It's fall here in mid-Atlantic. And after a very long build up, the national elections now have everyone's attention. How could we avoid it? Like the leaves falling from the trees each day, every mailbox is filled with showers of campaign literature. Some are simple cards reminding us to be good citizens and vote. Others point out the virtues of this or that candidate. And sadly, a growing number are from vaguely named political action committees. They disguise a suggestively sinister purpose of questioning the patriotism or alluding to unverified failings of a particular candidate. Such is our current reality.
Then there are the political score cards. With bullet point accuracy, political score cards aim to size a candidate up depending on a specific vote on this or that issue. Their purpose is to help voters sort who are the political sheep and who are the goats.
With Election Day fast approaching I have decided that it is time for a gospel score card. Saying this, I don't imply endorsing one candidate over another. Let's take a look at the larger picture: the election itself. What are we to make of all the issues, the debates, the campaign speeches and the hailstorm of advertising coming our way? What makes this election so special? We need a gospel score card.
Our standard for the gospel score card? We will be using the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12). It offers such an instructive sense of what Jesus taught. The beatitudes themselves will be our guide.
"Blessed are the poor," Jesus said as he began the Sermon on the Mount. We know that by their nature the poor are easily forgotten. They don't have power and influence. Regrettably, many don't vote. We also know that poverty levels today are the highest in modern times. The distance between the wealthiest and the poorest in America keeps on growing. When campaigns do address economics, it becomes a passionate debate about the middle class. Which benefit will be cut? Which entitlement will be preserved? Remarkably, the wealthiest even have avoided the spotlight while the poor are forgotten. The age-old prophets reminded us that care for the poor is the hallmark of a righteous nation. Simple justice asks that the greatest need receive the greatest attention. Why the silence?
"Blessed are the peacemakers," Jesus said. Listen to what the candidates are saying. The mantra of this campaign season is national security. Peace is something very different. Why has national security taken the place of peace in this campaign? Over these last years the constant message in the media is that things are not going well. In such an environment the natural instinct is to protect ourselves. We feel the need to defend ourselves. Swayed by such fears, people and nations begin to feel justified in making decisions that lead in the direction of war and not toward peace. Peacemaking asks each of us to put aside fear and to lend a hand in building communities and nations that are generous, compassionate and just. Jesus himself was called Prince of Peace. What would the pollsters say about his chances of being elected today?
"Blessed are the merciful." We give our governors and presidents the executive authority to pardon convicted criminals and grant clemency to prisoners. Statistics show that in recent years such remarkable powers are rarely being used. Over a generation ago we declared a national war on crime. The consequences of this conflict are still being fought out in communities and neighborhoods across this nation. There has been an exponential growth in the number of prisons and the number of people in prison. Today the nation we call land of the free has become a world leader in building prisons. Their costs eat away at budgets that could be spent in many other ways. We don't want to talk about the negative impact on communities and especially on the poor and people of color. We know that there are other ways to approach these problems. There are other options. Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful." But how will we know what it means to be merciful? How will we know what it means to be just until we seriously engage this national conversation?
Keeping score of others is good sport and lots of fun. But it isn't fair. As citizens and voters we also have a role to play. Politicians and political campaigns appeal to us based on sophisticated opinion polls, focus groups and old-fashioned common sense. Whether we like it or not what we are reading and hearing about these campaigns is our own score card. It is time to hope for more and ask for better. My hope is that as citizens and as people of faith we will not turn our backs, but will work and pray for the sake of a common good that reflects God's generosity, compassion and justice.