At the conclusion of the mid-term elections I heard one commentator ask: “Where are the pastors of these candidates? The lack of civility, kindness, while hurling visceral statements at each other needs accountability, confession, and forgiveness.” I wish I could remember who said it, but I do remember it grabbed my attention and made me sit up. What a profoundly simple and true question to ask: “Where was the voice of the church in a firestorm of anger, divisive rhetoric, mud-slinging, name-calling, and school yard antics? Where was the voice of Jesus holding people accountable to what they were saying and doing to each other (and, alas, to the country)?
Time and time again we hear the words: “The separation of Church and State.” It’s a lovely bill-board to hide behind. But if the Christian is true and sincere in their Scriptural walk they know that this bill-board is far from the truth. The hand of God is active not only in the creation and redemption of the world, but also in its ongoing governance and daily rule. St. Augustine wrote in The City of God: “These things being so, we do not attribute the power of giving kingdoms and empires to any save to the true God, who gives happiness in the kingdom of heaven to the pious alone, but gives kingly power on earth both to the pious and the impious, as it may please Him, whose good pleasure is always just” (The City of God Book V.21).
In other words, God is the giver of government and political rule. He entrusts that rule to the care of those who are in charge – elected, appointed, or raised up by some other means. This will vary from country to country and government to government. And those put in charge are entrusted with the task and responsibility of providing a peaceful “kingdom” by which the constituency can live out their lives (of faith and devotion) without hindrance or harm. Too many people have taken this to mean: “Government people take care of the State and church people…well, go do whatever it is church people do! Oh, and “never the twain shall meet…”
BUT the Church has a role to play and a voice to be heard. Who will hold the candidates accountable for their words, deeds, and actions? Who will cry “FOUL” when hurtful, slanderous, and damnable words are spoken all for the sake of getting elected? How many pastors of these candidates were willing to sit their parishioner down and point them to the Word of God; a Word that would tell them that their behavior was sinful and continuing down this course of behavior would further separate them from the Grace of God? IF the pastors of these candidates remained silent they have given tacit permission to the very behavior these candidates engaged in to win an election and, thus gaining power and control. The candidates have become the “impious” without a means to find their way back to God.
God – the Creator of the World and the giver of government – is neither a Republican or Democrat; God is not a Socialist or a Capitalist; God is not Communist or Fascist. God is God…and we are not. However, God has placed in the midst of these ideologies and governments Christians to speak truth, bring grace, and hold accountable those who are serving – and this may bring personal peril, pain, and even persecution and death. I am reminded of Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran Theologian who lived in Germany during the Twentieth century. He was most noted for his role in Nazi Germany during the time leading up to and following the World War II.
A complex and thoughtful man of God, Niemoller’s views and opposition to the Nazi Government would change as the world moved towards war. He would be arrested in 1937 for speaking out against the State but released with a fine. Shortly after he would be arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in a concentration camp. He would remain imprisoned until liberated on May 5, 1945 from Tyrol Prison. Niemoller would dedicate the rest of his life striving for peace and reconciliation. Maybe his most often quoted work is a simple poem:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out.
— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out.
—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out.
— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me.
—And there was no one left to speak for me.”
His point is quite simple: IF the church does not speak out…IF the church does not hold the civic leaders accountable to the words, actions, attitudes, and behaviors…THEN we run the risk of being silenced and rendered irrelevant.
Jesus did not place us in society to ignore society…we have been placed in society to assist in the transformation of society through His Word. Our role as followers of Jesus is to be leaders of His message to the society in which we are placed. And that means, from time to time, that we may be swimming against the current as we bring truth and corrective word to those who are entrusted with lead and care for the government. It also may mean personal peril at the hands of the civic leaders we are called to corral and draw back to the truth and integrity of Godly leadership in the Government.
“Where are the pastors of these candidates? The lack of civility, kindness, while hurling visceral statements at each other needs accountability, confession, and forgiveness.” As I sat on the edge of my seat I wondered to myself: “Good question…where are they?” And I also thought to myself: “Given the opportunity to serve one of these candidates, would I have the courage to speak up and not be silent?” It made me wonder…