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I write these comments with all due respect to Sentinel-News columnist Chuck Souder. As a person of faith, I take exception to his position on faith and politics as espoused in this paper during the past six weeks. While Souder’s arguments are grounded in an understanding of God and Scripture, his is not the only valid understanding of God’s authority, creation and the way faith informs our lives and actions.
With two theological degrees, grounded in the Reformed Christian faith, I believe in God’s ultimate providence and authority over all creation. I do not believe that God’s design for creation is compartmentalized into three separate spheres (individual, family, and government), as Souder asserts. Rather, these spheres exist in the world as ways for humans to order our lives and relationships. The all-present, all-knowing and all-powerful God consistently stands with humanity in the many, varied places we gather and interact with one another.
I believe in a God who speaks through Scripture, and through Jesus Christ, to teach and model for us ways to live holy and faithful lives. A Christian’s daily choices and decisions, including for whom we choose to vote, are informed by a living relationship with God. This relationship is initiated by God, and is informed and guided by Scripture. Christians also have the life and teachings of Jesus Christ to help us navigate complex lives and challenging decisions. Jesus’ command to love God, neighbor, and self applies to all choices and actions Christians make in life, whether these are in our personal relationships, our family life, in the boardroom, the tobacco field, or voting booth.
Does our faith inform our vote? Absolutely! Does our faith inform our family budget? Undoubtedly. Does our faith inform the way we treat the poor, the displaced and the oppressed? Indeed.
Christians cannot separate the ways we live in our varied spheres of life from God’s command to love God with all our heart, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our belief in God informs our whole life and the way we follow God’s commandments.
What does our belief say to the Christian faced with the choices presented in this election? On this point, Mr. Souder and I agree. There are great differences between the two candidates and between the two platforms of the major parties in this election. I believe there are a very many good people who will make a faithful choice when they vote for a Republican candidate. Likewise, there will be others who make a faithful choice in voting for a Democratic candidate.
God is neither a Republican, nor a Democrat (thanks be to God!)
The assessment I use in deciding my vote is grounded in the Great Commandment mentioned above. Instead of gathering a handful of social issues and using them as a “faithfulness test” to determine who will get my vote, I look for the platform and the character of the candidate. Whose policies and actions seem to exemplify God’s commandments to love God and love neighbor? What is the loving choice? The honorable choice? The compassionate choice? Which candidate shows respect for God’s creation and for God’s people? Who actively works to strengthen these?
In my faith tradition, we hold to an important tenet: “God alone is Lord of the conscience.” This lifts up the important relationship between a believer and God and calls on each of us to make choices and take actions in life that are faithful to our God and to our conscience.
When I was serving in various congregations and had opportunities to preach on Sundays before an election, I would remind church members of this tenet, along with our responsibility to exercise our civic duty: to vote. I never told the people for whom they should vote. That decision is an exercise of people’s own consciences.
Instead, I’d tell them to select one of the gospels and read it before going to the polls. What is taught there? What is modeled there for the way Christians should treat one another? What does Jesus teach about being engaged with society, with government, and with creation? Let these teachings guide you when you cast your ballot.
In closing, I restate this simple message to all readers, whatever your faith tradition: Go and vote.
If you are Christian, let the Christian gospels inform your conscience and your vote.
Rev. Beth Herrinton-Hodge is a minister member of the Mid-Kentucky Presbytery.