We are people of covenant, each unique and yet united by Christ. United Church Of Christ - Massachusetts Conference
We are people of covenant, each unique and yet united by Christ.

Why Preach an Election Sermon?

OK. Maybe I shouldn’t be shocked. I’ve asked about half a dozen of our ministers in the Mass Conference if they’re planning to preach an election sermon, and they all said, “No!” 

The way I see it, God's sovereignty does not end where politics begins. Our Reformed tradition has held this view for centuries. To put it another way: As people of faith, we acknowledge God as the Lord of every aspect of our lives, including even our politics.   
 
Engaging public life is as important as any purpose of the church. And engaging public life must include engaging our political life. Of course, we must do this in a non-partisan way. (See the recent Alban conversation “Preaching and Politics” in which Ronald D. Sisk quotes J. Philip Wogaman: “Preaching on issues is fine. Preaching partisan politics, advocating voting for one party or candidate over another, is not.” http://www.alban.org/conversation.aspx?id=10085)
 
I worry that the increasingly sharp ideological divides of politics have silenced our centuries-long tradition of offering an election sermon. Worse yet - I worry that those ideological divides have constrained our faithful discipleship.
 
Lincoln had it right. Our task should not be to invoke religion and the name of God by claiming God’s blessing and endorsement for any of our national policies and practices - saying, in effect, that God is on our side. Rather, as Lincoln put it, we should worry earnestly whether we are on God's side. (Basler, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol 5, pp. 403-404.) What matters to God? What themes emerge from scripture that could form the basis for evaluating a candidate’s positions? 
 
My mentor and former pastor, William Sloan Coffin, Jr., also had it right. He said that although the truth will make you free, it will first make you miserable! (WS Coffin, sermon, 9/30/84.) Harry Emerson Fosdick used Jesus' exhortation from the book of Acts, "You shall be my witnesses" to remind the faithful at Riverside that Jesus makes a direct appeal to our representative capacity, as if to say, "You can be more than yourselves; you have the power to stand for high principles; you can act in such a way that people identify you with something greater than yourself. I want you to exercise that power. You shall be my witnesses." Inspired by this, even the least of us can stand for the greatest things. Each of us can bring to the voting booth a sense of Christian responsibility.
 
I hope this prompts you to engage this opportunity for leadership. I encourage you to come to Super Saturday on October 27, 2012 where I will convene a workshop on this. Click here to register: http://macucc.org/registrations/register/151 I anticipate a lively discussion!
 
Resources:
Have a look at a hymn for election day from the National Council of Churches of Christ, “In Times of Great Decision,” by the Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. http://www.ncccusa.org/news/04hymnstory.html
 
To read an excellent Pew Forum transcript from 2008, google: “One Electorate Under God”
 
To see what some churches in Springfield are organizing: http://electiondaycommunion.org/

By: Jim Antal On 10/3/2012
Topics: MACUCC Staff Blog, Minister & President's Messages

Comments

1. Roger Lier wrote on 10/3/2012 6:56:15 PM
Thanks, Jim. Well said. I started a new pastorate on September 10 and have been preaching on the Kingdom of God since then and will be right through election day. I am looking forward to getting to Luke 4:14-21, Lev. 25, and Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35. To watch the debate tonight, go to http://www.democracynow.org for an expanded debate.
2. Christopher Jenkins wrote on 10/5/2012 5:32:26 PM
We need to do this more. After all, the Old Testament has several prophets who spoke about public issues. Also, we can't let the Religious Right do it all.
3. Deborah Loomis Lafond wrote on 10/9/2012 3:35:53 PM
Thanks for the support, insights, and helpful quotations, Jim. My sermon is entitled "Who Would Jesus Vote For?" I will argue "for a woman: like the persistent widow, the Syrophoenician woman, the widow who found the coin, Martha, the Mary-s, etc." I will comment on the characteristics and values each brings to her faithful activity in the world and its effects on others. These effects, I will argue, are the standards by which we ought to assess all candidates so that, as Christ's followers, our votes reflect His expectations. And according to scripture, none of these women had money to buy an election. Of all the possible topics upon which one could base an election year sermon, the one that ought to inspire the prophet in each of us is the obscene amount of money being spent for reasons that are, at best, highly suspect. With what has been spent, we could have resolved the national debt, or bailed out several European nations, or fed millions of our starving sisters and brothers around the globe. I know we are not to tell our congregations for whom to vote but by the grace of God, I hope to influence their decision so that it reflects the light of the Gospel.