A Christian Witness in a Bitterly Contentious Election ©

Upon being elected a bishop, I learned quickly that bishops usually cast absentee ballots in national elections.  The Council of Bishops (COB) regularly meets the first week of November.  This year, without giving it a second thought, I voted early.  On returning home last night from a week at the COB meeting on St. Simons Island (Epworth by the Sea in South Georgia) and the Extended Cabinet Summit in Jacksonville, Florida, I realized to my chagrin that I could have actually voted on Election Day.  For the first time in nine years as a bishop, I was home for Election Day. Watching the news last night with the rest of America, the bitterly contentious nature of the contest repulsed me.  Not for the first time I found myself thinking on how a Christian witness should differ from common contentious arguments all around us.   This fall I preached a series of sermons on the theme of “a different kind of living.”  I am deeply convinced that a (our!) Christian witness should be greater and more gracious than the culture as a whole regardless of our own convictions about who to vote for. My ruminations led me back to a passage from one of the forgotten books of the New Testament – Titus.  The following words have taken up lodging in my heart and mind this fall.  I find my biases and passions judged by this holy witness.  They challenge me to repent and follow the way of Christ.  Step with me back into the divinely inspired witness found in Titus:

Remind them to submit to rulers and authorities. They should be obedient and ready to do every good thing. They shouldn’t speak disrespectfully about anyone, but they should be peaceful, kind, and show complete courtesy toward everyone. We were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, and slaves to our desires and various pleasures too. We were spending our lives in evil behavior and jealousy. We were disgusting, and we hated other people. But “when God our savior’s kindness and love appeared, he saved us because of his mercy, not because of righteous things we had done.” (Titus 3:1-5)

This is the witness to the role of a Christian’s moral stance with regard to politics, justice, etc. in a time of persecution.  They lifted a different way of living and different mode of relating not just to each other but especially to people who disagreed with them.  Notice again how the first Christians related to a non-Christian culture.  It wasn’t with a new political party; after all, to be Christian was considered treasonous.  It was with a dramatically different kind of living. Inhale the witness of the embattled Christian Church found in the Roman colony of Philippi.  “Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)  Look at verse 5 where I’ve added emphasis.  It says “let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people.”  Please note.  It does not say “people who agree with you.”  It does not say “other Christians.”  The Bible says all people! This was the witness, the way of living for earliest Methodists as well.  On October 5th in 1774, John Wesley gave the following advice on Christian voting:
“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 that voted on the other side.”
Regardless who you support or who you vote for, may it be so for us.  May our words and actions reflect the way of Christ.