The blog

The blog—informal opinions and chat about the parish

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Christian Way to Vote

With an election coming soon, it's appropriate to think about the Christian way to vote. We have a habit of getting it wrong, or at least of doing rather badly when we try.

Christian voters, after all, gave us Prohibition, with no decrease in drunkenness but an incredible increase in organized crime. Christian voters also campaigned strenuously (in some places) in favor of slavery. I remember, back in the 1960s, when a highly-respected Christian magazine for college students made the claim that if John Kennedy were elected, the Pope would actually end up running the US government.

All that should give us pause. We got every one of those wrong. Those three examples, though, give us a look at typical ways we tend to vote, and we should try to avoid the pitfalls again.

The one-issue church

It is very tempting to reduce the whole of Christian theology to one simple item. Much easier to hold in your mind. I have no real objection to people who quote John 3:16 on billboards and such (that verse has a pretty good claim to really be the heart of the Christian message), and I get amused at signs that say simply "John 3:16" (as if the average non-believer had any clue what that could mean). But we have been told recently that (for example) monogamous straight marriage is the heart and core of the Christian message and that the only thing the church should be doing is opposing abortion.

Surely there is more to the Christian message than that. My Bible has 879 pages. We could have saved a lot of money on printing if those two items were the only things worth saying.

The danger when voting, of course, is that defining the "Christian candidate" in terms of only one or two characteristics makes us blind to a lot of other issues. What do we do about the candidate who opposes gay marriage and abortion, but has a strongly unethical personal life and no real experience or wisdom to govern? Is that person the Christian choice?
Footnote: This one-issue problem is a reason many younger people shun churches in general. Our reputation is that we only get together to hate gay people or to campaign against reproductive choice. That's what they think and we are at fault for failing to publicize our larger story.

The way it has always been

Good church folk supported slavery. We need to remember that. One great danger white folks faced if slavery was eliminated was that the traditional way of life (with white privilege and prosperity) would not work the same in a post-slavery world. And somehow we have gotten the idea that God's plan for us personally is a life of comfort, ease, privilege, and a lot of material possessions. (Go to a bookstore and look in the "Christian" section. You will find dozens of "prosperity gospel" books written by preachers.)

Once again, the problem is that folk who believe God's plan is to make us comfortable and to keep American traditions going have simply not read much of the Bible. The Old Testament is full of requirements to provide for the poor, the alien, and the stranger. Jesus didn't own much of anything at all, nor did his disciples, and the book of James is full of comments about providing for the poor. I do not find many places where Jesus said that he came to keep everything going just the way it had always been.

The voting danger is that we can be seduced into thinking that the USA in some sort of golden age (steam locomotives, "I Love Lucy" and Christian prayer in public schools) was God's Jerusalem. It simply wasn't. When Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king, Jesus made the specific point that his kingship was not an earthly kingship. Candidates who promise to return us to a golden age (that never really existed for the majority) are not pushing a particularly Christian message.

Fear and terror

We love to be terrorized. Just look at all those Internet ads telling you "shocking news" that you won't believe. Whether it was the razorblades in Halloween apples (a thoroughly disproven myth), "Four things you should never order from a Chinese restaurant," or the idea that Harry Potter will turn all our children into disciples of Satan, we just absolutely thrive on the idea that the world is a hugely dangerous place, that nameless terrors are out to get us, and that we need to be afraid of everything.

That's why everyone wants to carry a gun to Wal-Mart. That's why people refuse to have their children vaccinated. That's why we have been hearing for years that "those people" are out to "steal" the election.

Yes, there are things to be afraid of (global warming, the gun-toting fool in my classroom, and drunk drivers, for example), and the prudent response is to find ways to counteract the danger (EPA regulations, gun control, and reasonable restrictions on alcohol).

It is worth remembering, though, that the Christian church got its start in an era when Rome was a terribly oppressive overlord, when disease and famine would wipe out whole populations, when the most basic public safety and hygiene concepts were unknown. It's also worth remembering that, even in the face of much more danger than we ever experience, the Christian message is one of hope, not fear.

The John Kennedy warning is only one of many issued by churches. I have a campaign flier that proclaims Richard Nixon to be God's man for the White House. Voting from fear is not a particularly Christian response, nor is it a particularly wise one.

So what?

What should we do? For one thing, we should be aware that many politicians claim the Christian label just long enough to run for office. If you want to vote for a Christian candidate, look deeper. For another, be aware that we live in an incredibly complex time. Simplifying the vote to one issue or one comment probably lets in many things you weren't prepared to accept. And above all, "be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Slogging through HTML

I have just spent nearly two hours working on the church website, trying to bring the code up to the current standards. Aside from the hacking (which was real), a big problem was that I had used methods that were about five years old for doing such things as inserting photos. And everything has changed. Not in very obvious ways either.

In the middle of all this, I posted a Facebook comment (somewhat grumpy) that I agreed with Harry Potter's Dolores Umbridge, who said that "change for the sake of change must be discouraged." As is usual with quotes from memory, I got that one wrong. What she actually said was "Progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged." Quite a difference! And Umbridge was mangling a more reasonable version of the old proverb: "Change for change's sake does not always result in progress."

We in the Episcopal Church often get accused of "going with the flow." Female clergy, a gay bishop, and now we are on record supporting transgender rights. Do we do this because we use The New Yorker magazine as our moral compass?

Actually no, and it takes a LOT to change our official stance on anything. The process is similar to amending the US Constitution, and for similar reasons. Big-time proposals have to go through committees, be voted on in major legislative bodies, then down to the parishes, and on and on. We do this so we are not tempted to jump on every bandwagon that comes down the street.

Then there is the "three-legged stool," our nickname for the three sources of authority in our church: Scripture, tradition, and reason. (In practice, that's a misleading metaphor: We should talk about the old-fashioned stool at a lunch counter. Scripture is the shiny pole embedded in the floor, while reason and tradition are like the footrest you use to keep from falling off the thing.)

In practice, Episcopal theology has a baked-in stability. I just wish HTML programming language did the same.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Deanery = MAC

Last night was the MAC meeting in Wooster, and, like a lot of what goes on in the Episcopal Church, it was important but generally invisible to most parishioners. So I'm going to let you in on the secret(s).

Elsewhere, this group would be called a "Deanery" because it's under the supervision of a Dean (our own Kay Ashby, in this case). Somehow ours is called the Mission Area Council (MAC). It's a group of seven local churches plus Tabor Cottage, and each group sends a clergy representative plus a couple of laypersons.

Aside from sharing a dinner and exchanging the usual chit-chat, we get progress reports (for example, the church in Mount Vernon just got all the stained glass windows on one side of the church refurbished, which makes them look great, but the ones on the other side now look pretty dull). We find out about area-wide events (such as Shelby's all-day youth event a few weeks ago).

More substance

Every year, we have a couple of Diocesan gatherings. One is the Convention (this year on the weekend of November 11 in Bowling Green), and each church is urged to send a couple of delegates; MAC helps out by giving money to help defray the cost of transportation and lodging. The other is Winter Convocation, usually held in January. Convention is very official; we are discussing policy and decisions. Convocation is much more fun, more like an inspiring get-together. And MAC also provides scholarship money to help people get to Convocation.


Over the years, MAC has provided money for a number of projects, for example computers and solar power for schools in Belize. Currently, we are assembling household goods (sheets, pots, pans) for recent refugee immigrants.