Reflection-October 24, 2016

By Darren McClellan

published 10/24/2016
Dear Friends,

At the end of a charge conference yesterday, a concerned lay leader raised the question of what the United Methodist Church has to say about the rising trend of voter apathy in America and its potential impact on the upcoming general election.   My first response was to refer to Dr. Jeff Wilson’s recent article found here ( as it excellently appropriates John Wesley’s historic directives to our current political landscape.    Secondly (and somewhat selfishly), I was glad to have someone feed me a topic for a Monday reflection.  Hence, I would like to offer other voices to the conversation (including my own) in the hope that you will add yours to the mix as well.

Several weeks ago a friend of mine told me that he was reluctant to vote in this year’s presidential election because he felt that to support either candidate would be a violation of his conscience.   Seriously?  I love my friend, as he is one of the finest Christians I know, but I am not convinced that his individual conscience is the most important element at stake.  Certain that his ego is not that big, I ask, is exercising one’s right not to vote really the better option? 

Even beyond the immediate patriotic fervor that calls to remembrance those who have died to preserve our voting rights, consider, if you will, the question from both a theological and ecclesiological perspective. 

First, the theological.  How does God deal with the prospect of a fallible election?  Even a casual reader of scripture might surmise that if the challenge of a well ordered society is in choosing adequate leaders to guide, direct, and execute a plan for a more desirable future, then the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has reason to be skeptical above all.  Consider the moral incoherence of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, David, Moses, and the whole of Israel, for example.   Or take a look at the genealogy of Jesus in the gospel according to Matthew.  How might we ascertain the electability of Rahab in the public sphere?  Need we rehearse the track record of the kings of Israel?  With the exception of a select few, they were mostly duds measured by varying degrees of ineptitude and destruction (by way of further analogy, Hezekiah is to Abraham Lincoln as Manasseh is to James Buchanan). 

And how about the consistent decision-making and integrity of Jesus’ disciples?  If given the opportunity, what kind of smear campaign might the world run against Peter? The TV ad is not hard to imagine…Sure, this so-called ‘rock’ says he’s in favor of messianic reform, but his voting record outside of the upper room suggests otherwise…come this election day, it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out, Peter (cock-a-doodle-doo).  As long as someone continually prompts the rooster, the rest is an easy sell.  And speaking of blatant denial, how in the name of hell did Judas ever make it out of the initial primary?  Did he not provide Wikileaks with enough fodder along the way?  If you will excuse the anachronism, imagine the emails that he and Caiaphas must have shared. 

Still, there is real and credible hope.  For under what political circumstance does a perceived lack of favorable candidates justify an outright stoppage in the Divine plan?  There is no such occasion in the biblical narrative!  Yes, there is delay—how long oh Lord?—but never an unresolved end (Ps. 13:1).  Thus, the words of Fosdick’s beloved hymn bring poignancy to our plea: Save us from weak resignation, to the evils we deplore.  Yes, Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!  Save us, now! 

If the reality of systemic brokenness is indeed the deplorable evil of our day, then let us run the race toward redemption with greater urgency.  Is reconciliation born of repentance not the purpose behind our prayer (Eph. 1:9-10)?  Consequently, since God does not cower in the face of the dysfunctional elect, nor should we, lest we would mistakenly trust the rocks to cast our vote for us (Lk. 19:40).  If that be the actual outcome, then one wonders whether we believe ourselves too pure to wander in the incumbent wilderness, or rather are simply unwilling to learn obedience by what we suffer (Acts 9:16, Heb. 5:8).

Clearly, God is willing to elect people for specific responsibilities in spite of their limited abilities and promises to work with all of creation for the good (Rom. 8:28).  In a perfect world, those called upon to lead according to his purpose are humbled by the prospect of doing so on behalf of others.  Then there is reality; fallen and derelict and messy.  Disheartened by the brashness and apparent corruption of it all, our temptation as creatures is to sit back and let God sort it out.  This is not an authentic response, however, bearing in mind that John Wesley rejected any doctrine of predestination that did not include human participation.  As Bishop Scott Jones has said, “Wesley allows for election, but it is conditional election—conditional upon humanity’s acceptance of the grace that is offered” (United Methodist Doctrine: The Extreme Center, p. 110). 

I realize that I am interchanging two uses of the term “election” here, but not unintentionally.  The point is that if we do not actively chose to elect leaders of our land, we should not lament when God allows others to do it for us.  As children created in the image of God, we are called to exercise that right as permitted by the gracious gift of liberty.  We do so under the guidance of the Holy Spirit with attention to the best of our own interpretive heritage: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.  As a matter of Christian witness, this human freedom is to be rendered in service to God.  It is a freedom for Christ and His Kingdom and not merely a freedom from that which is likely to upset our delicate sensibilities (Gal. 5:1, 13). 

As other sources declare,

“The United Methodist Church believes God's love for the world is an active and engaged love, a love seeking justice and liberty. We cannot just be observers. So we care enough about people's lives to risk interpreting God's love, to take a stand, to call each of us into a response, no matter how controversial or complex. The church helps us think and act out a faith perspective, not just responding to all the other 'mind-makers-up' that exist in our society."  (The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 2012).

Furthermore, our Social Principles proclaim that

“While our allegiance to God takes precedence over our allegiance to any state, we acknowledge the vital function of government as a principle vehicle for the ordering of society.  Because we know ourselves to be responsible to God for social and political life, we declare…The form and the leaders of all governments should be determined by exercise of the right to vote guaranteed to all citizens.  We also strongly reject domestic surveillance and intimidation of political opponents…and all other misuses of elective or appointive offices…

The strength of a political system depends on the full and willing participation of its citizens.  The church should continually exert a strong ethical influence upon the state, supporting policies and programs deemed to be just and opposing policies and programs that are unjust.”  ¶164

In addition, a word of conviction from resolution #5072 in the 2008 Book of Resolutions:

“Whereas, members of the United Methodist Church have a history of being proactive in all levels of governmental activity…Therefore, it is resolved, to urge churches in our global community to encourage their members to take advantage of the opportunities to vote; and Be it further resolved, those registered voters be encouraged to inform themselves concerning the qualifications of persons running for office and the merit(s) of items requiring decision(s) that are to appear on the election day ballot, and, after thoughtful and prayerful consideration, to vote their choices in the various election days.”

Lastly, for those who still have their reservation of conscience, I invite the words of 1 Peter 3:13-17 to reframe the dilemma:

Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.  Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.

In this case, I believe that the words of Edmund Burke ring true: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.” 

And so we pray,
Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
From the fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.
See you at the polls!