“October 6, 1774
I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those who voted on the other side,” wrote John Wesley in the Journal of John Wesley
For those of you unfamiliar with Wesley, he was the founder of my denomination, United Methodist, and influenced many other branches of Christianity.
This quote notwithstanding, Wesley was a tireless reformer of his society and appealed often to the government of 18th-century England to help those less fortunate. I’m sure he had very strong opinions about many of the candidates of his day. And yet he called for civility, as it says in the quote above.
Those of us who are his spiritual descendants find ourselves in similar circumstances today, with the presidential election approaching in November.
Unlike Wesley’s England, our society has a strong belief in the separation of church and state. We could debate the intentions of the framers of our Constitution, what the law really says and how much of a separation is needed, but I think most of us would agree that religious institutions should have little to say directly about politics.
We want Christianity to be above the pettiness and temporality of politics; to speak from a more universal and eternal perspective on our world and its issues.
And yet , the church has also been called by God to be a prophet in whatever society we live in. And by prophet I don’t mean imitating Nostrodamus, naming distant future events. Prophets, such as in the Old Testament, were much more like someone running around the deck of the Titanic, asking, “Why are we traveling so fast in waters with icebergs? And why are there so few life rafts?”
And so, all my Christian brothers and sisters out there (especially but not only clergy), we have to ask ourselves, at what point does our calling to be prophets outweigh our belief in religion not meddling in politics? At what point are things that bad? Because I’ve got to be honest, I feel like we are approaching that point soon.
And yet also, (and yes, I know I’m going back and forth,) I also strongly doubt my opinion would carry any weight at all with those who are on the other side. Our society has come so far from Wesley’s ideal that our spirits are already “sharpened” — as sharp as they can be — long before the day we vote.
And so, I’m not going to make a statement condemning or supporting certain candidates just to make myself feel better and to “preach to the choir.”
Instead, I implore and pray that anyone claiming the name “Christian” ask themselves the old cliche, “What would Jesus do?” Read the Gospel of Luke (yes, the whole thing), look at the stories about Jesus — what he did, what he said. Maybe talk to people about the parts that aren’t clear — church or Bible Study are good places for this. And then prayerfully, make up your own mind, based on what you’ve learned and how you read it.
And maybe, after reading about Jesus, you don’t think the way he lived his life and what he said has anything to do with your life today, or how you want to vote. That would be sad, but at least honest.
There is no shame in being honest, and more and more people in our society are admitting how irrelevant Jesus is to their lives. Those of us who try to live with Jesus at the core of our lives are deeply saddened by this trend, but we also appreciate the honesty. The real shame is in claiming a name that has nothing to do with the way you live your life.
Craig Rose is the pastor at Howard United Methodist Church.