Posted on October 29th, 2012 | Filed under Featured, News, Popular Culture, Social Issues, Theology
Tagged with Christian scriptures, Christianity, Democratic Party, party politics, politics, Republican Party, Voting
Here in the middle of the political season, I'm feeling the energy rise all around me. The political conventions turned up the heat. The debates are ongoing, and the media narratives surround us. Two parties are at each other's throats, and I'm getting calls and e-mails every day asking me to support my favored candidate. The nature of that support is three-fold. First, I'm asked to volunteer for the victory of my candidate, calling swing states or going door to door in Indiana. Second, I'm being asked to give money; something I can't do right now, given my financial situation. And third, I'm being asked to vote.
And this is the nature of the ask. This is the nature of what I'm being asked to do by the political candidates from both parties. Donate money, time...and vote.
I don't mean to knock any of these things. I believe in my candidate, and hope s/he wins. But in this political season, I'm reminded of a passage from my Christian scripture that I recently encountered in the weekly Sunday lectionary. It's from Mark 7, and it tells the story of Jesus being chastised by some people for eating with unclean hands. Jesus's response is to rebuke the chastisers, and remind them that they were saying that the support they owed their elders was being funneled through a specific sort of Temple tax.
But Jesus's concern was that they were paying this tax, and then assuming that their duties to their elders were exhausted. His concern, quite simply, was that we owe each other, we owe our fellow human beings, more than a limited payment and then washing our hands of this.
And so I can't help but think that one of the benefits of religion -- and here I mean to include many powerful and robust world traditions, not just my own Christian faith -- is that they have the potential to ask more of us. The world of politics asks us for our time, but it asks for it in terms of limited, short-term, no-commitment encounters with people over the phone, encounters that conclude with an ask for money or the request for a vote. What small-minded connection to our brothers and sisters! What limited attachment to the images of the divine we are encountering in our day to day lives?
The danger is that we stand in the voting booth and leave, and assume we've done our part. "I've insured that widows and orphans are cared for by my taxes," or "I've insured that widows and orphans can be cared for more powerfully by private charities."
In either case, we're walking away thinking our responsibility to our fellow human beings is over. When what our traditions ask of us is that we go to the widow's home and bring her a meal; or that we provide for the orphan's distress. That we listen to their stories. That we share more than a vote for a party that promises to support them; that instead, we act as friends, we offer more.
Truly vibrant religion, truly meaningful faith, truly powerful religious attachments can call us to more. For that, I'm thankful to the religious traditions that can call me out of myself and into the world where the poor and oppressed are waiting for us -- and waiting for more than my money, more than a phone bank, more than my vote. Waiting, instead, for presence, for a human connection that goes deeper than the slogan of the moment.
Madison McClendon grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, where he fell in love with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien at a young age. Growing up, he attended First Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and continues to find his religious home in the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, though his Chicago context is encouraging him to make connections with the American Baptist Churches. He graduated magna cum laude from Furman University with a degree in Religion and Political Science in 2009, and continued his education by pursuing a Master of Divinity Degree at the University of Chicago. At the University of Chicago, Madison was a Schloerb Fellow and a Fund for Theological Education Congregational Fellow, and he graduated in 2012. Madison pursued academic work in religion and literature, specifically examining how fantasy texts and religious texts might illuminate each other. In addition to these studies, Madison also took classes on preaching and pastoral arts, and is interested in how the fruits of the academy can be applied carefully to the building of productive, healthy religious communities.