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Reverend William E. Flippin, Jr. Headshot

Would Martin Luther Vote for Barack Obama?

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As a staunch supporter of Barack Obama and an ELCA pastor, I wonder with the height of the elections about to surface would Martin Luther vote for this man who I believe is a champion for those who are struggling to recover from the recession. He has recently unveiled his campaign slogan -- "we can't wait" and has allowed homeowners who presently are in negative equity to refinance their mortgages at lower interest rates. He is making strides to address the crisis of mounting foreclosures and getting people back to work while attacking the greedy corporate systems that give rise to such realities.

From the lectures on Romans in the early 1520s, Luther consistently interprets the biblical affirmation that God is no respecter of persons within a socio-economic framework. Luther repeatedly condemns the preferential treatment which even Christians give to the rich and powerful by critiquing emerging capitalism and its misuse of justice by doing "good works," which I equate with charity. For instance, many people if they see a beggar in the streets will give them five dollars or raise lofty donations for victims in foreign lands that are devastated by natural disasters but never critique the vicious systemic cycles that shape these gruesome realities. Luther said, "we dare make no distinction of persons, as do some who fight most actively and busily against the wrong which is done to the rich, the mighty, or their own friends, but who are quite quiet and patient when wrong is done to the poor, or to those of low estate, or to their own enemy." (Luther Works, 44, 50.)

Following the ethical principles of Jesus, Luther based the very system of justice by challenging Christians to follow the principles of agape love. He says "only disinterested love, love which seeks nothing in return, can appropriately be called Christian." Love must be blind to all considerations of self-interest as Christians assess their responsibility towards their neighbor. If not, their actions will not be motivated by Christian love, nor will they be just. In Luther's lectures on Romans, he repeatedly and realistically makes this complaint in recognition of his inability to reverse what today would be called the rise of capitalism (Luther Works 45, 245) "Trade and Usery," 1524. The rich man for Luther is among the last to recognize their overbearing greed. They are justified with dishonest and exploitative accumulation of vast wealth under the guise of providing for their own needs.

If Luther was living today and had the opportunity to vote, I believe wholeheartedly that the political views of President Barack Obama would resonate with his vision of universal needs for all. He would be disappointed yet not surprise in the hoarding of wealth from those who feel that they are the rightful custodians of God's resources. The vision of Luther of a transcendent love for all humanity that comes not through legislation or health care compromises is based on love that should emerge as the Apostle Paul proclaims in Romans in affirming "that the strong must bear the infirmities of the weak."

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