I have a confession to make; When I was in college in Alabama, I worked in politics and helped Spencer Bachus, a Republican, get elected to his first term in the 6th Congressional District in Alabama. He served 22 years in Congress and was at one time the Chair of the House Financial Services Committee.
I have another confession to make; In 2000 I volunteered and worked tirelessly for the presidential campaign of Ralph Nader and voted for him in Alabama. At other times I have consulted with campaigns and help write and pass legislation. I have had back room conversations with lobbyist and attended my fair share of political fundraisers and campaign night celebrations. So I can say with some experience that politics is one of the ugliest dramas to unfold in a civilized society.
As I write this preparations are being made to bury Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and the presidential campaign, which was already over the top, has reached new levels of ugliness and rancor. Hatred, anger, fear, xenophobia, racism, self-righteousness and judgment have become the normal discourse. This really should come as no surprise. As much as all of us say we want it to be different and bemoan the state of politics, red meat is what gets most people excited and moving to vote in one direction or the other.
In addition to the vitriol, there is the financial cost. Some experts believe that this presidential campaign will cost between $3-$5 billion dollars. Others put the estimate as high as $10 billion. This means that to elect the president our country we’ll spend more than the GDP of 100 countries and at least half of the people will not be happy with the winner.
So how are we as Christians meant to live and participate in politics? It is part of our world, affects our daily life and the lives of those we love. Non-participation is the equivalent of approval of our current state of affairs. I am as frustrated as the next person, but I am ever hopeful. But how do you choose?
Let me say that I do not trust what politicians say, I am concerned with how they act and how they have acted in their lives. When I look at someone running for office, trying to sway me to vote for them, I ask, have they lived their life in a way that is consistent with the values of my faith. Could I see them having a conversation with Jesus and Jesus saying, “Well done good and faithful servant…” Many politicians talk a good game but in the words of John Wooden “Character is what a person does when no one is looking”. How many politicians running for office would show up at the homeless shelter if there were no cameras around? How many would help their neighbor if there was no possibility of getting their vote? In our Ash Wednesday readings Jesus reminds us to beware of practicing our piety before others in order to be seen by them.
Jesus Christ died to change the world and to undo the political systems of oppression and injustice. He was crucified by politicians and resurrected by a God who is above politics. God judges our politics based on the cross and the values of the cross. God has brought down the powers and principalities and politicians work everyday to rebuild them. As we pass through this season of lent, to the foot of the cross and stand at the empty tomb let us be aware that as Christians we are called to ask ourselves, are we rebuilding the powers that would create more injustice, or are we recommitting to our baptismal vows to strive for justice and peace among all people, loving our neighbors as ourselves?
I have one last confession to make; I believe that Jesus came to save the world through love, peace, justice and mercy. I believe that we, as Christians, are called to this same work as disciples, and I believe that any politician who does not work for the reconciliation of the world through love, peace, justice and mercy is not worthy of a vote.