By Revs. Don and Susan Dewey, Co-Regional Ministers
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
~ Matthew 5:43-48
This perhaps is the wildest, craziest and certainly the scariest election year in our memory. Just when you think you’ve heard or seen it all, something else pops out to totally stun you and make you wonder what is going to happen to this country? Why are so many people filled with anger, hatred, and vitriol toward one another?
At the same time we are again witnessing another historic event happening in our lifetime. The first was in 2008, when we elected the first African-American President and now a major political party has named the first woman as their Nominee for President! Whatever your political persuasion, this is historic.
We are also seeing significant fractures in both major parties as we move further down this election road. Both parties are asking for unity, but as yet it seems elusive within these two battling parties and certainly far out of reach for our country as a whole. One wonders if we are seeing the beginning of our country’s implosion? Will we ever be able to see ourselves as “one nation under God” again?
As Disciples of Christ, we have boldly claimed that “unity is our polar star” and yet we too have experienced fractures throughout our history as a movement. Even now, under the leadership of our General Minister and President Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, we proclaim, “We are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.” We have to admit that sometimes as wonderful as that sounds, it too seems very elusive.
Twenty some years ago, at a gathering of city leaders in San Diego, Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners, speaking then about the polarization occurring in our political arena, was trying to offer a Christian perspective for bringing unity to our political divisiveness. He said the problem was that both parties, in trying to find common ground, refused to compromise and find ways to work together for the greater good. He then said, as Christians, our call is not just to support one side or the other in hopes of finding common ground, but rather to rise above and challenge both sides to seek higher ground. He went on then to name important values that are found in all major religions, and challenged us to hold one another to these values if we truly sought unity and wholeness for our country.
We will never forget the sermon years ago that the Rev. Dick Friedline shared as an Interim during an election year. He told his congregation that the next Sunday he was going to tell them how to vote! You can imagine the controversy that stirred up and the conversations that occurred all that week. There were some who threatened to have him fired if he told them how to vote and others who were hoping he would be supporting their perspective.
When that Sunday came, the sanctuary was full and everyone was anxious to hear what he would say. He began by acknowledging everyone’s concerns and then said he was not going to be endorsing a particular candidate. He did however say, I do want to tell you how to vote, or more importantly, how to decide how to vote. First pray, then study the issues, read your scriptures and pray again.
He said, as Christians, we are first and foremost to be guided by love. He went on to name other Christian values like caring for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable in our society, welcoming the stranger and praying for our enemies. Dick shared that these are the values to look for in any candidate that you might consider voting for.
We think Dick had good advice then, and for us now. This is a crucial time in the life of our nation. How do we select the next President who will guide and lead our country? What do we look for in this person who can help heal our division, our brokenness and our distrust of the other? We believe, like Jim Wallis, that we are being invited to seek higher ground, to call upon our better natures as we enter this election to build one another up, not tear each other down.
Our nation seems to be in the grip of fear, which leads to distrust, suspicion, hatred and violence. Unfortunately, there are those in our political and religious arenas that are flaming the fire of fear. Yet our scriptures tell us “perfect love casts out all fear.” We must not let fear control or paralyze us into inaction but rather let love embolden us to choose what is good, to speak with kindness, to act with graciousness, and to seek justice.
Last week at the Democratic convention, Disciples of Christ Pastor, Rev. William Barber II called for moral values to prevail over partisan politics. He expressed concern for the “heart” of America, and called us to become the “moral defibrillators” that must “shock” the nation’s sick heart to its best moral values of love, mercy, and justice. It was a call to seek higher ground.
Jesus too calls us to seek higher ground. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
Friends, as you contemplate your vote this November, you are invited to first pray, then study the issues, listen carefully to each candidate, see where they hold up our Christian values, read your scriptures, and again pray for God’s guidance. Let us strive to seek higher ground.
Together on the journey,
Don and Susan
Your Co-Regional Ministers