Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Church’s Guide for the Election

Across street from my house, there is a flat-top, square-ish building, looking rather modern. If it were not for the sign in front of it, I wouldn’t have thought it a Christian church. For the ten years since I moved to this quiet suburb, I had never set foot in it.

Now I’m taking a journalism class, one of the assignments is to establish a “listening post.” The idea is to visit a community you are less familiar with, so as to increase the understanding of diversity. Since I never knew what this church across street was doing, I decided to pay a visit to it this morning. That is, a Sunday morning when it’s running a service.

At 10 am sharp I walked into the church. On a desk in the hall lay some handouts. I picked one up; it’s titled “Values Voter Guide for 2008 Presidential Candidates.” It highlights issues debated between McCain and Obama, 21 of them all. A simple “Yes” or “No” column indicating each candidate’s position on each issue. Not surprisingly, on 16 of the issues listed, the two candidates take opposite positions. They agreed on three of them, while the remaining two issues were alternately addressed by only one of the candidates.

At first glance, this list is quite impartial. It does not spell out a recommendation, and the issues listed are quite informative. The Guide only asks you to compare the candidates. I was impressed.

Walking into the nave, for a moment I suspected I was in the wrong place, or at a wrong time. The stage looked ready to start a musical, or some Broadway performance. A glass room located on the left side of the stage housed a man with a full set of shining silver percussion instruments. In the center of the stage were a pianist, two guitarists, and a row of seven men and women waiting to start singing.

And singing they began soon after I took my seat. The choirmaster, a black man with beautiful voice, called for the audience to stand and sing with them. A large pull-down screen hanging above the stage, showed colorful moving pictures with the lyrics. People raised their arms and sang enthusiastically and repeatedly: “I’m desperate for you, I’m lost without you…We live to glorify your name.”

They stood and sang for 40 minutes. When they finally finished, the priest took the place of the choirmaster and explained the voting guide. He called his audience to “vote for our values, not by the party line.” He then went on to say “we don’t want the government to redefine the values of our families; God defines it, Jesus defines it.” And he said he puts his hope in God to place the right man in the government.

As he continued, I read the handout again and realized that he was calling for people to vote for McCain and Palin, mostly for Palin, who was viewed by some people as representing American family values.

During the next hour the priest preached Revelation 12 to 14, and he emphasized diversity.

Later, on the way home, I wondered how diverse the church members actually are. Will all, or most of them, listen to the priest and vote for McCain? Do most Christian churches want McCain and Palin to lead America? If the result turns out to be the opposite, is God wrong, or are the churches wrong?


Joe said...

I missed this historic Presidential election because I was visiting friends in China the first 16 days of November. I did vote absentee. I applaud your willingness to visit this church, and would like to offer a couple of comments.
Have you ever heard the phrase "preaching to the choir?" We say it in America to mean you're telling people what they already know and agree with in advance. The choir is always in church every Sunday and hears every sermon. I am a Christian, usually vote Republican, and hang out a lot with Christian friends. Prior to the election, I was meeting with a group of 18 strangers, all Christian. No one asked whom others were voting for. They all simply stated their unhappiness with the notion that Obama would probably win. It was correctly assumed that as strong, conservative Christians, we as a group would vote Republican.
Unfortunately, politics in America has become strongly polarized. When I was growing up the seventies, my Dad voted Democratic along with others in our church. Republicans were for the rich,not the working man or the Christian family. Today that has shifted to where the Republican party represents mainstream Christians.
The reality is that Republicans nor Democrats don't determine who wins elections--the Independents determine that. Most Democrats and Republicans have made up their minds. There is too much "single issue" voting. Some of my friends vote "pro-life" above all else. I am pro-life, but I like to think that I am thoughtful enough to consider the entire spectrum of issues on the table, not just abortion. And, I do know of at least one Christian friend who voted for Obama.
I applaud the historical significance of our first black president. So far, Obama has shown himself to be a very bright, thoughtful, action-oriented President-elect. It's funny that he has said there can be only one President, then he starts announcing his cabinet early and it looks like HE is the one President! I do applaud his early actions, though. It shows he plans to walk his talk.
But, to get back to the church and the election checklist. Those have been around forever. i don't know any pastors who support a candidate from the pulpit. However, mainstream evangelical Christians are against abortion, nationalized health care, big government, gay marriage, etc., what one might call traditional family values. Again, these checklists simply preach to the choir.
People tend to hang out with people like themselves. Chris Matthews has now come out and said that his job is to see the Obama presidency to be a success. I appreciate his honesty in saying he is a Democrat instead of pretending like maybe he is a balanced journalist. Sean Hannity and Alan Combs make no secret of where they stand, and so it should be. I would say that if you put a room full of journalists together before the election, they would be as a group strongly supporting Obama. Yet, they would pretend to be neutral when covering news about the election.
I didn't mean to get all wordy here. I will support our new President, and hope he can bring about positive change. Just like other recent Presidential elections, about half the country wanted the other guy to win. There are certainly more liberal churches, and I would say most African American churches, whose checklist would favor Obama. It would be good for you to visit a liberal church some time to see the difference.
In closing, I wish we could all thoughtfully address each candidate on his merits. However, candidates are simply representatives of their party and people usually vote for or against a party. No one person has the power to do all the things any candidate promises during his or her campaign. People need to be able to discuss issues calmly and rationally, and I appreciate you offering that forum here.

Joe Wilson in Indiana

Xujun Eberlein said...

Hi Joe, thank you for your thoughtful comments, and nice to see you here again!