Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Reflections on the Upcoming Elections

As Election Day draws near in the United States we are bombarded by political TV and radio ads, intrusive political telephone calls (from people and from pre-recorded messages), political junk mail (both mass mailing forms and even hand-addressed photocopies from local supporters) and the barrage of interviews and discussions in every media imaginable.

For the Christian, elections and participating in the political process requires prayer and consideration. At first blush this may seem both obvious and trivial, but in reality the very possibility of participating in the political process involves several important issues that the Christian will do well to contemplate.

The Church teaches us that in Christ we become children of God. “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.” (Gal 2.26) The magnitude of this fact cannot be underestimated. “God is Love,” as St John teaches us. (1 Jn 4.8b) But if God is Love and we are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1.27), then our lives must in some way reflect that divine nature. As St Paul notes, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2.20) In a very real way to be a Christian is to “have put on Christ.” (Gal 2.27)

We see then that the fact of our salvation in Christ implicitly has moral consequences. St John adjures us, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 Jn 4. 11) When I receive the love of God within my heart I am impelled to transform my understanding of the world around me, and I come to perceive that every human being is also equally worthy of love. I come to recognize that the likeness of God within me is a likeness shared by all of humanity. Thus, life in Christ is characterized by love, and decisions and actions naturally flow from that love.

This connection between love for God and love for others is fundamental to our integrity as Christians. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.” (1 Jn 4.20-21) The Love of God that refreshes the divine image within us prompts us to have a generous love for our brothers and sisters in this world. It is an axiom at once moral and political, personal and social.

St James allows no ambiguity concerning the moral responsibility that flows from being a Christian: “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (Jas 2.14-17) The reality of my being a child of God, of having His divine image inscribed on my heart, must manifest itself in my choices and in my actions.

This moral imperative lies at the heart of the Christian Faith and our understanding of humanity and has crucial significance for politics. In the ancient Church, as exemplified in the Byzantine Catholic Tradition, the Divine Liturgy makes this plain. The Anaphora (the Eucharistic Prayer) of St John Chrysostom includes a petition “for our public servants, for the government and for our armed forces” which concludes, “O Lord, grant them peaceful rule that we too in their tranquility may lead a calm and quiet life in all virtue and honor.”

In the United States, citizens have a civic right to participate in the political process of electing representatives and leaders. Citizens have the right to vote. With that right comes a responsibility that carries great weight, especially so for the Christian. The Christian vote can never be solely about personal preference nor which candidate or party will benefit me personally. The Christian must prayerfully cast his or her vote according to the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2.16)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, like all orthodox Christian treatises, sees the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes as the central pillars of Christian morality. By reference to these basic principles Christians can in good faith make moral choices and participate in the political process. Reflecting on the fact that all people are children of God, endowed by God with infinite human dignity, Christians measure the worth of political opinion held by the candidates and cast their vote accordingly.

As the final hours wind down to Election Day, Christians should spend time in prayer and reflection on basic Christian principles and candidly review the positions and beliefs of the various candidates. Following the example of our Lord, Christians will vote based on Faith, not blindly following this or that party. Indeed, let us pray that all citizens will reflect on their own faith traditions and following their moral compasses will cast their votes in humility and prayerful dignity so that our nation may benefit from a government seeking the best for all of God’s children.


Anonymous said...

some places are worse than others for the personal mailings. hanahan, sc, is notorious.

there are some people with copiers and serious grudges in that town ...

i'll be voting. no doubt about it.

The Byzantine Rambler said...

Well, they say that all politics are local. At least when I receive something in a handwritten envelope I know somebody is taking time out of their lives because they truly care. I can appreciate the dedication, which is somehow more reassuring than the mass produced "urgent" posts from the 'political machines'.