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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Parish Ministry during Election Season

In the U.S.,  there are precious few places one can go right now where conversation will not turn to the presidential election.  As we approach election day, the tensions are bound to grow.  Today's question invites us to consider how we worship leaders shepherd our people in the days immediately before and after the election.

I am so tired of all the political vitriol and stuck-in-cement-no-matter-what-happens-because-they-are-the-other-party mentality.  I have very gently said this in many ways in my sermons and those statement are balanced between both parties.  

The congregation I serve is politically conservative (a 9 out of 10) and for the most part conservative theologically as well.  On any given Sunday there are one-sided comments about the current administration. I mostly remind them to check their facts, get the whole story, and do your own research.  They don't...but at least I try.  Either this group is going to be very elated or devastated post-election.

What does the Sunday before and the Sunday after "look like" in worship in terms of my preaching?  How does one balance the huge emotion of elation or deep grief/anger which is so one-sided. 

(FYI:  The lectionary texts for the Sunday before include Ruth/Naomi's "where you go I will go" text.  Oh my, how that could be mis-used.  The Shema and Mark's "love God" all good choices. The Sunday after texts include more of Ruth, Elijah and the widow, and the woman with two coins to give.)

Martha, blogging at Reflectionary, writes

I think the Sundays before and after an election need to look like Christian worship, so the focus needs to be on God's call to be a Christian community. The Shema and the Great Commandment are a great foundation. We're called to love God, neighbor (by which in this case you might mean those outside the church) and self (each other right here), and this call to love transcends political opinion and disagreement. You could look for stories/illustrations of people whose beliefs differ working together for a common good.

The week after is harder. I would be cautious of letting the focus move onto the election and would be more likely to address it in the pastoral prayer, whether it's to soothe anger, address grief or temper jubilation. I say this because I don't know how I would avoid showing my own (anger/grief/relief/jubilation) if I addressed the results in a sermon. Be pastoral. Remind people, win or lose, they are a community of God's children. Remind yourself, too. Win or lose in politics, Jesus won a victory over death, and in it lies our hope, today and over the long arc. 

And Muthah+ adds:

Dear Politically Incorrect,

Personally I believe that our faith calls the Christian preacher to stand outside of the status quo in order for the Gospel to speak to the issues of our day.  Bi-partianship is difficult to maintain when so much of the rhetoric is so off the walls.  

I live in a very conservative area and am personally so liberal I look like JFK or FDR, if you can remember that far back.  So if I have to comment on the politics, I make sure that I point fingers at both parties --- intransigency is on both sides of the aisle.  Humor can help if you can find a way to use it.  

A fellow sister preacher said recently at the beginning of her sermon "Vagina, Vagina, Vagina!  Now that I have gotten that out of my system, the Scripture readings speak to...."  and then went on with a sermon that had nothing to do with women or the issues in the news.  The congregation cracked up.  It was the ludicrousness of the whole debate that made it humorous and she was able to get her point across without taking a stand. 

I do not try to change peoples' minds about politics.  Partly because I am adept at not talking about politics because my whole family espouses a different political stance than I. I believe that sometimes that peace is more important to Community than taking a stand. And when we can hold that witness up to people we can begin to bring some order back into our political scene.

I merely try to use the Scripture to look at issues from a different perspective.  I think that if we claim a "side" what we do with the Gospel is what we abhor m in the rhetoric of politicians.  It is important that we bring the Scripture to bear on the issues without falling into political rhetoric.  

I believe very strongly in the nobility of the democratic system and the 2 party system that we have.  I also believe that what we are doing to that system in the name of intransigence is defeating the noble institution of  republican government and makes a mockery of the American way.  But those are my personal feelings.  They do not belong in the pulpit.  But we do need to raise up the kind of polarizing rhetoric that allows us to put political agenda before caring for one another.  The husband of one of my nieces tried to engage me in political debate and I just said,  " Max, I love you too much to argue politics with you."  Perhaps this is what we need to do in our nation---remember how much we love one another first before we discuss politics  We need to step back from argument in order to cherish the community in which we live.

I love the Widow's mite and Elijah and the Widow.  The story of Naomi and Ruth speaks of the kind of love that allows one to give up family and homeland in order to be faithful to a way of holiness that was unusual for their time.  I am sure that there is something there that can speak to the need for us to give up solidly held political opinions in order for the common good to be reached. If we do not lift up the Commonweal, we are going to lose our precious democracy to some demagogue who will offer the public order or financial security over freedom.  It has happened too many times in history to ignore it.

Sistah, lift the eyes of the congregation to the prize of Christ and then claim the love of others and you will be doing your your bounden duty to help the people claim the freedom of the Gospel--not the political freedom that so often trotted out to be the same.  It is a tap dance, but one worth knowing the steps.  And the only way you know the steps is to remember Who brought us to the dance.

Thanks to Martha and Muthah+, for their thoughtful responses.  You can join in the conversation below.

Peace amid the storm to all in the path of Isaac+



  1. The day befoer our last federal election I preached a sermon that pointed out (repeatedly) the the next day people of sincere faith were going to vote for all parties. I also pointed out (repeatedly) that we are mistaken whenever we equate teh Kingdom of God (or the road thereto) with ANY political party platform. I encouraged folks to consider their faith and how that faith changed their view of the world as part of how they voted. But also pointed out that there was no one way to vote that faith required. Many people said how much they appreciated that. Here are the opening thoughts for that sermon.

    Also, I have on various occasions offered a specific prayer around election time. I offer thanks for those willing to put their names forward, I pray that all will be gracious i victory and in defeat, I pray that after all is counted people will find a way to work together for the good of all. <a href=">here </a> are 2 versions of that prayer.

  2. I will never forget the Sunday after Bill Clinton was elected for his second term. The congregation I belonged to was staunchly Republician - so much so that the unspoken assumption was that you couldn't be Christian and a Democrat. Needless to say, there were a whole bunch of unhappy people in the pews that that Sunday.

    The pastor stood up at the beginning of worship and said (more or less), "I know that many of you are unhappy with the results of the election. You are worried about what will happen to our country. This is the only thing I am going to say about the election outcome: We have elected someone to the office of President and he deserves our prayers. All our elected officials - regardless of their political party need our prayers. We need to ask God to give them wisdom, to guide their decisions and to help them listen all sides and come to decisions for the good of this country." Then he led us in a prayer for our newly elected President, and all our elected leaders and began worship.

    I thought it was a gracious and loving response to an election. I plan on using it myself on the day after this election.

  3. All this is very helpful...thank you

  4. I just found a link on Facebook to a movement called www.election day it's a listing of churches that will have Communion the evening of Nov. 6. I'm determined to find one in my area...I'd think hosting this in a church could really help alleviate the tension in the prior and following Sundays.

    1. I was SO glad to see this -- I think it's a faithful and sensible response!

  5. Rats, remove the spaces in the URL above!


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