I grew up back east in towns like Boston and Baltimore, where pulpit messages often told parishioners for whom they should vote. But depending on whether the pulpit was Catholic or Protestant, you might receive mixed messages about whether John Kennedy should be elected president. Both sides probably exaggerated JFK’s religious devotion but were closer together only a few years later when defending civil rights as simple and overdue justice.
I grew up amidst the divisions that followed. Ever since, I have believed that sermons are inappropriate occasions for instructing anyone about how they should vote – much less for whom. Don’t misunderstand because I also deplore the current PC litmus test that rigorously excludes religion from the public square. Instead, I believe in what was once the clear intent of our Founders. Churches have both the right and the absolute duty to instruct their congregants on the values taught by the Bible as well as their application to public life.
For example: Read what the Bible teaches about the shedding of innocent blood or David’s psalms about the God who knew him in his mother’s womb. Now what does that suggest to you about abortion? Which is more profound: The mother’s freedom of choice or the right of an infant to live? Reasonable people can of course disagree. I was unimaginatively pro-choice until feeling my adopted daughter’s three-day-old hand close around my little finger. She had me at that “hello” and is now about to give birth to my first grandchild. Any idea of the gratitude I still feel for her birth mother from thirty years ago who chose life – and changed lives yet unborn?
That entire preceding paragraph is well within the rights of any minister, priest or rabbi to include in a sermon. Each of those religious leaders is also entitled under our Constitution (even with President Obama’s strict construction) to inform their respective congregations about Saturday’s mayoral elections, the simple fact that Biblical values are involved and that, as Americans, we have a clear duty to vote. In my opinion, that is precisely where the wise spiritual leader stops, leaving everything else to the conscience, individual and collective, of the congregation. As a professor, I routinely told my students to study hard for the exam I had written: They knew better than to ask me for the answers, either then or (God forbid!) on examination day.
It is much the same with elections when you not only have to endure the results but also have to live with your conscience. Did you even show up to vote? If you did, had you learned about the issues and where candidates stood – or even attended one of their debates? One of the best was organized by Pastor John Hagee, when six of the leading candidates appeared on the stage of Cornerstone Church to explain where they stood. Pastor Hagee thanked them for their public service – and prayed for them all. George Washington would have been pleased but might have wondered why such a public forum in spiritual surroundings had become so unusual!
Sadly, many of San Antonio’s churches have become accustomed to being comfortable and politically correct, scrupulously avoiding any position – like abortion or traditional marriage – which might subject them to criticism. Others, like Pastor Charles Flowers of Faith Outreach, proudly declares himself in favor of “Biblical correctness” in a world where political correctness runs roughshod. While many other church leaders ducked for cover during the NDO (non-discrimination ordinance) controversy, Rev. Flowers boldly approached a junior member of the San Antonio City Council, reminding her of the Biblical values on which she was raised. Ivy Taylor listened intently, took careful stock of her beliefs – and voted against the NDO.
If my tiny daughter had me at “hello,” then Ivy Taylor had me at NO! Even more so when she became the first black woman to become our mayor! But the leftist political establishment that has been in control of this city for a generation was always intent upon retaliation. No wonder that it has unearthed every dirty political trick, raided the checkbooks of their wealthiest donors and organized a vicious campaign that often stopped a hairs-breath short of overt racism.
So we have a choice to make on Saturday, but not like the usual elections between Republicans and Democrats: This one is between faith, values and character – versus their polar opposites. This is not a sermon. I’m voting for Ivy and hope you will too!