Back in another election year, 1932, an article in Messenger generated enough letters that the editor wrote a response. The original article was written by Rufus D. Bowman, secretary for the Board of Christian Education, who outlined the issue at stake (bonus points if you know what it was). He said he couldn’t tell readers how to vote, but observed delicately that “there is weight in favor of” the incumbent.
The follow-up editorial, by Edward Frantz, explained that the criticism fell into three camps: The article expressed an opinion. It didn’t prefer a different candidate. It didn’t express the opinion decisively enough and urge it on the church. These responses were “interesting,” he observed with remarkable understatement.
Messenger in 1932 was more willing to state a political position than Messenger of 2016 is, but people still disagree on where to draw the line between religion and politics. How should religious conviction influence public policy? One might expect more convergence between the Christian admonition to care for the least of these and the political goal of caring for the common good, but that’s not the case.
Dr. William Barber, a prominent civil rights leader and Disciples of Christ pastor, is urging people of faith to see where these two must intersect. Our country is in pain, he says, and needs a new heart to replace its heart of stone (Ezekiel 36:26). Barber provides this context from a few chapters earlier:
The leaders among you became desperate, like roaring, ravaging lions killing indiscriminately. They grabbed and looted, leaving widows in their wake. Your priests violated my law and desecrated my holy things. They can’t tell the difference between sacred and secular. They tell people there’s no difference between right and wrong. They’re contemptuous of my holy Sabbaths, profaning me by trying to pull me down to their level. Your politicians are like wolves prowling and killing and rapaciously taking whatever they want. Your preachers cover up for the politicians by pretending to have received visions and special revelations. They say, “This is what God, the Master, says . . .” when God hasn’t said so much as one word. Extortion is rife, robbery is epidemic, the poor and needy are abused, outsiders are kicked around at will, with no access to justice (Ezekiel 22:25-29 The Message).
Prophets sure don’t worry about being popular.
As we emerge from a particularly bruising and divisive campaign, a word from 1932 is worth repeating. In a Nov. 5 editorial titled “After the Election,” Frantz writes, “Life will still be worth living after Tuesday.”
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.