The Role of the Church in the Election

by | Sep 24, 2020

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven… 
Acts 1:1-2 

The Presiding Bishop has something important to say to us now.

Last week Bishop Michael Curry addressed all the bishops of the Episcopal Church in a virtual gathering and then distributed both a video recording and the text of his address as “A Word to the Church,” to be shared with all Episcopalians. Please take the time to watch or read his message: What Did Jesus Do?  

Clergy of the Diocese, this would be an appropriate message to put before the congregation for a Sunday morning sermon, which given our COVID modes of worship now is more easily done.  

He begins by setting the context:  

This November, the people of the United States will elect a president and many others to public office. This election occurs in a time of global pandemic, a time when there is hardship, sickness, suffering and death. But this election also occurs in a time of great divisions. Divisions that are deep, dangerous, and potentially injurious to democracy. So what is the role of the church in the context of an election being held in a time such as this? What is our role as individual followers of Jesus Christ committed to his way of love in such a time as this?

Citing the passage above from Acts, Curry suggests that Jesus’ words and deeds are our precedent. “Simply asking the question, ‘What did Jesus do?’” Curry writes, “and summoning the Spirit to help us apply it to our lives and to our times, may mean the difference between the church simply being another religious institution that exists for its own sake and the church being a Jesus movement that courageously follows the way of Jesus and his love.” 

Regarding the elections themselves, Curry is clear that as a church, our role must be non-partisan. Religious organizations are prohibited by law from publicly endorsing, supporting, or opposing candidates. Moreover, Episcopalians can be found at every point on the political spectrum. “The Bible says that we have one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” Curry writes, “not one political party.” That is as it should be. As in the wider society, all are to be respected in the Church. 

Then, in a sentence that sums up his entire thought, Curry states: Partisan neutrality does not mean moral neutrality. Instead we look to Jesus–what he taught and what he did–as our guide and precedent.  

  • In Jesus’ summary of the Law: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” 

  • In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan which describes one who helps another even though they were a different religious tradition, ethnic group, and perhaps  their politics and worldview. That is what loving your neighbor looks like. “Go and do likewise,” he said. 

  • From the the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor and the poor in spirit”; “Blessed are those who are compassionate and merciful”; “Blessed are the peacemakers”; “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst and labor for God’s righteous justice”; “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who despitefully use you.” 

These are the precedent for what it means to follow in the way of Jesus, Curry argues, “in the first century or the 21st century.”

Regarding our specific actions in the election season, Curry passionately encourages us all to vote, encourage others to cast their vote, and assist those whose right to vote has been compromised. “Voting is not a popularity contest between two candidates,” he writes. “It’s a discernment of moral values as they are expressed in public policy. It is an act of moral agency.” Voting is a sacred privilege for which people deprived of the right to vote have given their lives.

Yet Curry is clear the vote is not enough to heal our nation. He speaks directly to the “death-dealing depth of racism and white supremacy deeply embedded in the soil and soul of America.” Alongside the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others, Curry laments the shootings of two deputy sheriffs as they sat in their car and those who shouted outside the hospital ‘Let them die’. “We cannot go on like this,” he warns. “These divisions are dangerous, injurious to democracy itself. We must, and I believe we can, find a better way. . . I am a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, because I believe he has shown us that better way.”  

Our Presiding Bishop inspires me to engage our civic life wholeheartedly, doing all I can to further the moral vision I see in Jesus, but in such a way that all feel inspired to do the same, no matter their views. In the Church we do not speak or vote with one mind, but we follow the same Lord. An election season is a time of robust debate and mobilization. For Christians it is yet another season to live the way of love.

You may be seeing more of Bishop Curry on television and social media these days. He’s making the rounds to discuss his new book, Love is the Way: Holding onto Hope in Troubling Times. I’ve ordered my copy and hope you’ll do the same, so that we might read and reflect on his message together. It takes all we have to hold onto hope in troubling times, but Jesus promises to see us through. Bishop Curry encourages us to walk together as the beloved children of God that we are.