not entirely apparent to me who this might be so “clearly” referring to. You might have a hard time finding the term “Anti-Christ” as well, since this term doesn't actually appear in the Book of Revelation at all. (It is in 1 and 2 John, but never with a description except that the Anti-Christ will deny the divinity of Jesus. This is something neither candidate has ever done to my knowledge.) The Book of Revelation is not one of those books that lays anything out clearly anyway—its language is figurative and symbolic. And throughout history people have been convinced that what is going on in their day and age (or in the past or future) is what the author of Revelation was warning us about. Though, unlike this email, people usually try to make this claim by connecting a person or situation to some sort details that could actually be found in Revelation.

So the email is baloney, so what? We all get a hundred emails a week with all sorts of garbage in them, why should we care? There are many problems I have with this email: it plays fast and loose with the Bible, it uses fear and deception to try to bully people into thinking a particular way, and it's just downright mean spirited. But what troubles me the most about this email is that it implies that there is only one “Christian” way to vote—and that there is no need for Christians to engage in the political process and no need to debate or exchange ideas. One only has to find the right “Christian” candidate and the discussion is over before it begins—and of course Christians are all of one mind and so the decision is clear.

I do agree that as Christians it is essential that we take our faith, our values, and our morals into the voting booth with us (OK, to our kitchen tables or wherever we now do our voting). We pray continually that “God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and part of that means electing leaders and supporting positions that we believe bring us closer to God's dream for us and creation, rather than farther from. But to assume that Christians are all of one mind and so debate and discussion isn't needed is simply false. I know for a fact that in our congregations are Republicans and Democrats (and at least one Libertarian). There are people who think abortion should be legal and those who think it should be outlawed, there are people for and against gay marriage, prayer in schools, the death penalty, offshore drilling, tax stimulus checks, bailouts for financial firms, and a whole host of other issues. And these folks support these candidates and positions not simply because of partisan politics or because they have been duped by the media, but because of honest attempts to apply their faith and the teachings of Jesus to the real world—a world where the answer to “how can God's will best be done?” is not always so clear.

I happen to be for one particular candidate (as I assume you are as well), but I don't think that makes me (or him) more Christian—and I certainly don't think that anyone who disagrees with me is any less Christian. Whatever our politics, it is essential that we are able to live together in community—and that doesn't simply mean ignoring our differences. I would like to see those of us who are Christian be an example of Christ's teachings to the world and approach our political life with the same sort of Christian values that we live by in the rest of our life. This means at the very least speaking the truth in love (and not spreading falsehoods and rumors), giving our neighbor the benefit of the doubt, and still being able to live in community (and share a table) with those we profoundly disagree with.

And so as this political season begins to really heat up, and the fear based politics and baloney continue to increase, I hope that we as Christian people and as a Christian community are able to engage with one another (and with the political process) without giving in to fear and the spreading of falsehoods. In the end, our unity comes not from all agreeing with a particular candidate or position—or even from agreeing with one another—but because we have been claimed by God and made one in baptism. Our unity is in Christ and this trumps all divisions that we can come up with—political or otherwise. So roll up your sleeves and be a part of the political process, but do so with humility and compassion for your brothers and sisters who disagree with you—remembering that your will is not the same as God's will, and that you may be sharing a pew with your so-called opponent on Sunday morning. And when the time comes to pass the peace we put aside all those differences so we—Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians alike—can come to Christ's table as one people, who share one meal, for the sake of God's world. Doesn't that sound like God's will?

Pastor Erik

PS. If you ever want to know the baloney factor of emails you get, check out, the recognized online authority for such things.