One of the subjects I studied in college was political science. I think the reason I was drawn to that field of study is because I was raised by a mother who was a proud member of the John Birch Society. For those of you may not know anything about the John Birch Society, it was a ultra conservative movement which placed great emphasis on individual rights and responsibilities with the least amount of government involvement in any way, shape, or form. Montana, the state in which I was raised, has always been known as a red state, that is, Republican, to a very large degree, with the exception of one city in the whole State, Missoula. To this day, the University of Montana at Missoula is known for being the liberal bastion, if you will.
My mother would dutifully attend the John Birch Society chapter meetings with 4 other people in my hometown of 1200. We would have interesting conversations in our home growing up because my mother confused me. She would carefully articulate the tenets of the JBS in one moment of time and in the next we would be driving to check on Fred, who lived in a trailer house, which was substandard at best. My mother had a heart for the poor in ways that, to this day, affect me. My mother did not articulate a compassionate conservatism even though she practiced it.
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about what my mother would say as we approach this unique election. At the risk of being presumptuous, I have my notions. I also have been reflecting on how my Republican village impacted my thinking toward persons with whom I disagree politically or otherwise.
What I am about to share was never taught, to my knowledge, but it was definitely caught. And, there are a variety of people who contributed to my understanding of how we live, move, and have our being with those with whom we are not in agreement on much of anything.
I have come to the following conclusions:
- In the words of the sacred story, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God first. Our allegiance to Country or political persuasion is always secondary to the ultimate unifier, membership in the Kingdom, for those who profess belief in God. Therefore, it is possible to have unity in the midst of diversity!
- We are Americans second to being citizens of the Kingdom and our political persuasion is third in the order of identity. We are living in a day when we have revered the order and that leads to what the Bible calls idolatry. Anything or anyone, any notion or idea or political party that has our ultimate allegiance, is simply an idol. Many think idolatry is a thing of the past because we do not have golden calves standing around. We all know better and therefore must acknowledge our sin before God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Biblically, this is exactly what John the Baptist was doing in preparing the way for Jesus who was to initiate a new Kingdom with new authority and power. Obviously, it was a threat then and now. We all like our idols because they give us a false sense of control.
- We must respect each other enough to allow persons to have disagreements without demonizing them. It would be a really boring world if everyone voted the same or had the same ideas about everything under the sun. As the old saying goes, “Agree to disagree without being disagreeable.” I learned that lesson in my high school government class when I was debating the 44 others in my class who had very different ideas about the political candidate I was defending. At the end of the debate and at the end of the day, as the saying goes, my classmates never once demeaned or demonized my minority viewpoint.
- We must be intention to look for the glimpses of the Kingdom among us and at work within us. This very morning, I attended the funeral of Ruth Clark. During the open microphone time, one of our country commissioners stood up and said everyone in the church knew he was a democrat. One day a person was giving him a hard time for being a democrat and Ruth Clark intervened and in her own gentle way reminded her husband he was in church and Tim Norton deserved respect. That event happened many years ago and today he thanked her for respecting him as a fellow believer in Christ Jesus, regardless of the political party to which he subscribed.
- Pray for our nation. My prayer for the United States of America every day is, “may your Kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That prayer, as taught by Jesus, will always be good and right, no matter who you are voting for on Election Day.
- If you do not vote, you give up the right to criticize those who do or those who occupy the political offices of our country. And, be an informed voter. Democracy can only function well with an informed electorate. Vote your informed conscience!
- Finally, I was in Spokane, Washington, in 1974, in a home with a black and white television watching President Nixon resign from office over the Watergate scandal. I was 9 years old. I can remember that moment as if it were happening right now. Even though I did not have the vocabulary to express it, somehow I knew, no matter who is in office as President, is an imperfect person who will make mistakes, some serious and some not so much, and that is why our ultimate trust in never in the President but the Presider of this Universe – the Lord our God who lives and reigns, forever and ever. And the Lord our God is the One in whom ultimate authority rests, regardless of who occupies the White House. Therefore, be not afraid. Amen.