Listen To Article
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.
Amen and Amen!
l thank you for this message.
Thanks for your pastoral voice.
It’s hard for politicians who live in a world they have made up to admit it when voters have thrown them out. In Brazil last month it took Jair Bolsenaro two weeks. But two years??!
So so good Scott. Putting your post together with a great sermon we heard on Sunday based on Micah 6:8 “ What does the Lord want from us but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God,” Wes and I wondered what that would look like. What if we all (both sides of the issues separating us)could first come together with open hearts in prayer asking for repentance for where we have failed in what God wants from us AND THEN listen for ways we can compromise; understanding that neither side is 100% right or wrong. That underneath all the anger is fear—and what is that fear? Can we openly put “our proof documents” together to find some common ground? It would take great humility.
My faith tells me in the end good will triumph over evil. And as the trite saying goes, “it will be alright in the end and if it isn’t alright, it’s not the end.”
It is hard to compromise when one side claims the whole system is a sham. I don’t disagree with your tenor and desire. I believe the hope is a majority of “them,” whoever “them” may be actually want to stay in a liberal (classical understanding of the term) democracy. I worry that a majority actually exists anymore. Here’s hoping and praying.
Thanks Scott. Interesting that your article makes me appreciate the church I attend and its pastors even more! T
I appreciate this blog and I appreciate the prayer that today goes without incident (I have my doubts). I take more than a dollop of issue with the description of our current age and all that goes on with voting, however. The first two thirds of our previous century (probably more), there was significant voter suppression and intimidation throughout our country, and the Church (I mean the vast majority of white church goers) did little to quell it, or likely even prayed about it, because those who were suppressed or intimidated were black. I suppose one might say, “Well things are worse now because a leader has claimed the election was stolen,” and that is true. When the head of the fish rots, well we know the rest. But even the violence and “coup” behavior should not be shocking in our country. In 1898, white supremacist in Wilmington, NC overthrew the elected government (the press at the time called a race riot caused by black people). It included murder, arson, assault, political propaganda, property damage and widespread intimidation (sound familiar?). A gatling gun and over 400 personal guns were used (one must love our cherished 2nd amendment and the militia that showed up that day .. oh it wasn’t a well-regulated militia?), and as many as 300 black folk were killed. It was a mess of intimidation, overthrow of the mayor and council. All the worst things we could imagine in the upcoming weeks and months, when folks say the only possible free and fair election is if my side wins, but few know about this part of our history. One wonders why … a literal “white-washing” maybe?
I don’t say all this to minimize what we face as a nation. It is serious, and I worry, but maybe as so many face the angst of our current turmoil, we would do well to take note that a large portion of our population has carried this angst for well over a hundred years with their property, freedom, ability to participate in our grand experiment, and even their lives at stake.
Again, I appreciate your article, and I know there is limited space in these blogs, so please don’t take my “Monday morning quarterbacking” personally. I comment to try to add just a bit more to the conversation.
Thanks for this reminder, giving some historical context to today’s conflicts.
Thank you, Scott. I regret the need to pray for safety and calm during this election cycle. I’m headed to vote, right after typing this. I’m thankful I can vote. And I am hoping that I, and all others, can do so peacefully. What has happened to our civility?
I also want to echo your sturdy reminder at the end to focus on Jesus. This was the text at my church this past Sunday. Our pastor, David Sieplinga, has served up a feast on God’s Word as he has been taking us through a series entitled, “The Supremacy and Centripality of Christ.” Based on the opening 4 verses of Hebrews, this title gets at what the book is about. Of course, supreme. And with humility and purpose, Pastor Dave took some liberty to create a new word that I have come to love: centripality. Christ is pulling all things to Himself. This is the baseline of Col. 1:15-20, too. Christ is the cosmic glue holding all things together.
Things often feel like they are flying apart, centrifugal forces at work. Let’s fix our gaze squarely on Jesus. We become what we pursue.
Thank you for these wise observations. The last two paragraphs are good reminders of where our focus needs to be if we are to be faithful as God’s people.