As someone who has served as both a minister and a mayor in Gaston County, I would like to do three things: make a confession, make a profession, and make a progression from long ago to today. By so doing, I hope to get all of us – preachers, politicians, and parishioners – “in the mix.”
First, a confession: I am a sinner. There, I said it, and all who know me, already knew it. But I want to start off by saying I am a sinner in a deep and intractable way. When we are scared, when we feel threatened, when we are confused, we tend to look out for ourselves. Martin Luther called this “a heart curved inward.” I’ve got one, you’ve got one. And so we all need help – especially when we assume some position of power. I keep telling people, you don’t want me to leave my faith behind when I pick up the mayor’s gavel, or I’ll use it to protect and prosper myself rather than protect and prosper my neighbor. I do not believe the separation of church and state means we must leave our faith behind – in the marketplace, the schoolhouse, or the mayor’s office. Let’s get in the mix!
Second, a profession: I believe God calls me to trust not only in God’s kingdom in heaven, but here on earth. Every day I try to pray: “Thy kingdom come, on earth as in heaven.” Too often, people of faith reduce their faith to what happens after we die. I believe God cares about that, and has made provision for that. But I also believe God cares what happens to us and our neighbors while we live. I can’t do much to maintain and improve the streets of heaven, but I can do something to maintain and improve the streets, the sidewalks, and the comprehensive plan for Belmont. If people of faith just talk about loving our neighbors, but don’t care if they have access to decent water, education, and jobs, our communities can and should ignore us. Let’s get in the mix.
Third, a progression, from Jesus’ day to our own. I wish I could find this verse somewhere in scripture: “So on Tuesday, Jesus entered the voting booth, as was his custom.” It’s not there. Why? Well one obvious reason is that Jesus did not live in a democracy. He was a Jew living in a land occupied by the Romans. But if he could have voted, would he have voted? I think so. Why? Because Jesus used ordinary means to perform extraordinary things; means like synagogue worship, water, and bread. I know some people of faith abstain from voting because of its coercive power. I respect their view and practice, but it is not my own. I believe we’re called to use the power God has given us for the greater good. Let’s get in the mix!
One story. I remember looking up one evening and seeing a crowd of preachers entering the Belmont council room. I knew why they were there. The newspaper had just run an article on prayer at public meetings and they had come out to see how I would pray. Let me tell you, it took prayer on my part to keep my mouth shut. But here’s what I was thinking. Over the past several months, we had voted on issues of police budgets, street repair plans, and water rates. And the only issue the pastors thought worth their time was public prayer? Please, Lord, grant me patience!
I have no lock on either worldly or heavenly wisdom. But I do believe this. If God’s at work in the public sphere, so should we. Let’s get together, from every faith community, and get in the mix!
Dean, Union Theological Seminary