As candidates scurry around Iowa trying to harness the pivotal Christian evangelical vote, it is worth asking: How would Jesus cast his ballot today?
It's a serious question, and not only for Christians. It's a serious question for Jews or Muslims too, because so much of our Abrahamic faiths overlap (the Golden Rule, for example). It's a serious question because it does precisely what the word itself implies: it takes us on a quest. It takes us beyond the sound bites and slick stump speeches and back to the roots of our faith tradition.
Frankly, it's hard to imagine Jesus voting at all. It was not in his nature. Instead of being part of the secular system of for and against, he would be far more likely to challenge it from a spiritual perspective. After all, he was the one who said:
"Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." (Matthew 22:21) Because he was more interested in the latter than the former, I imagine that his politics would have come second to his faith.
And what would this man, based on love and forgiveness, make of our political culture today? How would he respond to the intense battle between the Democrats and Republicans, who each seem to determined to portray the other as the devil himself? Would he even identify himself with a party?
The best answer to this question that I have found in this election year comes from America's heartland. Earlier this year a United Methodist pastor of a Christian megachurch in Kansas City gave a sermon to his congregation (22,000 members) entitled "Practicing Politics, Keeping Faith." I wish every American could have been sitting in the pews listening to him share his views on what a truly Christ-like approach to politics would be.
Well, here's the good news: we can listen now. Click here and you can tune in to some the wisest, kindest and -- yes, I will use the word -- patriotic election year advice that I have heard.
Like Christian ministers around the country, he started, of course, with scripture.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up... so that your words may give grace to those who hear. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and slander... and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
And within no more than a few minutes, Pastor Adam Hamilton had created a sense of safety and trust, reflection and community, among the thousands gathered in the Church of the Resurrection. Even as you watch and listen to him on your computer or phone, you can actually feel the bond between him and his congregation deepening. And following the sermon, his Republican (~60%) and Democratic (~40%) worshippers responded the same way: with prayer and gratitude.
How did this unknown minister in the heart of the Midwest accomplish something that not one of more than a dozen presidential candidates has?
First of all, he made clear from the outset that he was not going to persuade them to vote for one candidate or another. He removed himself from that game completely because he feels that is a misuse of the pulpit. With a congregation that is more or less equally divided between the two parties, Pastor Hamilton knows it would be a violation of his faith and a disservice to his church community to take sides.
Secondly, he made everyone laugh. Instead of digging right into the tough issues that the congregation had asked him to address (guns, health care, immigration, etc.), he first showed a picture of a puppy to soften the mood and proceeded to talk about cats and dogs. "Which political party's members are dog-lovers and which are cat-lovers?" he asked the thousands sitting in front of him on that wintry Sunday morning in early January. And when they guessed correctly (Republicans have more dogs, Democrats more cats), everyone had a good laugh at the bizarre personality differences that underlie our political culture today.
Third, and perhaps most important, he did not offer simplistic pro or con answers. On the contrary, he said that each of the issues that he intended to discuss for four Sundays in a row were complex and that there is "truth on both sides." He made clear that he would not dishonor or disregard either "side" of the argument but would gently and honestly seek the common ground that exists in the divisive issues facing our country - especially the common ground of those who share the Christian faith.
Before you listen further to the presidential candidates, I recommend that you tune in to Pastor Adam Hamilton. If you do, politics will never sound the same again. For me, this Midwestern minister accomplishes what none of the Democratic or Republican contenders so far have: he lets me experience, once again, why I am proud to be an American.