The Rev. Michael W. Hopkins
|Christ & Abbot Meno|
also known as
The Icon of Christ the Friend
A series of propositions to stir up conversation in a difficult climate for faith communities in the United States, written from a Christian and Episcopalian perspective.
- God’s sovereignty over life is total. We pray, “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid…”(The Book of Common Prayer, p. 355). We read, “’I am Alpha and Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev. 1:8 & 21:6). The creation is God’s gift to us and we are called to care for it in line with God’s dream for it.
- God's vision for humankind is not only heavenly and eternal, but earthly and present. We pray, “Our Father…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We read, “You shall love the Lord your God…and your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:36-39, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27, where Jesus uses both Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18). How we treat the neighbor is one of the (perhaps “the”) fundamental themes of the Scriptures. It is an unwavering part of our covenant with God (see also the Ten Commandments).
- Politics is both an integral part of our life and a vocation to which some are called.
As does everything, politics falls under the sovereignty of God, and, therefore, it is among the things we think and do to which we are responsible to God. “Politics” is fundamentally how we order our life together, again, being responsible for carrying out God’s dream.
- God is no respecter of political parties. We read, “I (Peter) truly understand that God shows no partiality…” We are, however, responsible for our participation in political parties, as we further read, “…but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).
- This “no partiality” applies to the church also. People from all walks of life are called together to struggle in common to live in the “fear” of God and do “what is right.” “Fear of God” in the Bible does not refer to being frightened by God, but acknowledging that God is, in fact, sovereign over all life and has a vision for how life is to be lived.
- Politics, from the church’s perspective, is primarily about relationships.
One of the ways the church is called to be a light to the world is to be a community where difference is both accepted and celebrated, and where relationships are built across those differences. We are committed as the church to act in “faith, hope, and love” (1 Cor. 13:13) together. There ought to be nothing that is too hard to talk about in church because the members have a first and foremost commitment to love each other. Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
- We struggle as friends, not foes, to discover the truth. As we struggle together to think and do what is right, we acknowledge that discovering the right truth and the right way is often difficult. We acknowledge with Paul that “now we see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12). None of us has the whole truth or knows precisely the right way. It is easy to turn from struggling together as friends to striving against one another as foes in a contest that is “win/lose.”
- We cannot be rid of politics, but we can refuse to be caught in rigid ideologies. When we become foes, who no longer seek to understand each other, but to win the battle against each other. We assume that we (as opposed to “them”) have found both the truth (meaning there is no more need of searching) and the way (meaning we have been shown the only right path). We must always be ready to “go home by another road” (Matt. 2:12). Ideology is idolatry, being sure of anything more than we are sure of God. (Again, see the Ten Commandments).
- Where politics and religion meet for the Christian is in the values we uphold. The values we uphold as Christian have their basis in truth, though we struggle to more clearly understand and live them, which is never anything but a lifetime’s work. For Episcopalians, the groundwork for these values are found in our Baptismal Covenant (BCP, pp. 304-305). For Jesus, these values always support human beings and not institutions and ideologies, even when the latter are church or Bible-based. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
- It is imperative that we have ongoing conversation about those values. The constant question for the Christian is how our values apply to our daily life, including the political decisions we make or support. To have such conversations we must be ever better practitioners of humility, holding our personal ideas and even convictions “lightly.” This acknowledges that we can be at least somewhat wrong about everything. We must never be ready to cast the first stone (John 8:1-11).
- We can dare to have these value conversations. They may at times be passionate, but we rest in the knowledge that we are all loved by God and are called to love each other as God loves us, with mercy and grace. St. Paul was a passionate man, but he also proclaimed “gentleness” as an essential community value (Phil. 4:5).
- In the United States the institutions of religion and government are separated, but the conversation about values must go on. To avoid such conversation is to invite the hardening of our ideologies and lapse into a system of “ins” and “outs,” where the only value is majority rule. We have been headed in this direction for quite some time; the current tensions did not begin with the latest election cycle. We in the church must call ourselves back to the fundamental question, “What’s love got to do with it?” This is not a conversation to have only if we have time and only if we are feeling especially brave. It is the conversation which our lives are called to be (see, for example how Jesus turns a question about a noun into the necessity of a verb in Luke 10:25-37).