Pr. Jaynan Clark
Of course there are many Christians who are registered Democrats just as there are Christians who are Republicans and Independents and even Socialists and Green and red and you name it. Comments before, during and after the election have greatly concerned me as a Christian, as a Lutheran, as a pastor, as an American and as the elected leader of the WordAlone Network.
Judgment and stereotypes seem to rule the day. The divisions that exist on the “red and blue” map of our nation reveal that we are a divided people by geography, by political position, by basic values and worldview. It is quite clear that it is not just the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) that is divided against itself. Many believe these are days of great crisis yet I believe they are days that offer Lutheran Christians, both Democrats and Republicans, opportunity to speak openly and share the freedom we have through our reformation understanding of our Christian service and civic duty. As hearers of the Word, convicted and freed, we engage in our public service and our political activism according to what our ears have heard and eyes have seen. This will vary from one person to another even as we share the same pew on the same Sunday hearing the same Scripture read and Word preached. This is one of the great and most beautiful aspects of Lutheran Christianity.
Perhaps the confusion has come over time as the institutional leadership of the ELCA and the churchwide assemblies of the past have issued one after the other of social statements. Specific political positions have been thrust upon the local churches by the “wider church” and have divided the people in the pews one from another, the pastors in the pulpits one from another and neighboring local Lutheran churches one from another and left us in our current situation, divided against ourselves.
In many ways, we are once again caught in the tension that existed some 500 years ago between Martin Luther and the so-called ‘spiritualists’ who thought there could be a specific Christian politic that could bring us closer to the Kingdom of God here on earth. It is true that Luther himself taught that the political sphere is subject to the will of God for it is the will of God that human beings strive for peace, justice and social improvements but this is “God’s kingdom on the left.” Here in the kingdom at God’s left hand we hope and work for humans to have the best possible living conditions in a sinful world. We strive for peace in a world of violence, which means peace by way of force or the threat of it through police and armies. We work for justice in a world of egotism, which means justice by way of laws and courts. We advance social improvements in a world of greed, which means improvements by way of taxes and compensation. At God’s right hand is the “kingdom on the right” in store for us in Jesus Christ. It is not institutional because it is designed for a world without sin, a world finally realized fully in Paradise. Presently God’s “kingdom on the right” can only be met where sin has already lost its power—in faith which brings forth the fruits of unrestricted love. Jesus showed us this love and this kingdom on the way to the cross; he preached it in the Sermon on the Mount.
Since we live our lives of faith in the midst of faithlessness and we love in the midst of hatred we come to know the standards of the “kingdom on the right” are suffering and sacrifice. Still sinners, we continue to lack this love and service and sacrifice in our lives and therefore, even as the ones of faith, we need the “kingdom on the left” to keep us and the world from self-destructing. We live in a daily realm that functions according to reason not faith and civic integrity not unconditional love. Shoulder to shoulder, the Christian and those who don’t believe need to strive together, more than often, for the least bad solution. The ideal evades us and we are left to compromise and make choices in the “left kingdom.” There is more than one candidate, more than one party and never will our political choices here on earth usher in the Kingdom of God that is in store for us in Jesus Christ.
It is most certainly true that God alone can heal a broken world and a divided church. However, let us as members and participants in the WordAlone Network seize this time of crisis and opportunity to embrace the freedom that God’s Word gives each of us. Let us unite in an evangelical voice that is not partisan but pure in its expression of Jesus’ death and resurrection for all sinners, even for you and me. Let us put down our political placards and pick up our crosses and follow our Lord Jesus, Republican and Democrat alike, hand in hand, preaching and teaching and doing the “Word alone” together.