OK. Maybe I shouldn’t be shocked. I’ve asked about half a dozen of our ministers in the Mass Conference if they’re planning to preach an election sermon, and they all said, “No!”
The way I see it, God's sovereignty does not end where politics begins. Our Reformed tradition has held this view for centuries. To put it another way: As people of faith, we acknowledge God as the Lord of every aspect of our lives, including even our politics.
Engaging public life is as important as any purpose of the church. And engaging public life must include engaging our political life. Of course, we must do this in a non-partisan way. (See the Alban conversation “Preaching and Politics” in which Ronald D. Sisk quotes J. Philip Wogaman: “Preaching on issues is fine. Preaching partisan politics, advocating voting for one party or candidate over another, is not.” )
I worry that the increasingly sharp ideological divides of politics have silenced our centuries-long tradition of offering an election sermon. Worse yet - I worry that those ideological divides have constrained our faithful discipleship.
Lincoln had it right. Our task should not be to invoke religion and the name of God by claiming God’s blessing and endorsement for any of our national policies and practices - saying, in effect, that God is on our side. Rather, as Lincoln put it, we should worry earnestly whether we are on God's side. (Basler, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol 5, pp. 403-404.) What matters to God? What themes emerge from scripture that could form the basis for evaluating a candidate’s positions?
My mentor and former pastor, William Sloan Coffin, Jr., also had it right. He said that although the truth will make you free, it will first make you miserable! (WS Coffin, sermon, 9/30/84.) Harry Emerson Fosdick used Jesus' exhortation from the book of Acts, "You shall be my witnesses" to remind the faithful at Riverside that Jesus makes a direct appeal to our representative capacity, as if to say, "You can be more than yourselves; you have the power to stand for high principles; you can act in such a way that people identify you with something greater than yourself. I want you to exercise that power. You shall be my witnesses." Inspired by this, even the least of us can stand for the greatest things. Each of us can bring to the voting booth a sense of Christian responsibility.
I hope this prompts you to engage this opportunity for leadership.
Have a look at a hymn for election day from the National Council of Churches of Christ, “In Times of Great Decision,” by the Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.
Read this excellent Pew Forum transcript from 2008, “One Electorate Under God”
Jim Antal is a denominational leader, activist and public theologian. He led the 360 churches of the Massachusetts Conference United Church of Christ from 2006 to his retirement in 2018. An environmental activist from the first Earth Day in 1970, ...