This past week the world was in awe of Felix Baumgartner’s historic 23 mile high jump to earth. The video showing Baumgartner stepping out of his capsule and speeding at up to 700 miles an hour was something to behold.
When it comes to the election season coming to a close in the next two weeks, I would like to challenge Christian leaders to do something similar – to take a leap from a distant view of the political fray and come down to earth by offering us some sense of who you are voting for.
There is a strange path that many Christian leaders seem to take in the midst of the election season that I am finding increasingly difficult to grasp.
The rhetoric goes something like this:
- denounce those who are deeply partisan or have strong ideological views for not listening more intentionally and graciously to all sides of an argument (fine),
- call the people to be humble and remember what Jesus says about loving enemies and neighbors (great)
- and then sign off from their blog, Facebook status, Twitter feed without offering a serious option or opinion one way or another (not good).
I believe members of congregations deserve more from their religious leadership than a scolding for being too overtly passionate about a candidate or not playing nice online.
Granted, calling the community of faith to a more generous spirit and more humble respect for all sides of the political fray is vital and I for one need that accountability. But I also want to know how and why you are voting and would benefit from knowing not just that voting is important in some ideological sense. As Stanley Hauerwas has said in a recent video on the Dinner with Sinners site, much of the modern election fray is mere spectacle akin to the Roman Circus that is entertainment rather than true democracy – “elections should be about people, now we elect commercials ” To this end people are turning to Christian leaders to give them a road map and also to hear how leaders have come to some decision. True, there are legal questions to engage with once a clergy member brings issues of politics into the pulpit that will possibly draw the ire of the IRS regarding tax-exempt status. Yet some have been willing to forgo this embargo and participated in movements like “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” where clergy speak out about their political views and risk legal action. So there is some sense that perhaps the legal issue isn’t the primary reason. Another reason for withholding personal views on politics that I have heard from clergy is that if they were to voice a personal opinion it would unjustly sway the congregation. To that argument I think clergy need to understand that while they do have influence, they also need to trust their congregation to disagree with them and that people have thought the matters out for themselves. In short, if this is the argument then some clergy need some words of humility spoken over them.
But I think much of this shyness and apprehensiveness on the part of Christian leaders boils down to a more fundamental issue: the fear of not being liked or valued for what we hold dear. There is an insecurity in many clergy that manifests itself in these aloof pronouncements on Twitter and Facebook that quickly point out the wrongheadedness of snarky commentary yet continue to attempt a disembodied distance from the very end game that is swirling around in this commentary – namely that in November this country will elect a President and if you are also a citizen of this country, it would be helpful to know how you prayerfully and thoughtfully came to whatever conclusion you came to. This is not just clergy – but public figures who fill the newsfeeds of social media and yet only dip into these discussions from afar.
My views? Well, I voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 elections and like many people had high hopes. While I am thankful to see movement in the Middle East and am still in favor of a health reform plan that is coming into play, not all my hopes have come to fruition and I am pretty frustrated with our current economic situation domestically and sending drones into South East Asia killing innocent civilians. The political ads and debate rhetoric has proven Stanley Hauerwas correct in many ways – it seems that we are indeed electing commercials rather than people. I am leaning toward casting a vote for Obama again but I don’t have the passion I did in 2008 and am truly thinking through whether I need to give Romney an honest look which is surprising even to think let alone type out into print. I would love your input here as to which candidate you are backing at present and what I need to read and consider.
And this is my petition and prayer: that like Felix Baumgartner our leaders will take a leap these next two weeks and risk landing on the ground where these important discussions are taking place to offer up some well-thought out opinions and gentle pathways by which they have come to a decision. As congregants we need to listen and not react so that Christian leaders can feel heard. As leaders there needs to a modelling of honest and humble transparency. If the world is watching the people of faith, may we be faithful and trustworthy in this important time. I would love some help these next two weeks in my final decisions and look forward to hearing who you are voting for and why.
And I don’t think I am alone.