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Commentary: When voting, ask right questions - and pray

 


Commentary: When voting, ask right questions - and pray

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The Rev. William O. "Bud" Reeves
Oct. 25, 2004

A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. William O. "Bud" Reeves*

Politics — electoral, congregational or denominational — is a very strange game.

We are in the midst of the political season, and to paraphrase the Scripture, "Where two or three are gathered, there will be a political discussion."

My dad used to tell me, "If you want to keep your friends, don’t talk about politics or religion." I already blew the religion part; now here I go on politics!

Christianity has been a political force since the Roman Emperor Constantine was converted in the 4th century. In the New Testament, there are admonitions to honor those who are in positions of authority (Romans 13:1-7). Jesus said, "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s" (Mark 12:17).

Although the early Christians were mostly apolitical, the seeds of many major socio-political movements are grounded in Scripture and the tradition of the church. Can you imagine the abolition of slavery, the suffrage of women, or civil rights without the Christian witnesses who populated those efforts? Today there are many Christian organizations that are pushing a political agenda. Isn’t it fascinating?

Let me relieve any anxiety or confusion on your part by telling you how to vote. Now, I am not self-destructive enough to endorse any particular candidate, but I will give you my guidelines on how to make intelligent choices at the polling booth. These should work for any Christian, conservative, liberal, moderate or muddled.

Beware the single-issue candidate. People with an ax to grind seldom make good representatives of the whole people. Every issue is clouded by their cause, which is always more complicated than it first appears. So the single-issue candidate is often forced to change course, thus angering his or her constituents, or stays on track for a train wreck.

Ask the right questions. The right question is not "What’s in it for me?" Yet, that is the way most of us approach politics: Which candidate is going to make me more secure, wealthier, happier, etc.? More appropriate questions should be asked about a candidate’s stand on moral issues, the environment, war and peace, education, or the economy. Admittedly, this is harder than deciding who sounds or looks better. But in asking the right questions, we might just find some intriguing answers.

Vote for people who have a positive vision of the future. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. Politicians who promise a return to an idyllic past are counting on fuzzy memories to forget what the past was really like. A good leader will take timeless values and combine them with the current reality to produce a vision of a transformed future. Unfortunately, much of American politics, even down to the local level, has degenerated into negative rhetoric that leaves voters disgusted with the whole process. If you find a leader with a positive vision, give him or her your vote.

Choose people of faith. Almost any political office, from the city council to the White House, is too big a job for a human being to do alone. I look for candidates that honestly (since before their campaign) seem to depend on God for guidance and strength. They do not necessarily have to be similar in denomination or theology. But I believe that a public servant who has a strong relationship with God will more likely be just that — a servant.

Pray for guidance. When all your research is done, when you have studied the positions of the candidates and assessed the possibilities, then pray about it. Ask God to direct your hand in the voting booth. These are important decisions; they need to be undergirded with prayer.

Exercise your privilege. Above all else, do make the effort to go out and vote. Having a voice in our government is a sacred responsibility enjoyed by few people to the extent we do in America. Democracy is a trust that was given by God and ensured by the founders of our nation. I know it’s flawed, as every human system is, but it’s the best option I’ve seen. Exercise is healthy — get out and vote!

*Reeves is senior minister of First United Methodist Church in Bryant, Ark. The commentary first appeared in the Arkansas United Methodist, the newspaper of the Arkansas Annual Conference.

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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