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Archive for October, 2016

Faith and Politics 2016
Fr. Larry

I recently read an interesting article in the publication of a mainline denomination, interesting from the perspective that the author, an important leader in that denomination, was so careful not to endorse either of the two presidential candidates; or, to declare a position on any of the important issues, that nothing much was really said. Well the article did say we should be good people in the harsh political environment in which we live, and I guess that is something.

Many people think that the U.S. Constitution prohibits churches from all political activity, which is incorrect. It is not the Constitution but a little-known tax provision created by Lyndon Johnson that prohibits churches from endorsing or campaigning against candidates for federal elected office. The idea is that since churches are exempt from paying taxes they should not exert influence in the election of candidates.

I certainly would not want to get Saint Auggie’s, the faith community I serve, into trouble with the IRS by declaring my support for a particular candidate. Nor, do I want to offend any member of our little fellowship. However, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in all of life, nothing in the totality of our daily human existence, that is not inherently spiritual. Someone once asked Senator Ted Kennedy, “Where does all this concern for the poor come from?” Kennedy responded, “Haven’t you ever read the New Testament?” I feel it incumbent on me, therefore, as a pastor and priest to accept my responsibility to advocate for biblical justice. So, while I can’t say why you should or should not vote for Trump or Clinton, or Issa or Applegate,or anyone else I can say something about the issues:

  • The Jesus Way requires the unambiguous renunciation of violence in all its forms – physical, psychological, intellectual, economic, racial, and sexual to name just six. As for torture, it is a monster bred in the darkest depths of hell.To say that someone is both a professed Christian and an advocate of torture is a contradiction in terms. Neither of the presidential candidates embraces this sort of 1st century discipleship, so I look for the closest approximation. I look for the candidate least likely to go to war or to expand and escalate an existing war. Since I believe that the people of a nation may be basically good but that empire is by its nature evil, I look for the candidate who seems less interested in enlarging the military or its budget, and more interested in meeting the basic needs of the people, especially the most vulnerable. No man or woman, and certainly no child, should be hungry, or without shelter, or health care – or the opportunity for a quality education. I favor radical gun control, but reasonable controls would be a start. Guns are symbols. A symbol is something which points beyond itself to something else. A symbol not only points to something beyond itself, but it also participates in the reality to which it points. Guns are symbols then which participate in the reality of systemic violence, aggression, and hostility.
  • The Way of Christ is the way of self-sacrifice, “poverty,” generosity, mutual caring, humility, and fairness or justice. When 84 individuals possess as much wealth as 3.5 billion people combined, then something has gone terribly awry – mammon and what the Bible calls “sin” have become our master. Reality is, people don’t use money, money uses people. Consequently, I am for that candidate that is most for wealth equality, for a sustainable wage for workers, for taxing the rich who acquire and perpetuate their wealth at the expense of the less powerful. Reagan is the genius who came up with the idea of trickle down economics — the idea that the richer the rich get the more they will invest in enterprises that will financially benefit the rest of us. But the historical verdict is in – it just doesn’t work that way.
  • In 2001 I wrote an article for Episcopal Life under the title “Troubled by Simplistic Notions.” You can find it under the essays or reflections menu on my personal website (Father Larry’s Journal of Contemplative Living). In that article I drew attention to police brutality in Denver, Colorado – specifically in regard to two separate fatal shootings of young developmentally delayed black men. I was criticized as “a leftist priest who had lost his faith.” However, I can assure you that it is not out of an absence of Christian faith, but out of its presence that I look for that candidate who is concerned with the careful psychological screening, training, and accountability of police officers as well as their safety. The North Korean police are great at maintaining order – that doesn’t make them an admirable police force.
  • I have no idea how to solve the problem of illegal immigration – I don’t know that anyone does. I am not even sure what the problem is or if when all the numbers are crunched there is one. I have never seen a study clearly defining the benefits versus the deficits. So I just don’t know. What I do know is that the Christian path, going back to the Jewish Torah, requires that I treat “the stranger,” the alien, whether legal or illegal, with kindness, and respect, and with full regard for his or her human dignity and needs. As Christians this should be more important to us than whether someone can cut undocumented border crossings to zero. Our business, as Eugene Peterson puts it in his translation of the New Testament, is to: “Let everyone we meet know we are on their side, working for them not against them.” It’s just the Christian way.

Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer, said he would rather be ruled by a competent Moslem than an incompetent Christian. In our historical time and place, candidates cannot be evaluated by their religious faith – or lack of it. The fact that once upon a time Hillary Clinton taught Sunday school in a Methodist Church is, fifty plus years later, largely irrelevant. There is nothing to suggest that she has maintained a vital connection to her faith or faith community. And for Donald Trump to suggest that because he thinks he might possibly have been baptized as an infant in the Presbyterian Church, he is an Evangelical Christian is absolutely ludicrous. What we can do is to look at the trajectory of someone’s life and work and match that with the policies they articulate in order to get some idea of where they might go. And, to then pick the candidate whose destination is closest to our own. That shouldn’t be too difficult for you as a Christian if you have ever read the Sermon on the Mount.

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