“Our politics come out of the faith that forms us… “

Thoughts from Your Pastor:  10/12/16

I was in the vice principal’s office yesterday. I was ten years old the last time I made such a visit, and it was not of my volition. My crime was arriving late for school a muddy mess. I had missed the bus, and so walked and found adventure along the railroad tracks and in a creek bed.  This time I came with fifty years of living behind me and clean clothes, and was greeted with a smile.

I was pulled into her office for conversation after tutoring a student in the seventh grade.  We talked for a moment and then her phone rang. While I waited patiently, I took notice of the signs and posters she had hung on her walls. One made reference to character, and that it matters. Words of large cut out letters were taped here and there. I thought of the “fruit of the spirit” that the apostle Paul impressed upon his congregations in the first century: honesty, patience, kindness and self-control. Another poster said something to the effect that “bullying stops here”, the “here” of course referring to Thomasville Middle School. Again, I thought of Paul’s pastoral letters and his emphasis that the most important quality any of us can have is love.

My thoughts went to the presidential debate a few nights before, and the days of election coverage that preceded it. I glanced at the vice-principal, and the framed family photos on her desk. How could it be that the campaign for the highest office in the land has become a poor character lesson for her students?  Middle school curriculum includes lessons in civics and engagement. During this election cycle real-time lessons should be posted with “viewer discretion advised”. This school year her job has been made more difficult, and so has mine.

The United Methodist Church has traditionally not weighed in on politics. But to say nothing in this election is to say something, perhaps that our politics are a separate issue from our spiritual lives, and that it does not really matter what our political leaders do. Of course this is not true. The word politics is derived from the Latin polis, which means city. Politics is how we choose to relate to one another in the city. In Christian terms, this refers to how we treat our neighbor, and Jesus had plenty to say on that matter.

Much of what Jesus did was political. When he healed a blind man on the Sabbath, visited the home of a Samaritan or conversed with prostitutes, he was making a statement about justice that many found offensive.  And keep in mind that while Jesus submitted to the cross out of love, it was foremost a political act. The high priest was a government appointed official and the governor worked for Rome. Jesus was tried in courts before them both, and sentenced for subversive crimes. So to say that his life was without politics is to misunderstand him.

Our politics come out of the faith that forms us. We are all political people. We cannot help ourselves; we live in the polis. We are forced to relate to one another in the city. As followers of Jesus, the politics we choose is written into the Gospels. Refer to the Sermon on the Mount or the parables from Jesus.  Study them, discuss them with one another and turn them over in your head.

What forms your character and outlook on life? Is it your favorite television series, the NFL, CNN, FOX News, or CNBC? Let it be the Gospels of Jesus Christ, and from that the prophets of the Old Testament and the letters of St. Paul. Spend more time listening to the voice of Jesus than cable news.  We will discover that scripture becomes a guide to who should lead us and preparation when we cast our vote.
The vice-principal at Thomasville Middle School hopes to form her students into adults of good character. I hope to do the same with my congregation. In these days of dirty politics, God help us.