The Bible as Voter Guide
Below is a timely guest blog from retired United Methodist minister, the Rev. Jack Harnish. He is currently Interim Pastor at Traverse Bay United Methodist Church, Traverse City, MI. He writes a weekly blog titled "Monday Memo".
The Bible as Voter Guide
Every time I pass the church bulletin board on M-31 it grabs my attention. It says “The Bible is the best voter guide for 2016.” It makes me think. After all, as a pastor, I have spent more than 40 years trying to interpret the Bible and my purpose in preaching has always been to discover how the Bible might apply to our everyday lives. I always hoped my congregations would seek to live by the standards of the Bible, so viewing the Bible as a voter guide seems to make sense.
But then I begin to ask exactly what parts of the Bible we have in mind. For example, when God instructed the Israelite armies to slaughter all the Philistines or cut off the foreskins of a thousand conquered soldiers, should that be a guide for thinking about international relations and the issues of war and peace? Or should we take into consideration the holiness code of the Book of Leviticus–stoning your daughter if she disobeys you, refusing to eat shellfish or wearing two kinds of fabric at the same time? How would those passages of scripture assist us as a voter guide?
Coming to the New Testament, when we are considering the difficult issues of race, should St. Paul’s clear command for slaves to be obedient to their masters guide our political considerations, or if we take literally his directive against women having authority over men, how would that inform our decisions as voters?
For me, using the Bible as a voter guide forces us to look for the broad themes in Scripture, the big ideas that could apply to every generation. Here are a few that come to mind:
Care for creation and humanity. The Genesis story clearly witnesses to this good creation as the gift of a creative God who entrusts humankind with the responsibility for its care. God breaths into the human being the “breath of life”, so every human life is sacred and every person is of sacred worth. We are all created in the image of God. How we treat the earth and how we treat each other is of utmost importance and those twin values from the creation story should guide us in our thinking about the priorities for our world.
Holy living, right living matters. Much of the Old Testament books of the law had a specific, culture-bound and time-bound application, but the big idea is that God cares about how we live and we are called to live in ways that honor God. Do these candidates who are elected to represent us represent a standard of living we would approve? Character, after all, does matter.
The Priorities of Jesus. As a Christian, I am always asking “What would Jesus do?” In Jesus ministry, compassion for the poor, the sick, the lonely, the outsider was always a guiding principle. The first task of the early church following the Resurrection was to provide care for the widows. Luke says, “They had everything in common so that everyone had enough”. If we are going to live and vote by the values of Jesus, we always have to ask not just how it effects us, but how it effects the poor, the dispossessed, the alien and immigrant, the marginalized, the “least of these”.
The Vision of Shalom and the Kingdom of God. The Old Testament concept of “Shalom”represents more than just peace as the absence of war, it is life lived in justice and balance, life lived in harmony with creation, with God and with each other. In the New Testament, the “Kingdom of God” is Jesus’ vision of God’s will for this world. Obviously we aren’t there yet, but if we are to use the Bible as a voter guide, we need to ask if a party platform or the policies of a candidate would move us toward that goal. Can we see the values of the Kingdom and the vision of Shalom reflected here? It’s the “patriot dream that sees beyond the years; alabaster cities gleaming undimmed by human tears”. Is there a larger vision, a hope and a dream to guide us in the right direction? For specifics I might look to the Beatitudes or the Fruits of the Spirit as a yardstick for measuring a candidate by the values of the kingdom and the vision of shalom.
There are a few of my thoughts. So if you were to use the Bible as a voter guide, exactly what part of the scripture would you choose?
You can find his weekly blog on Christian topics at https://jackharnish.wordpress.com .