On Nov. 5, Hesston College campus pastor Todd Lehman led a special pre-election chapel. In it, he reminded students, faculty, staff, and even members of the local community that no matter the victor of the hotly debated presidential election, Jesus Christ is still our Lord and Savior, and that should matter above all else.
“I would hope that no matter how you respond to politics and this election, you are able to say that because Jesus is my savior (and your savior), we can affirm our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ above any divisions there may be between us politically,” said Lehman.
On Nov. 6, as I walked up to vote for the first time on one of those fancy electronic ballots, I voted my political convictions. I made a conscious effort that day, and in my decision-making process during the months before the election, to vote for who I thought would make a better President, not who represented my religion better. I happened to be lucky enough that my candidate fell into both categories this year, but how would religious people who aren’t so lucky vote?
Anybody who knows Anabaptist history knows why their movement began in the 16th century. To shorten the story egregiously, they disagreed with the marriage of church and state and the corruption it was causing in both. They began a Bible-based movement that stressed peace, adult baptism, and of course the separation of church and state. This movement along with others eventually influenced the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to protect the freedom of religious expression and prohibit the government from giving special respect to any religious establishment.
Being an Anabaptist at an Anabaptist American college, that’s the context in which this discussion about the coexistence of religious and political beliefs exists. I come from a line of men and women whose religious convictions caused them to rally for the church to leave government matters entirely, and the government to leave church matters as well. Five hundred years later the political context is very different, but that factor cannot be ignored. It is in my blood to separate my politics from my relationship with Christ.
But do others feel the same? Sam Ruth, who supported Obama, says no. He says social justice is a religious conviction that fuels his political stances.
“With [social justice] as the backbone of my religious views, they very much influences my political views,” Ruth said. “I am much more interested in social reforms and issues than about balanced budgets or traditional Christian values.”
Whether or not your political views have been influenced by your religious views, Lehman issues a warning for those who vote purely on religious bases and suggests that most politicians won’t represent your religious views very well.
“Well it [voting based only on religion] would be, except that there are so many issues that the likelihood of having all the same views is very small,” Lehman said. “I would certainly suggest a person allow their religious/faith/moral beliefs to inform their views and voting preference, but it’s hard to know how much a candidate’s religious views are ultimately going to influence the decisions of her/his party once in office.”
On my first election day I voted with as little consideration to my religion as I could because of my religion. The day I vote for political matter on a religious basis is the day I’ve failed to separate the two. I’m as guilty as anybody else when it comes to not-so-secretly wanting our nation’s leaders to act in ways that reflect my religious views. It’s a natural reflex of any person with convictions of any kind to want to see those convictions carried out, and like Lehman said I allowed my faith and morals to inform my voting decision. But what does it say about our faith in God when we appoint national leaders solely on the basis of their religious views? Does it say that we think we can spread the love of God by appointing a man that almost half the nation didn’t vote for?
Isn’t it good enough to let politicians politic and preachers preach? I agree with Ruth that politicians have the capability to do good with social justice, but to be frank; if you want social justice to be done you should go out and do it. Relying on partisan men and women to do what is right 100% of the time is like praying for all those ads to stop before an election is over; it’s not going to happen.
To be honest, I don’t think God really cares about the results of elections. If Romney had won I’m not sure God would’ve taken any different of a course than the one he’ll take in Obama’s next four years. He will continue to send faithful men and women “across the street and around the world” (sorry Hesston Mennonite Church) to do his work. Even if there was no separation of church and state, God would continue to send his faithful servants and they would suffer the state’s consequences. The early Anabaptists did.
We should feel fortunate to live in a country where we can freely express our religions. Our nation’s original legislators made an ethical, political, and perhaps religiously inspired choice to do that. By extension our current legislators and executive leader should be able to voice their religious beliefs. There must at some point, though, be a line at which we separate the people designated to represent our religion and the people who represent our politics. The nation voted to keep Barack Obama the latter; I’m fine with Todd Lehman being the former.