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In church Sunday one of my pastors prayed for this election day in America. A main thing he prayed for was something that once upon a time I might have thought would be unnecessary in this nation: he prayed the midterm elections would go off “without incident” and made another petition or two that went in the direction of asking for calm and safety. It’s the kind of thing that in the past we might mostly have thought was an area of concern only for other countries where coups, intimidation of voters, and threats to the lives of voters long imperiled attempts to hold democratic, free, and fair elections.
But now it is correct and sadly necessary to pray something similar for today’s voting in the U.S. We’ve already seen the spectacle of armed persons near voting places claiming to be present to insure fairness but in reality creating a lot of intimidation. We saw groups of armed people after the last election in November 2020 gathering outside the offices of secretaries of state, and we’ve heard the horror stories of poll workers and others involved in tallying votes whose lives have been shattered through the string of death threats they received. And then there was January 6.
As with what sometimes feels like everything else, elections have now become a controversial and fraught enterprise. And you’d like to be able to say that the church and its members are not caught up in all this but many of us know that the difficulties that run through the fabric of society are present in also the church. Two recent events reminded me of this unhappy reality.
One event came during a worship service at a church where I preached. A pastor of this church took prayer requests ahead of that morning’s congregational prayer. One man raised his hand to say he would like prayers for our leaders. So far so good. But then he said especially leaders at the CDC to come to their senses and how vaccines should never be given to children and how the COVID vaccines are terrible things and that some nations have stopped vaccinating people altogether and when is this country going to wake up? Another woman sitting near this man responded that she totally disagreed, and this prompted him to say that he had the documents and literature to prove it.
And I thought, “Great—we are preparing to enter a time of prayer and a fight is about to break out in this service.” Has it actually become perilous to take prayer requests now? The pastor took the only middle ground available and promised to pray for wisdom for all of our leaders.
A second incident came in the form of an anonymous letter I received last week. It was in response to a short article by me that had appeared in my denomination’s magazine, which was a version of a blog I wrote here a year-and-a-half ago about the grave challenges pastors have faced during COVID and its various politicizations. That article was very similar to a more recent blog I wrote here also about what I have been hearing from pastors around the country.
A friend of mine noted recently a common saying of people who are about to assail you on a certain issue and it applies to the prayer requester in that worship service and to my anonymous letter writer: “I’ve done my research and . . .” In the letter I was told twice how this writer did not appreciate being labeled “a conspiracy theorist” (I hadn’t done so) but then went on to document allegedly iron-clad proof that all of COVID was a hoax, that vaccines are deadly, and that the church was gravely harmed by pastors who went along with all that and actually let a global pandemic have an impact on church and public worship services. The bottom line of this missive demanded a retraction and an apology from me in the next issue of the magazine in which the piece appeared.
On this midterm election day in America I am thinking about my pastor’s prayer, that prayer request in another church, that letter, and so much else we can all too easily observe and witness in this time. The wider society is in a lot of trouble, but the church is not far behind. In fact on the way to church Sunday my wife relayed a comment she had just read from a sitting member of Congress seeking re-election. At what was touted a “Christian rally” recently, this person suggested that Jesus probably wants us to arm ourselves with as many AR-15s as we can so that we can head off the fate that befell Jesus himself: namely, getting killed by the government.
In the midst of all this I need to remind myself that wonderful people abound in society and certainly in the church. I need to remind myself of the beautiful kingdom work that happens every day through believers who do what Jesus said: visit the prisoners, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and all the rest. I don’t know what will happen before this election day is over, in the weeks that follow, or through the people who will get elected or re-elected.
But what we all need to do is once more fix our eyes on Jesus, the true author and perfecter of our faith in the fervent prayer that his Holy Spirit can cut through our divisions and bring us to a better moment. Jesus has done this for his church before. Often. May our Lord do so again.