November 2, 2021
It is the beginning of November again, and that means that Election Day is around the corner. For some of us, that excites the passions, reminding us of our right to participate in the governance of our country. For others of us, whose confidence in our government has been damaged or who are suspicious of the role of government altogether, this time of year may not hold the same sense of promise and hope. Politically, we find members of our denomination all along the spectrum of opinion. And increasingly our faith in, or our suspicion of, government, is a significant marker for where we stand along that spectrum.
Governments, of course, are institutions made up of human beings, and subject to all of the frailty, pettiness and ignorance that we humans share. Government can fail us, can betray us, can anger us to the point that we throw up our hands in disgust. But it is also worth remembering, as Presbyterians, that we stand in a Reformed tradition that acknowledges government as instituted by God, for the ordering of God’s earthly creation. John Calvin devotes the final chapter of his “Institutes” to civil government, and writes, “It is perfect barbarism to think of exterminating [civil government], its use … being not less excellent than that of bread and water, light and air, while its dignity is much more excellent.”
We may see active participation in the body politic as a right to be embraced or as a chore to be endured, but for Reformed Christians it is something more. It is a responsibility of our faith. We spend our lives in communities, and the theology we embrace calls us to serve in those communities as children of God, calling our communities as best we can to their most noble purposes, to justice and to compassion. And in a democracy, Election Day provides us with one of the most direct ways to live into our responsibility.
In the 2018 policy statement “Honest Patriotism,” our denomination issued a call to thoughtful participation in an institution we know to be flawed and subject to error. And we asserted that only through the protection of full participation in the democratic process can we be faithful to our vocation:
Committing ourselves to honest patriotism means an uncompromising attention to full democracy. It means that our government must protect the full participation of all of its citizens. And that most direct means that democracy gives us of making all voices heard, the vote, must be protected without qualification. This is a bare minimum of what we must expect from our government.
We stand in a time and a place where full participation is at risk, and where the protection of democracy has become a necessity. Attempts to limit the right to vote are increasing. Being faithful to our theological tradition means being forceful in rejecting such attempts.
As much as we might want to stay away from the fray (and given the current level of debate, that option becomes more and more tempting) we must know that versions of our faith are already part of the political conversation, and they are loud. The question going forward is what version of the Gospel will our country hear? If we cede the field to those who attach the name of Jesus to hatred and division, we have made a political and a theological decision. We have chosen to accept, by our silence, these pernicious teachings. When we exempt ourselves from being Christians in our public lives, we are acting out a theology. But is it a faithful one?
Robert Trawick, professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at St. Thomas Aquinas College and member of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy
Today’s Focus: Honest Patriotism for Christian Citizens
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
James Carey, Director of Investments & Portfolio Management Services, Presbyterian Foundation
Tim Cargal, Manager, for Ministry Preparation & Support, Office of the General Assembly
Let us pray
God of grace, grant us the strength to live as your disciples. Grant us wisdom to guide our decisions and humility to acknowledge when we have been mistaken. And create in us receptive hearts and minds, that we may hear your Word in the aspirations and dreams of those with whom we share your creation. Amen.
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