by Rev. John Howard Farmer
It seems as if every local or national election causes me to ask the same rhetorical question over and over again. Why does he (she) want this office? The older I get the more suspicious I am of almost every candidate who presents herself (himself) to the electorate.
I take my poll assignments seriously. Unless otherwise detained by some unscheduled emergency I show up, stand in line, get my ballot, draw close the curtain, exercise my rights, open the curtain and deposit my ballot (either by machine or paper) into whatever receptacle awaits. Sometimes I think there should be a trashcan option as well. Seldom does my expectation of “my” candidate mature as I had hoped and prayed.
However, that does not deter me from trying to be a responsible Christian citizen. Did you know that the Bible teaches responsible citizenship? Did you know that the Bible teaches that we are to pray for and support those in public office? On both accounts the answer is “yes.”
History has taught me that when the citizens, and those we elected find themselves at odds, public officials seek a higher mandate. They rush to stand behind the Constitution of the United States. Wait, preachers are no better. When folks argue with us we rush to the biggest Bible we can find and apply it forcefully to prove our points. When some believers feel oppressed they will often apply the codicil that they are doing “Christian love.” Far too often it translates into, “duck, you’re fixing to get it!” Debate ensues. For the most part, it is a debate with too much heat and too little light. Back and forth sway the argumentative curtains. Oratory soars, positions are adopted and division wins, not the good of the common people (in church or in government).
Because of my vocation, faith’s calling, and personal conviction I am frequently amidst issues where matters of church and state collide. Many a nighttime prayer has struggled. Time and time again I have tossed my white head on a pillow wounded by some person or the other who has brought me to the wire. It terrifies me. Truly.
Every now and again I am invited into some political debate of merit. My answer is always the same. Since I maintain a public pulpit in these weekly columns, and since I also stand forth week upon week behind a sacred desk to say, “thus sayeth the Lord,” there will be issues of merit to which I can add neither heat nor light in the public sector. Today I’d like to speak a little onto the shield so often touted: “separation of church and state.”
I am very familiar with Mr. Jefferson’s Constitution of Virginia draft (May-June, 1783). Yes, it is the document which eventually spawned national legislation. We have a framed copy on the wall at church for all to read. The concern was that government would not impress, suppress, nor endorse matters belonging to the household of faith. The matter before our founding fathers was how to keep the government from interfering with the heartthrobs of the various assemblies of faith. To state it more simply, it was to protect the church (and her adherents) from governmental intervention. It came about because the Colonial churches wanted freedom from the monarchs of England, and “state” religion. It was not to protect the government.
We do display the American flag in our churches. Proper flag protocol requires that the U.S. flag has priority display over the Christian flag, or the cross. I am not unpatriotic. I wore a USMC uniform. My framed discharge (August, 1963) hangs on my wall. I paid my dues. But, I am a Christian first, and an American second. I will not apologize for that priority. Well, I guess it is ok, since the flag has persevered to allow us freedoms galore.
Our country is in need of repair: from local halls to foreign shores where America reigns, things are coming apart with tremendous abandon. Issues of health, youth, aging, citizenship, environment, schools, roads and on and on, are in critical disarray because America has forgotten that we pledged “God first,” yet allowed him, “last.” There could come a time when my faith and my patriotism could no longer abide inside the same walls. Though I pray not.
In a country so bereft of morals, ethics, and decency, I really think that the people of faith ought to arise and call Jesus blessed. We should take back the halls of government from liberal interpretation that allows so many forms of evil to hide behind the very curtain of protection that our ancestors have given us.
Folks are shaking my hand, calling me on the phone, sending me email, asking for money and begging my vote. I won’t ask a candidate for office about his (or her) stand on issues “this” or “that.” I determine to have them tell me who Jesus is? I will further ask them to share their faith pilgrimage with me. I will then prayerfully study their response before I entrust them with my money, my vote and especially with my grandchildren.
Personally, I believe that in public or private, who we are should be who we are in Christ.
I always encourage people of faith to enter the public arena.
Likewise we all should vote!