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Not Wasting an Election Year

3.9. 2016 Written By: Berry Friesen 300 Times read

Berry Friesen lives in Lancaster, PA and is part of the East Chestnut Street Mennonite congregation in that city. He blogs at http://www.bible-and-empire.net. This post originally appeared in Peace Signs and can be found at https://pjsnpeacesigns.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/not-wasting-an-election-year/ 

Congregations often take pains to be scrupulously apolitical in a year when a United States (US) President is elected.

This self-censorship is sometimes justified by reference to the Internal Revenue Code, but that doesn’t wash: a congregation’s tax exempt status is in jeopardy when it makes explicit candidate endorsements, not when it preaches the social and economic implications of the Bible.

More to the point, most congregations want to avoid giving offense during a season when people are easily riled due to the charged atmosphere of an acrimonious campaign.

Out of caution, then, we likely will hear less-than-usual from our pulpits during 2016 about widows and orphans, refugees and aliens, state-sponsored violence, dealing with criminals, the responsibilities of political leaders, or how economic opportunities and burdens should be allocated.

Yet Jesus chose a time when the public’s attention was most focused on political dynamics (the annual commemoration of the Passover in Jerusalem) to highlight the most potentially offensive aspects of his message. That’s how Jesus went about “taking up his cross.”

Can we imagine 2016 as an ideal time to bring the implications of Jesus’ message to bear on life here in the US? Sure, such discussions are likely to upset some people, but amid the ferment we can depend on the Spirit of God to be at work.

Toward that end, here is a list of suggestions to be worked into sermons, adult education classes and community forums.

  1. Reading through the letters of Paul and other New Testament authors, we see no concern whatsoever about who leads the Roman Empire. One gets the impression the early church regarded it as an irrelevancy. Why is our behavior today so different? Is it only because we have elections? If we feel passionately about who should be the next Commander-in-Chief of the empire, might we have invested in the wrong kingdom?
  1. Much has been written about the anger and restlessness of the US electorate. Getting in touch with those feelings can be a doorway to compassion for our neighbors and ministry within our neighborhoods. Why are people so angry and restless?

–Over the last 25 years, US-initiated wars have caused at least four million Muslim deaths and left five Islamic nations in chaos (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen). No candidate will say so, but it is obvious that the US is targeting Islam and Muslim nations. When we affirm our welcome of Muslim refugees, can we also speak honestly about why they are refugees?

–The purchasing power of wages has hardly increased at all for working people since 1973. Yet worker productivity has increased by 72 percent over that time and the country as a whole is much wealthier. Where has all the money gone?

–Terror attacks in the US are sensationalized by the media and used by politicians to restrict individual liberties, increase military spending and legitimize war. Yet the investigations of these crimes are inexplicably narrow and media discussions are surprisingly scripted. Why?

  1. We are living in a nation whose leaders expect endless war. As they tell it (and we hear this especially during an election year), war is the price of being the world’s leader, “the one indispensable nation,” an “exceptional nation.” This is empire talk; it is the way the reigning superpower justifies violence and domination.

Yet the Bible tells us YHWH opposes empires. Is the US-led empire an exception? Should Jesus-following congregations understand themselves to be communities of resistance to this empire?

Let’s view 2016 as an opportunity to engage our communities with the Way of Jesus. Let’s not hide the light of Jesus under a bushel just because a presidential campaign is going on.

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5 Responses to “Not Wasting an Election Year”

  1. Frank Lostaunau says:

    Interesting article. At age 73, I don’t believe that any war serves a good purpose. It about killing and being killed. There are no winners.

    Can Americans who have served in a war while in the US Military go to heaven?

    • M. South says:

      The glib answer would be, if we repent. Only God can look into each of our souls to see if that has in any sense occurred, if there’s been a Bowie Bergdahl exit of the heart.

      But a whole lot more of us have been pressed into service of war, one might say, almost like military subcontractors. Maybe we’re not Blackwater’s soldiers of fortune, but as civilian manufacturing’s declined, the military-industrial complex has grown more important to the nation’s economy. Are a lot of the remaining good jobs that offer financial security within this sector? Can we give up consenting to war and feeding it when our jobs depend upon it?

      If America’s business is war, as is increasingly the case, one of the job descriptions of the President is becoming CEO of War, Inc. That explains why regardless of promises for change and ending wars made to the public, once in the position the shareholders demand of the CEO more revenue streams for the vast war industry. And Commander in Chief becomes the primary mandate.

      If we’re all part of an all volunteer vast army for imperial dominance, even if in the civilian versions of the motor pool or on KP duty stateside, then the question could be,

      Do all dogfaces go to heaven?

      How then can any be saved?

  2. Frank Lostaunau says:

    I have another question about who goes to heaven?

    As you know, Bruce Jenner won an Olympic Gold Medal! Americans cheered and his image was placed on Wheaties.

    Now, she’s a Ms.

    Do Mennonites believe that Ms. Jenner can go to heaven?

    I believe that if she does good deeds, harms nobody, pays taxes, and is an inspiration to others, that God will welcome Ms Jenner to heaven.

    What do think M. South?

  3. Frank Lostaunau says:

    Correction: What do you think M. South?

  4. M. South says:

    Bruce has led quite the Kardashian lifestyle of public celebrity as the tabloid media culture is anxious to titillate us. I doubt it’s progress that a man is Woman of the Year. We’ll leave it to God as to the eventual state of his soul, as the “discernment process” could be endlessly unprofitable. I can say this “Joy of Caitlyn” swan song is not on the same plane as “Joy to the World.” Even if the inspiration for some who’ve fallen off the wagon on the Gospel Trail is that the church should join in the gender bender.